As it is every year, one of the highlights of Convocation and Reunions is the Alumni Awards dinner, and this year was no different when four alums were formally recognized for their service in church and world. This year’s honorees were Bill Barnes ‘59 B.D., Distinction in Congregational Ministry; John Chane ‘72 M.Div., Lux et Veritas; Marcia Y. Riggs ‘83 M.Div., Distinction in Theological Education; and Toshihiro Takami ‘60 B.D., William Sloane Coffin ‘56 Award for Peace and Justice.
One by one, honorees were called to the podium at the dinner celebration, held on Oct. 25 in the Old Refectory, where members of the Alumni Board’s Awards Committee read citations and Dean Gregory Sterling formally thanked them.
Bill Barnes is a native of Nashville who has been an institution in the city for nearly 40 years. He is a Methodist minister who was a civil rights activist in the 1960’s and is a life-long instigator and servant of social justice. He is the founding pastor of Edgehill United Methodist Church, an award-winning interracial, interclass, inner city, reconciling church. Still active throughout the community, Barnes is known as an advocate for people who are poor and marginalized and as a prophetic leader in racial justice issues and a champion of the rights of homosexual, bisexual and transgendered people.
Introducing Barnes to fellow alums at the dinner, Elijah Heyward III ‘07 M.A.R. said, “Bill Barnes, you have been called a ‘Nashville institution.’ During three decades as pastor of Edgehill United Methodist Church, which you were instrumental in founding, you became known throughout Nashville and beyond as a champion for the powerless and the politically voiceless. You have advocated on behalf of racial justice and for rights of the GLBT community. Foremost in your heart and mind has been the care and feeding, spiritual and otherwise, of ‘the least of these.’ As one Methodist bishop puts it, you and your congregation have been ‘beacons of light and voices for justice throughout the entire region.’”
John Bryson Chane was consecrated the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington in 2002. He retired in 2011 but continues to serve Washington National Cathedral as senior advisor for interfaith relations. Chane’s interfaith work has taken him all over the Middle East on numerous occasions to advocate on behalf of peace, most notably to Iran, where he has met directly with current and former leaders of the country. Recognized for his work in Human Rights, he was tasked with presenting the Obama administration’s support of LGBT rights and protections within member countries of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. At present he assists the Brookings Institution of Washington in format development for the annual U.S. Islamic World Forum.
“A hallmark of your ministry has been your insistence that sharing, loving, and caring must acknowledge life in all of its splendid diversity,” said Richard Spalding ‘76 B.A., 81 M.Div. in his introduction. ”Throughout your years as bishop, you have reminded us of the beauty of diversity and have forcefully, from a prominent vantage point in the nation’s capital, held up the Christian vision of a creation where all have, in your words, ‘an equal claim to its abundance, its resources, and its promise of life in all its fullness.’”
Marcia Y. Riggs is the J. Erskine Love Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. She is often engaged as a lecturer and preacher and has published numerous articles on ministerial and sexual ethics, moral education, and public policy. Riggs has developed an ethical theory and practice called “religious ethical mediation” (R.E.M.) to prepare leaders to address religion, conflict, and violence in a transformative manner, and she has established an educational not-for-profit ethics center for R.E.M. training—Still Waters: A Center for Ethical Formation and Practices.
Cheryl Cornish ‘83 M.Div. introduced Riggs to the audience and said, “Marcia Riggs, one of the cornerstones of your work as a theological educator is your belief that twenty-first century theological education must move beyond theological and religious studies to engage interdisciplinary approaches that are critical for understanding and living in today’s world of complexity, diversity, and pluralism….You have been a model of vision and determination, elucidating how our conceptualization of the world and ourselves has direct practical repercussions in life.
Toshihiro Takami is the founder of the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan, an international training ground for grassroots rural leaders. In 1973, he founded the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in a valley surrounded by the Nasu Mountains of Tochigi Prefecture. Each year ARI conducts a nine-month Rural Leaders Training Program on sustainable agriculture, community development, and leadership. Upon completion, program participants return to their home villages and communities to work side-by-side with their people, pass on their learning, and promote development from within. To date, ARI has trained more than 1,100 rural leaders from over 50 countries throughout Asia, Africa, and the Pacific.
Despite health issues, Takami made the trip all the way from Japan to New Haven to participate in Convocation and Reunions. Introducing him to alumni was Alice de V. Perry ‘80 M.Div., who said, “Toshihiro (Tom) Takami, as founder and first director of the Asian Rural Institute in Japan, you have dramatically reminded us of the need to sustain rural life and empower the poor, even as our world tumbles headlong toward a collective mindset that urban is better than rural – stronger, richer, more educated, less dependent…For all that you have done to uphold the dignity and worth of all of God’s people, in Asia and around the globe, we are honored to present you with The William Sloane Coffin ‘56 2012 Award for Peace and Justice. “