Nancy Taylor: Ministering in times of disaster

Nancy Taylor ’81 M.Div. has been at the epicenter of disaster. And as she explained to a large gathering of YDS students and community members this past weekend, the experience taught her and her church a great deal about how and why ministry still matters.

“Our church recognized that although we can’t prevent violence, we are not going to close our door,” said Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church in Boston, located at the site of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “Come what may, we are going to remain a sanctuary in the city and all are welcome to come in.”

During her weekend engagement with YDS—part of the school’s new program in transformational leadership for church and society—Taylor wryly noted that she has come to think of herself as “the disaster person.”

Events of the day seemed to bear out her point. In the sermon she gave in chapel on Friday morning, she addressed what she termed the “catastrophe” of racism—a live issue at Yale as at many campuses this fall—calling on those in attendance to “confront the cruelties” or our time. And as she began her event on Friday night, news was breaking about the terrorist attacks in Paris.

But healing was the focus of her comments as she told the story of her church and the marathon bombing, and as she fielded questions from Associate Dean Bill Goettler and then the audience.

Since the bombing, Taylor’s church has led several efforts to support those injured and traumatized by the bombing, deepening an already longstanding relationship with the marathon. One of those efforts is the Marathon Scarf Project—a project to “wrap the runners in love and courage,” as Taylor explains it—which started with Old South’s knitting club but spread globally. In the final days before last April’s marathon, trucks were arriving daily with scarves hand-knitted by people around the world, and more than 7,000 were given to runners.

“If you’ve been scarred, you carry that scar with you,” Taylor said. “We have seen evil up close, a beautiful event shattered and destroyed.”

The experience “changed us,” Taylor said. “We recognized that our Christian tools of love and peacemaking matter. They might not prevent catastrophe but they matter—they matter in knitting a fractured community back together.”

Taylor was the third and final fall semester guest-lecturer in YDS’ new leadership program, which revolves around weekend-intensive, one-credit courses led by Goettler and practitioner/leaders. DeRay McKesson of the Black Lives Matter movement guest-lectured at the first of the three, followed by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons ’92 M.A.R.

In the spring term, three guest-lecturers will lead the Transformational Leadership Program. They are:

The Rev. Amy Butler, Pastor at Riverside Church in New York City, addressing “Transformational Leadership to Revitalize the Church,” in a class to be held on Friday and Saturday, January 29- 30, with a public conversation at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 29.

Environmental lawyer Chris Sawyer ’75 M.Div., in a course entitled “Converting Social Ideas into Positive Community Realities: Leadership for Structuring Success,” with class on Friday and Saturday, February 26-27, and a public conversation at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26.

Dr. Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, addressing the issue of care for refugees around the globe will be in a class titled “Transformational Leadership in International Humanitarian Work,” to be held on Friday and Saturday, April 8-9, with a Public Conversation at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 8.

November 17, 2015