News and Events
Scott grant to fund “the House beyond the House”
08.15.14 - Disciples Divinity House has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Oreon E. Scott Foundation to launch, test, and evaluate two peer-driven projects in leader development: 1) The Constructive Theologies project and 2) a Resourcing Young Clergy Leaders event. Both projects effectively move “the House” beyond “the House,” insofar as the reach of each project extends beyond current Disciples Divinity House students, not only to DDH alumni/ae who serve across the U.S., but also to other emerging Disciples theological leaders, in one project, and, in the other, to their former ecumenical classmates (and now fellow graduates) at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. The grant provides resources for these projects to develop in conversation among alumni/ae and student leaders. Associate Dean Yvonne Gilmore will serve as project manager.
Disciples students Andrew Packman (PhD student in Theology and co-founding pastor of Root and Branch, a new church start), Allie Lundblad (MDiv student), and Christian Watkins (2014 Yale MDiv graduate) initiated the Constructive Theologies project with an interest in connecting with peers from across the Disciples of Christ. The project envisions cultivating innovative ideas that “move” across racial, vocational, intellectual and economic lines--an "idea trust" ensures space for the peer development of creative, faithful, risk-taking theological thinking. Participants in this project are peers in the sense that they share a common generational frame of reference (ages 25 to 35) and a common hope to create effective roads to personal and ecclesial transformation, and especially to becoming a pro-reconciling and anti-racist church.
The Resourcing Young Clergy Leaders event was developed out of an appeal by alumnus Beau Underwood and former resident Ben Varnum to their fellow Divinity School MDiv alumni/ae. It will initially take the form of a “Ministry Alumni/ae Retreat” in collaboration the Divinity School on October 3-4, 2014 in Hyde Park. A pilot group of MDiv alumni/ae who have been actively engaged in ministry landscapes and graduated between 2007 and 2010 have been invited to return for a time of peer driven reflection and renewal.
DDH hosts NAPAD Convocation, lifts up connections
07.29.14 - The North American Pacific Asian Disciples (NAPAD) will hold its 18th Biennial Convocation in Hyde Park, August 6-9. The gathering will bring 150 Disciples together for worship, fellowship, business meetings, and educational events.
Sixty years ago in June 1954, David T. Kagiwada, a second generation Japanese American Disciple who suffered internment during the Second World War, graduated from DDH and the Divinity School and was ordained. Together with Soongook Choi and Harold Johnson, he became a founding force in the establishment of the American Asian Disciples (later NAPAD). A pastor and compassionate advocate for justice, he would become its first convener and the first of many DDH graduates to give leadership to NAPAD and the first of many connections between NAPAD and DDH. NAPAD moderator-elect John Roh and past moderator and historian Timothy Lee are DDH alumni, as are Disciples and NAPAD leaders April Lewton, Vy Nguyen, and Sandhya Jha. Key NAPAD figures also provide leadership at DDH: JoAnne Kagiwada, a retired attorney and nonprofit leader, is a longtime DDH trustee; April Lewton and Gaylord Yu also currently serve as DDH trustees.
Downers Grove celebrates 50
07.22.14 - On July 20, the First Christian Church of Downers Grove, Illinois, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. The congregation, started in 1964 by William E. Crowl, who was then a DDH Scholar, is now led by alumna Teresa Hord Owens, who serves as Senior Minister and also as Dean of Students at the Divinity School. “Our congregation has a real heart for our community, a love that stretches from Downers Grove to children across the globe in Belarus,” Terri Owens says. That commitment goes back to the church’s early years. Bill Crowl tells the story of the Planning Commission hearing to approve the plans for the building in 1967. When a local resident asked, “Do you sing with the windows open?,” he replied, “[W]e are not only a people who sing their faith in the building, we are also a people who live out our faith outside the building.” Commitment to and support of ministry students has been an important part of the congregation’s ministry. Katherine Newman Kinnamon was the first of many Disciples House Scholars to complete field education there. Others include Nancy TannerTheis, Peter Browning, Randall Russell, Susan Miller, Doug Job, Katy McFall, Andy Snyder, Michael Karunas, Sarah Chenoweth West, Tish Duncan and Brandon Cline, and current Scholars Hye In Park and Danielle Cox.
HELM calls Chris Dorsey as Transitional President
07.16.14 (adapted from HELM press release) - The board of directors of Higher Education & Leadership Ministries (HELM) of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has called Bernard "Chris" Dorsey to serve as its next president effective August 1, 2014. A dynamic and creative leader, Mr. Dorsey is currently an Assistant Professor of Theology and Preaching at Western Theological Seminary. He is a PhD candidate in Theology at the Divinity School, where he entered as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar, and holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (BS) and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (MDiv). An ordained Disciples minister, he previously served as a local church pastor, university chaplain at Clark Atlanta University, and as Vice President of Development and Marketing at Chicago Theological Seminary.
Recognizing a transitional point in the life of HELM's witness and ministry as well as current challenges facing local congregations and faith-based institutions, the HELM board invited applications for a transitional 3-year presidency. Board chair Ed Strong commented, "We were pleased with the success of the search process that led to the calling of Rev. Dorsey. The enthusiasm he engendered during this process is indicative of his desire and ability to guide HELM during its transitional period as it seeks to determine how best to serve the colleges, universities, theological institutions, and students in the task of developing and fostering leadership within the Church and society." Chris Dorsey responded, "I look forward to building on HELM's success of leadership development and finding new ways to equip people with the skills and tools needed for successful ministry and service in a rapidly changing world."
An ovation for Landon as he retires from HELM
07.01.2014 - Dennis Landon retired as President of Higher Education and Leadership Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on June 30. He became president of the general ministry in 1997, when it was known as the Division of Higher Education. The ministry represents "over a century of organized Disciples commitment to the ministries of higher education as manifested in colleges and universities, campus ministries, and graduate theological education."
Dennis led the Board of Directors and staff in focusing on leadership development--"identifying, cultivating, equipping and supporting transformative leaders"--as the core work of the general ministry. The inauguration of HELM's Leadership Fellows program for Disciples college students was a centerpiece of the new focus; it also represented the creative marshaling of limited financial and staff resources and a response to a gap in recruitment of younger leaders. HELM also became known for zany and winsome interpretive work, especially at General Assemblies, that often featured Dennis and Leadership Fellows. Meanwhile, Dennis and staff continued to work with undergraduate institutions, campus ministries, graduate theological education institutions, and Disciples faculty to connect and strengthen those organizations' and individuals' work. An ordained Disciples minister who is a graduate of Columbia University as well as of the Disciples Divinity House and the University of Chicago Divinity School, Dennis Landon served as a minister in Disciples congregations and as the executive for a cluster of colleges before coming to HELM. He and spouse Lana Hartman Landon, who is herself a DDH alumna, are planning to move to Pennsylvania.
Vy Nguyen called to Week of Compassion
06.25.2014 - Alumnus Vy Nguyen has been called as the next Executive Director of the Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), effective September 1. An ordained Disciples minister, he now serves as Southwest Associate Field Director for Church World Service, one of Week of Compassion's largest ministry partners. With Church World Service, he has worked with congregations and volunteers throughout California and the Southwest to interpret the mission of Church World Service and to increase fundraising. Previously, he worked with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Berkeley, California.
"As a former refugee who came to the United States through the efforts of Refugee and Immigration Ministries and Church World Service, he has witnessed firsthand the life-changing work that Week of Compassion facilitates. Through his work with Church World Service and local congregations, he has sought to foster among communities a deeper understanding and awareness of both the challenges that individuals and families face in the world as they struggle for refuge, as well as the importance of building local capacities and movements towards sustainable development in international relief and long-term development work. His commitment to enhancing diverse community engagement with the mission and vital work of outreach organizations has led him to work closely with senior staff at Church World Service on researching why communities choose to become involved in and engaged with new causes and non-profit organizations. Their efforts have led to new and creative ways of engaging with communities and donors to increase fundraising as well as strengthening relationships with individuals and communities."
Vy earned a BA in religious studies with a minor in environmental sciences at Texas Christian University before entering the University of Chicago as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar and earning his MDiv from the Divinity School. He was ordained to the ministry at East Dallas Christian Church, the congregation that helped to welcome him to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam. He is "committed to giving back to the ministry that shaped him and to work to empower individuals and communities to build better lives."
Convocation celebrates grads, end of 119th year
06.16.2014 - At the Convocation Service held Friday evening, June 13, the Disciples Divinity House celebrated the achievements of five graduates and marked the end of DDH's 119th academic year. Two House Scholars received their degrees the next day at the University of Chicago and Divinity School Convocation ceremonies: Alexandra McCauslin received the MDiv degree, and Brandon Cook received the MDiv and MA in Social Service Administration degrees. On August 24, Alex will be ordained at her home congregation, Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan; Brandon will be ordained on June 29 at Mayslick Christian Church in Mayslick, Kentucky. The DDH Convocation service also recognized three persons who anticipate receiving their PhDs later this year: Mandy Burton (Religion and Literature), and House Scholars Kristel Clayville (Religious Ethics) and Patricia Duncan (Bible). The service, planned by the graduates, began with the chanting of the Shema and the V'ahavta, and included readings from Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, and Matthew. It was followed by a festive reception and dinner prepared by Emily Mulder, who has been the Monday dinner chef this year.
The Convocation speaker was alumna Sandhya Jha. Using Ezekiel's image of eating the scroll of life, she addressed "The Myth of Book Smart vs. Street Smart." Ms. Jha received her MDiv degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School and her MA in Public Policy from the Harris School of the University of Chicago in 2005 as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar; she was ordained at National City Christian Church in June 2005. An organizer, anti-racism trainer, speaker, and spiritual leader, she became the Director of Interfaith Programs for the East Bay Housing Organizations in Oakland, California, in 2012. She is also the Director and Founder of the Oakland Peace Center, a collaborative of over 30 peace organizations, and the author of Room at the Table, the groundbreaking book about the 200-year multicultural history that makes up the Disciples of Christ. She previously served as Senior Pastor, First Christian Church of Oakland, and as Minister of Transformation and Reconciliation, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Northern California and Nevada. While finishing her BA from Johns Hopkins University (1998), she became a staff assistant in the Office of U.S. Congressman Tom Sawyer, and subsequently served for two years as Religious Outreach Coordinator for The Interfaith Alliance in Washington, DC. She is pictured here with her parents, Janette and Sunil Jha, who were special guests at the Convocation.
In Memoriam: Josephine Gilstrap Blakemore, 1914-2014
05.14.2014 - Josephine Gilstrap Blakemore died peacefully on May 10. She was 99. She was an indomitable woman whose great loyalty, intelligence, and spirit were committed to W. Barnett Blakemore, to his deanship and legacy, to their family, and to the Disciples Divinity House and the University that they both loved and served. A fierce defender of excellence in ministry, she leaves her own legacy of service and leadership. Her death, while not wholly unexpected, marks the passing of an era. Not only of a generation, of an era.
Josephine Gilstrap was born in Oregon on October 21, 1914. She was the daughter and granddaughter of Disciples ministers. From 1939-41, she served as Director of Student Work at First Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri, with C. E. Lemmon. Dr. Lemmon, a trustee of the Disciples Divinity House, also proved to be a matchmaker. In the autumn of 1941 at the "C" Shop in Hutchinson Commons, Josephine Gilstrap met Barnett Blakemore, a newly-minted PhD who had recently been appointed to the Divinity School faculty with varied duties at the Disciples Divinity House. It was wartime, they were both older and knew what they wanted; they courted through letters and married on June 2, 1942, in the Chapel of the Holy Grail. Their fathers, both Disciples ministers, presided at the service. Their marriage represented the coming together of two distinct and disparate streams of the Disciples—hers the Disciples pioneers who settled in the northwest United States, his the pioneers of western Tennessee and the Christian Church in Australia. Two children were born to them, William and Jory.
In 1945, W. Barnett Blakemore became the fourth dean of the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago (DDH), which he led until his death in 1975. He would lead the DDH into its second half-century and through its 75th anniversary, teach as professor of ecumenical theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, serve as Associate (acting) Dean of Rockefeller Chapel from 1959-65, chair the Panel of Scholars for the Disciples of Christ and edit its three-volume report, and become a delegate observer to the Second Vatican Council. As he administered, taught, preached, wrote, and served, Josephine Blakemore accompanied him, served alongside him, and immersed herself within the community and University. She was active with the University Laboratory Schools, she became president and a life member of the University Service League, she gave decades of service to and was an honorary life member of the Chicago Lying-In Hospital Board of Directors, she was active in the Women's Board and with the Library Society. She traveled with Dean Blakemore around the world, including to New Delhi for the World Council of Churches and to Rome for the Second Vatican Council. With Dean Blakemore, she oversaw a project of refurbishing the Chapel of the Holy Grail. She organized DDH's Willett Library and its collection.
She and Dean Blakemore welcomed generations of students and their families to the Disciples Divinity House. In those years, there were no women among the Disciples Divinity House Scholars. Mrs. Blakemore offered lessons in hospitality and grace to the students' wives—and became a lifelong friend to many of them. Margie Vargas and David Vargas, now President Emeritus of the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), recall, "The warm hospitality she provided us when we most needed it, her friendship and support for our work during the past four decades, her love for Jesus' church, and her passion for the ministry of the DDH will never be forgotten."
After Dean Blakemore's death, Mrs. Blakemore compiled his papers and prepared them for archiving in the University of Chicago Library Special Collections, where they now reside. She met new generations of Disciples Divinity House Scholars and befriended new deans. In 2005, she served as the honorary chair for the 75th anniversary celebration of the Chapel of the Holy Grail, a space she had long championed and cherished.
Last summer, Mrs. Blakemore, together with her son and daughter, sent greetings to a Disciples Divinity House luncheon at which William E. Crowl was honored as the Distinguished Alumnus. Indirectly, those greetings voiced and affirmed a vision of excellence that had animated Mrs. Blakemore's own life. To Bill Crowl they wrote: "In your generous and diligent sharing of your many inner strengths—finding so many kind and original ways to fulfill the biblical call to affirm each other in the faith—you have strengthened and lifted our spirits with your cheerful countenance, your energy, your ingenuity, and the professional focus of your steadfast ministry of love in an ever-changing world." She herself had witnessed immense change in the long span of her life. With generosity, diligence, energy, and ingenuity, she remained constant to causes and deeply loyal to persons. With the same exemplary qualities, she sought also to uplift future generations and to strengthen the organizations that could equip those generations in an ever-changing world.
In addition to her son, William B. Blakemore, III, and her daughter, Jory Blakemore Johnson (Calvin M. Johnson), she is survived by two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and also by a sister, Fernel Downing. No memorial service is planned. As her son and daughter explained, "She said she didn't want a memorial service—she considered that 90th Surprise Birthday Party (October 2004) at the DDH her wonderful memorial that she was lucky enough to attend... and she wanted it to stay that way."
Spring quarter features alumni/ae, current scholars, and more
03.21.2014 - Spring quarter events promise an exciting array of conversations and intersections of scholarship, practice, and faith at the Disciples Divinity House. Alumni/ae from near and far will lead a number of forums and crucial conversations. Don Burk, Warren Copeland, Marshall Dunn, and Steve Duvall, from the 1965-69 entering classes, will share their cohort's "Life Journeys" project with current House scholars and with members of the Board of Trustees and the Alumni/ae Council in late April. Laura Jean Torgerson and Tim Donaghy will reflect on their experience as missionaries in Theology without Climate Control: Reflections on Mission in Nicaragua on April 7. We also look forward to the return of alumnus William Wright, Associate Professor of Religion at Eureka College, as he preaches at chapel on May 5. Alumna Sandhya Jha, Director of Interfaith Programs for the Eastbay Housing Organizations, will speak at the DDH Convocation on June 13.
Current House scholars and residents are also among the speakers. MDiv student Hye In Park will present her senior ministry project and Jaewoong Jeon, a resident who is a PhD candidate in History, will speak about his research. PhD candidates Brandon Cline (ECL), Kristel Clayville (Ethics), Patricia Duncan (Bible), and Andrew Langford (Bible), who will lead a forum, Disciples and Biblical Interpretation. DDH Trustee Julian DeShazier, who is Senior Minister of University Church, and Bromleigh McCleneghan, Associate for Congregational Life at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, will also offer forums.
"Inheritance and transformation" series on 1/27 and 2/10
01.24.2014 - A two-part Monday forum series will feature Associate Dean Yvonne Gilmore in conversation with Chicago Disciples leader Dolores Highbaugh. Part 1 will offer Beginning notes on pro-reconciliation/anti-racism methodology in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on January 27. It will be presented by Associate Dean Gilmore who, as an anti-racism trainer through Reconciliation Ministries of the Christian Church, has worked with the general church, educational institutions, regions, and congregations. Part 2 of the series, A conversation on race, place, and migration in Chicago, is planned for February 10. Associate Dean Gilmore will speak with Dolores Highbaugh. Ms. Highbaugh, a Disciples leader, long-time friend of the Disciples Divinity House, and elder of Park Manor Christian Church, has been a lifelong voice for transformation and engagement across the Christian Church and in other venues. Both events will be held at 7:00 pm at the Disciples Divinity House.
In memoriam: Woodrow W. Wasson, 1916 - 2013
01.06.2014 - Alumnus Woodrow W. Wasson died December 10, 2013, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 97. A memorial service was held January 2, 2014, at Woodmont Christian Church in Nashville. As Mark Miller-McLemore, Dean of DDH at Vanderbilt, said at the service: "He was an intellectual, extremely well-educated, a scholar in service of the church, who wrote and led and taught at a high level. He felt the life of faith was a matter of absolute seriousness, deserving of our very best in clear thinking, truth telling, in joyous and full living with the best of all human expression in culture and the arts—all leading to faithful, understanding, discipleship."
Raised in Tennessee in a large family and in the Church of Christ, Woody Wasson attended David Lipscomb Junior College before receiving a BA (1939) and MA (1940) in Sociology from Vanderbilt University. One of his Vanderbilt professors, George Mayhew (himself a Chicago graduate and the founder of the Disciples Foundation, later DDH, at Vanderbilt), encouraged Mr. Wasson to continue his studies in 1940 as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar at the University of Chicago. Among other considerations, Chicago was then the center of the study of religion from a sociological-scientific point of view. Prof. Mayhew wrote to Dean E. S. Ames: I have had Mr. Wasson in one of my classes and regard him as a very superior man. He has a very attractive personality, is good-looking and neat in appearance and has a fine attitude toward life.... [T]his young man has an open mind and has great possibilities for leadership and has the courage to follow his convictions.
Mr. Wasson earned his BD at the Divinity School in 1943 and was ordained at University Church with E.S. Ames, W.E. Garrison, and Irvin Lunger among the ordaining ministers. A few years later, Dean W. Barnett Blakemore wrote to a colleague in a letter of recommendation: Mr. Wasson's own religious pilgrimage has been a significant one. You probably know that he came originally from the Church of Christ.... [I]t was only after a long period of real soul-searching that he left.... In all my experience I have never seen a man approach the problem of his religious affiliation more seriously and with greater penetration of all the factors involved.
Woody Wasson earned a PhD from the Divinity School in 1947 after continuing to study church history and social thought and completing a dissertation directed by historian Sidney Mead. In 1952, he published James A. Garfield: His Religion and Education, an examination of the Ohio Disciples minister, abolitionist, and Union general who became president in 1880; it was a study of the relation of religion and politics that was based on his dissertation.
"Woody was indelibly shaped by his experience of education in religion at Chicago, and it led him down many paths, not all of them easy." Dean Miller-McLemore explained: "Woody's college and graduate studies both examined the history and sociology of religion and sought to understand how religious truths are shaped by and expressed in the particularities of a culture and a time and a people.... The historian and the sociologist in him tried to sift or winnow the grains of what we now call social location in order to find one thing needful, the large truth in common that could bring people of good will, intelligence, and belief together in common faith. But this sincere and rigorous searching after truth, using the latest scientific methods, must have put him greatly at odds with his church of Christ family here.... His family turned their backs on him. The search for truth can lead people apart as well as together."
In 1944, he married Frances Marie Tallmon in Wightman Chapel at Scarritt College in Nashville. They had met as students, and Marie had earned her BS in 1942 from Peabody College at Vanderbilt. While he continued his doctoral studies, she studied medical sciences at the University of Chicago. She later became an Instructor in the Department of Pathology at the Vanderbilt University Medical School.
In 1949, after Mr. Wasson had held two short-term teaching posts in the southwest, the Wassons moved to Athens, Georgia, where he became Professor of Religion and founding Dean of the Christian College at the University of Georgia. There he supervised Disciple students serving in ministry in local churches, raised money for their support, and offered courses relevant to the practice of ministry that also counted for undergraduate credit at the university. He spoke at Disciple gatherings and conventions and authored numerous articles. The position placed him in stressful cross-currents and, eventually, the Wassons returned to Nashville, where they would work and live for the rest of their lives. Mr. Wasson lectured for a year at Vanderbilt University School of Religion. He engaged postgraduate study at Oxford in 1955, and then served as archivist at Vanderbilt University. He received a certificate in Archival Administration in 1962 from American University and a Masters in Library Science from Peabody College in 1967. Later and until his retirement, he was a professor of sociology and religion at Middle Tennessee State University.
"The Christian life as it is lived is expressed in its fullness and simplicity by these three great words [faith, hope, and love]," he preached in a sermon given on a Chicago radio station in June 1944, two days before D-Day. "...They are not theological words to be confined to any system of religious thought or to any dogmatic creed. They best express an attitude. When they are thought of as expressing an attitude, they then become part of the tissue of human living, rather than divorced form the tissue of human life."
The death of Marie Wasson, his beloved wife for 58 years, "was a blow from which he could not escape. He slipped further into dementia, and a fine intellect was lost." He is survived by Susan Hammonds-White, a goddaughter who remained close through his final years, and by the educational institutions he esteemed and helped to shape.