The Disciples Divinity House mourns the death of Clark M. Williamson, distinguished alumnus, trustee, and beloved friend. He died after a short illness on June 26, in Indianapolis. He was 85.
Love of questions brought Clark Williamson to DDH as a student in 1957 and to pathbreaking work as a Christian theologian. A pioneer in Post-Holocaust theology, important voice in Process Theology, and leading Disciples theologian, he was the author of seventeen books, including his systematic theology, Way of Blessing, Way of Life: A Christian Theology (1999), which was recently published in Korean translation. He was the Indiana Professor of Christian Thought Emeritus at Christian Theological Seminary and its former Vice President and Dean. An ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he was also a deeply appreciated member of Central Christian Church in Indianapolis, having served as Elder, a longtime volunteer in the Free Clothing pantry, and as teacher. He was a valued colleague, mentor, and friend, and, for many, a teacher without parallel.
In 2007, he was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Disciples Divinity House. In 2015, he was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. He served as the Honorary Co-chair, with JoAnne Kagiwada, of DDH’s 125th Anniversary Celebration in May 2019. This April, the Barbara and Clark Williamson Scholarship reached full endowment at $250,000, largely due to Barbara and Clark’s generosity over many years and a magnificent pledge from Clark to the 125th anniversary campaign. It will recognize "excellence in theological thinking that furthers understanding and accountability between traditions," and be awarded for the first time this fall. It expresses the conviction that thinking critically about faith and about the accountability of Christianity to other faiths is essential for spiritual life and leadership.
Clark Murray Williamson was born November 3, 1935, in Memphis, Tennessee. He grew up in the Taylor Memorial Christian Church in Memphis, where his grandfather, J. Murray Taylor, was minister. His grandfather viewed the principal calling of the minister to be that of teacher of the Christian faith, a perspective that animated Clark's own approach to theology, church, and ministry.
When Clark Williamson arrived at the Disciples Divinity House in 1957 from Transylvania College, he thought, “I had finally found a place where I was intellectually and spiritually at home.” He had completed the AB in religion and philosophy at Transylvania that spring. The school’s president, Irvin Lunger, told Williamson about DDH. Lunger was a DDH alumnus. Williamson entered the Divinity School as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar, and earned BD (1961), AM (1963), and PhD (1969) degrees from the University of Chicago. He served as assistant dean of the Disciples Divinity House and as interim minister of University Church. He was also Paul Tillich's assistant for Volume III of Tillich's Systematic Theology. Tillich referred to Williamson as “my Englisher.” For his part, Clark had a raft of stories to share about “Paulus.”
Barbara Unger was a student working in the office of the dean of the Divinity School when she and Clark met. She earned AB (French) and AM (Linguistics) degrees from the University and taught high school French before serving as executive director of the ACLU in Indiana, in the US Attorney’s Office, and in the Federal Court House in Indianapolis. They raised one child, Scott. He graduated from the College, making for six University of Chicago degrees in a family of three. Barbara Williamson died in October 2016. Barbara and Clark are survived by Scott and his wife Eva, and beloved grandchildren Jolie and newly-born James, who live in Washington, DC.
In 1966, Mr. Williamson joined the faculty at Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) in Indianapolis. Advancing quickly to associate and then full professor, he became the first occupant of the Indiana Chair of Christian Thought and served as Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs, retiring in 2002. He also served as a visiting professor at the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Bossey, Switzerland, and at the Claremont School of Theology. Transylvania University honored him with the Distinguished Achievement Award (2002) and with the Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa) (2005).
Seeking to identify anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in Christian theology and to correct it was one of the most persistent themes of his life and work. As he said, “I have come to see that loving questions and loving strangers (who bring their questions with them) is a requirement of Christian faith. Even more, it is a requirement of any authentic spirituality or pastoral leadership. After Auschwitz, unquestioning faith is pernicious.” His 1982 book, Has God Rejected his People?, recognized the searing questions put to the Christian community by the Shoah. Later books continued this work, including A Guest in the House of Israel: Post-Holocaust Church Theology (1989) and the three-volume lectionary commentary series co-authored with Ron Allen that provided guidance for Christian preaching without “blaming the Jews” or “dismissing the Law,” as two of the subtitles put it. He served on the Committee on the Church and the Holocaust of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was a member of the Christian Scholars Group on Judaism. A 2003 conference at CTS discussed his contributions to Jewish-Christian conversations and to post-Holocaust theology.
He described his work, in part, as rethinking Christian faith in conversation with contemporary issues and points of view. Ron Allen, colleague at CTS and coauthor with Williamson of several books, observes that Clark was self-consciously a “church theologian,” that is, a theologian who intended for his work to strengthen the church. “While his published works show remarkable depth and precision, they are written in ways that are immediately accessible. His writings are marked by epigrammatic expressions that bespeak a mind that is simultaneously penetrating, insightful, critical, visionary, restive, and playful. He could devastate a whole argument put forward by a student or colleague with a single humorous expression, and was occasionally too willing to do so.”
In books and in numerous journal articles, Mr. Williamson developed an interpretation of God and the world through the lens of neo-process thought. He interpreted the gospel as the dipolar news of God’s unconditional love for each and all, including for elements of nature, and God’s command for justice for each and all. The dominant witness and animating center of his life was the unrelenting awareness of being graciously loved beyond measure and the consequent mission of enhancing the knowledge of that love in church and world, and calling for love in every heart, every relationship and every circumstance. A favorite characterization of God came from Alfred North Whitehead: that God’s nature “is best conceived, [as] that of a tender care that nothing be lost.” Read more about his work.
We give thanks for his life, his questions and insight, his tenacity, generosity, and wisdom. A memorial service will be held at Central Christian Church in late September. Memorial gifts may be made to the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago, Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, or the ACLU of Indiana Foundation.
Alumnus Don A. Pittman, the William Tabbernee Professor of the History of Religions Emeritus and former Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Phillips Theological Seminary died June 26 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had joined the PTS faculty in 2000 after having taught for seven years at Tainan Theological College and Seminary in southern Taiwan, where he also served on the regional faculty of the Southeast Asia Graduate School of Theology. A leader in Disciples theological education for many years, he had also served as Associate Dean of Brite Divinity School and as a member of the Brite faculty for ten years. During Don Browning's deanship, he served as Associate Dean of the Disciples Divinity House and, during the 1983-84 academic year, as acting dean.
After earning a BA from Texas Christian University (1970) and a MDiv (1973) and MA (1976) from Vanderbilt University, he entered the University of Chicago Divinity School as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar. He earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1987, and later did postdoctoral studies at National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan (1994-95).Trained as a scholar of Chinese Buddhism, he also gained historical and global perspectives on theology and ministry and expertise in cross-cultural studies.
His publications included Ministry and Theology in Global Perspective: Contemporary Challenges for the Church, co-edited with Ruben Habito and Terry Muck (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996) and Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu’s Reforms (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001), plus numerous scholarly articles in English and Chinese. His keen mind and gentle spirit made him a treasured colleague in theological education and among the Association of Disciples for Theological Discussion (ADTD).
He died following a last fierce battle with Parkinson's disease. He is survived by his spouse, Nancy Claire Pittman, who is the President of Phillips Theological Seminary, his mother, Eve, and three daughters, Merillat, Katheryn, and Debra. A memorial service will be held at 2 pm CDT Friday, July 2, at Harvard Avenue Christian Church in Tulsa; it will be livestreamed. Interment will be the following week in Fort Worth, Texas. Read the PTS obituary and more about his contributions.
DDH's backyard will be renewed as a place of gathering, relaxation, and respite. Can you imagine sitting together outdoors for Monday dinners? A patio, grill, serving area, farm table, and strings of lights will make that and other student gatherings possible. What about finding a quiet retreat to talk with a colleague or read a book? There will be hammocks, a swinging bench, a fire pit, plus raised beds for vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Ernest Wong of Site Design developed the plans in consultation with the trustees and a group of students. The work starts in July.
Love of questions brought Clark Williamson to DDH as a student in 1957 and to his pathbreaking work on post-Holocaust theology and against anti-Jewishness in Christian theology. The Barbara and Clark Williamson Scholarship, now fully endowed at $250,000, will recognize "excellence in theological thinking that furthers understanding and accountability between traditions." Friends and family joined with Mr. Williamson and the Board of Trustees on April 24 to inaugurate the scholarship.
The scholarship will be awarded for the first time this fall. It will support future generations of students, including, on occasion, students in the Divinity School from other traditions to make possible their residence and participation in shared life and thought at DDH. It expresses the conviction that thinking critically about faith and about the accountability of Christianity to other faiths is essential for spiritual life and leadership. As Clark has said, “I have come to see that loving questions and loving strangers (who bring their questions with them) is a requirement of Christian faith. Even more, it is a requirement of any authentic spirituality or pastoral leadership. After Auschwitz, unquestioning faith is pernicious.”
When Clark Williamson arrived at the Disciples Divinity House in 1957 from Transylvania College, he thought, “I had finally found a place where I was intellectually and spiritually at home.” He earned BD, MA, and PhD degrees at the University of Chicago Divinity School as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar. He became an architect of post-Holocaust Christian theology, the author of more than twenty books, and the Indiana Professor of Christian Thought at Christian Theological Seminary (now emeritus). Barbara was a student working in the office of the dean of the Divinity School when they met. She earned AB (French) and AM (Linguistics) degrees from the University and taught high school French before serving as executive director of the ACLU in Indiana, in the US Attorney’s Office, and in the Federal Court House in Indianapolis. Barbara Williamson died in 2016. The determination to grow the endowment was further catalyzed when then-MDiv student Rachel Abdoler completed an internship at Congregation Beth El Zedeck in Indianapolis that Clark was instrumental in helping to arrange. He saw the quality of leadership and thought that was possible in a DDH student.
Barbara and Clark Williamson began to build the fund in gratitude for excellence in theological education and scholarship. The endowment was built through their commitment over twenty-two and half years, with a little help from some friends, and completed through Mr. Williamson's magnificent commitment to the 125th Anniversary Campaign. The Board of Trustees acted formally to establish the Barbara and Clark Williamson Scholarship at its April 24 meeting, which was held remotely.
Family and friends of Clark surprised him by joining the Board of Trustees for the formal action. The surprise celebration continued with the announcement of the inaugural recipient of the scholarship: Rachel Abdoler. Rachel Abdoler is now a fourth-year PhD student in the History of Christianity. She studies Christian theological texts written in Arabic against a backdrop of Christian and Islamic polemical writing, and particularly the hermeneutical strategy of Arabophone Christian, Butrus al-Sadamantī, who wrote in a thirteenth-century Copto-Islamic milieu. She spoke movingly, recounting how Clark had been a mentor during her 2014 internship in Indianapolis and dinners shared with Barbara and Clark. In all those ways and more, she explained, she felt as though she had already been a recipient of this scholarship. Her comments were followed by remarks from Rabbi Dennis Sasso, of Congregation Beth El Zedeck, who blessed his dear friend Clark, the memory of the late Barbara, the scholarship, and Rachel, its first recipient.
Sandhya Jha, author of four books and founder of the Oakland Peace Center, has been elected to the Board of Trustees. An alumna and 2006 graduate of the University of Chicago’s joint MDiv and Public Policy program, she is a consultant, community organizer, and serves with the Emerging Leaders Program at the Leadership Institute at Allen Temple. In addition to founding the Oakland Peace Center, she is its former executive director and current Connections Consultant for OPC—a collective of forty organizations working to create equity, access, and dignity as the means of creating peace in Oakland and the Bay Area. She serves as an anti-racism/anti-oppression trainer with Reconciliation Ministries for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and, with Yvonne Gilmore, co-directs DDH’s Living Justice Project: An Anti-Racist Practicum. Her first book, Room at the Table (2009), a history of people of color in the Disciples of Christ, was followed by Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines (2014), Transforming Communities: How People Like You are Healing Their Neighborhoods (2017), and, most recently, Liberating Love (2020).
David Vargas, a member of the Board's Nominating Committee, stressed the importance of the "grass roots" perspective that Sandhya Jha brings to the Board's work of planning for and imagining the future of theological education at the Disciples Divinity House. Nominating Committee chair, Claudia Highbaugh, conveyed the committee's enthusiasm and welcome. Her three-year term on the twenty-one member board begins immediately.
David Nirenberg, who has served as interim dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School since 2018, has been appointed dean, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee announced. Nirenberg, the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought, is a leading scholar of the ways in which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic societies have interacted with and thought about each other. As interim dean, he has advanced the Divinity School’s efforts to bring informed discourse on religion to a global audience.
Prior to leading the Divinity School, he served as executive vice provost, focusing on issues of critical importance related to administrative coordination between the divisions and the College. He also strengthened resources for graduate students, including serving as chair of the Graduate Education Committee, which assessed the current state of graduate education at the University. He previously served as dean of the Division of the Social Sciences from 2014 to 2018 and was the founding Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. He holds an MA and PhD in history from Princeton University and an AB from Yale University.
His new term begins July 1, 2022, at which time he will take a one-year sabbatical. James T. Robinson, the Caroline E. Haskell Professor of the History of Judaism, Islamic Studies and the History of Religions, has agreed to serve as interim dean during this time. Read the original story on the University of Chicago News site.
Ayanna Johnson Watkins, Lead Organizer for MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), a coalition of community and faith-based organizations, will preach for the first chapel service of the winter quarter on January 11. She is a joint MDiv and MA in Social Service Administration graduate and a current member of DDH's Alumni/ae Council. She previously led NBA's Incubate initiative, and had served as a new church minister in residence at DDH. She is back by popular demand after participating in a panel discussion during the autumn quarter.
She heads a calendar of diverse offerings for the quarter. On January 25, alums Tabitha Isner, a former Alabama congressional candidate, and Rob Wilson-Black, CEO of Sojourners, will discuss "Religion and the 2020 Election." On February 15, Erin Galgay Walsh, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the Divinity School, will present, "Speaking in Her Voice: Late Antique Poets and Biblical Storytelling." On March 8, alumna and Gilead Church co-founder Rebecca Anderson will take up storytelling in a different vein with "Campfire Stories."
The quarter will also feature the preaching of House Scholars Aneesah Ettress and Sarah Zuniga in the February and March chapel services. W. Clark Gilpin advances teaching and learning with two sessions of the Disciples History and Thought Seminar, both in February. All programs will convene virtually during the winter quarter.
At DDH we knew Eddie Evans Griffin best as a key officer of the Board of Trustees, a mentor to students, and a lover of the Chapel of the Holy Grail. She was a pioneer in several realms. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from what is now Clark Atlanta University, she became the first Black student to enter (and to graduate from) the Master of Social Work program at the University of Illinois. "She took life on," her dear friend Dolores Highbaugh remarked. She died December 21, 2020, after having been in hospice care. She was 85.
Born August 10, 1935 to Myrtle and Lorenzo Evans, Eddie Lo Evans spent her formative years in Indianapolis, where her father, an academic, served as the first African American staff of the National Convocation in Christian education, beginning in 1947. (In 1960-61 he became one of the first group of the merger staff of the NCMC and UCMC.) After graduate school, she married John Griffin and moved to Chicago. He predeceased her. Most of her professional career was at the Chicago Child Care Society. She began as a case worker, working primarily with sexually active teen girls; she served as a field education supervisor for the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration. She became a senior administrator with CCCS and retired as Director of the Chicago Comprehensive Care Center.
In 1999, and within a few years after she was first elected to the DDH Board of Trustees, Eddie Griffin became an officer of the board. Her experience as a leader of nonprofit organizations, her commitment to higher and theological education, her mentorship of students, and her knowledge of the church in every manifestation, as well as her wisdom and skill in decisions and processes contributed decisively to the Board’s work. She served on the Executive Committee for twelve years: as Vice President from January 2005 until December 2011, when she stepped down from the board, and as Secretary from 1999 through 2004. She knew the student community well as a regular participant in Monday dinners, programs, chapel services, as well as at Convocation and other special events. She took special pleasure and solace in the Chapel of the Holy Grail.
She was an elder at Park Manor Christian Church and a longtime Sunday school teacher. At Park Manor she was also a chair of the board, sponsor of the college program, chair of the Christian Women’s Fellowship (now Disciples Women), and a member of the Spires Women’s Group. Mrs. Griffin was a leader within the general church and served on the General Board, the Time and Place Committee, and the New Church Start Committee. She wrote meditations for women’s groups. She worked with the Chicago Disciples Union. When she became the Moderator of the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW), she was the first Black female to hold that role. During that time, she was also elected Secretary for the Conference of Regional Ministers and Moderators. In 2012, she was recognized as one of three inaugural recipients of the CCIW’s Disciple of Merit award.
Eddie Lo Evans Griffin is survived by her sister Stacy Duke (King), son Brian (Luba), and grandchildren. A virtual memorial service was held on January 16 at Park Manor Christian Church.
We are saddened to learn of the death of Robert Searle Bates (1950) on December 8 in Indianapolis. He was 92. He capped a lifelong career with Global Ministries by serving as the Area Executive for East Asia and the Pacific. Bob and Sue Bates began their careers as mission co-workers in India in the 1950s. He earned BD, MA, and PhD degrees at the Divinity School as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar.
He was born on September 22, 1928, in Shanghai, China. He attended high school in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. After graduating from Hiram College, he entered the University of Chicago as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar in 1950. He was ordained at University Church in 1953. In 1957, he married Margaret Sue Gillespie, and they went to India as mission co-workers, appointed by the United Christian Missionary Society. They worked alongside student Christian movements in Bangalore and Sri Lanka and taught at Leonard Theological College in in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India. They returned to the US in 1970. In 1974, he completed his PhD, which focused on Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict. They moved to Indianapolis in 1972, where he joined the faculty of Christian Theological Seminary as an assistant professor of Church and Urban Community, serving until 1976. He directed the Survey of Undergraduate Religious Studies in Colleges and Universities of Indiana, before beginning work with the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1978. He served DOM as Executive Secretary for the Department of Interpretation and Personnel until 1983, when he became the Executive Secretary of the Department of East Asia and the Pacific of the Division of Overseas Ministries. He retired in 1993.
Bob and Sue Bates were members of Allisonville Christian Church and served in the first group of Regional Elders for the Christian Church in Indiana. He served on the DDH Alumni/ae Council. In 2010, on one of their return trips to DDH, the Bates presented a forum on their 2008 trip to Nanjing, China. Bob Bates’s earliest years were lived in Nanjing, China, where his father, M. Searle Bates, taught history at the University of Nanking. He left Nanjing at age 12 with his mother and brother before Japanese troops invaded China in 1937. His father helped to create the Nanking Safety Zone, which protected thousands of Chinese civilians while bearing witness to the atrocities that resulted in the massacre of 300,000 civilians and the rape of women and girls. Today, the Nanjing Massacre Museum remembers the tragedy and the heroism and courage of the international committee. In 2008, Bob and Sue Bates, with their daughters and grandchildren returned to Nanjing to pray for peace, to celebrate Bob’s 80th birthday, and to visit the museum. Sue Bates died in March 2019. They are survived by daughters Karen Bates Hudson and Kristen Bates-Scott and extended family.
In Autumn 2013, Yvonne T. Gilmore became Associate Dean of the Disciples Divinity House. During these past seven years, she has invested intellect and imagination in DDH, in fact, she has exemplified critical thinking and vision for the DDH community and the wider church. She has also exemplified gratitude as she worked with family to bring the Teresa M. Gilmore Fund into being and with donors, especially younger alumni/ae. Among DDH students, she fostered camaraderie and conversation, shared worship and work, as she collaborated to arrange Chapel worship and Monday programs. Grants from the Oreon E. Scott Foundation and another from Reconciliation undergirded the “Constructive Theologies Project” and allowed her to partner with Cynthia Lindner and the Divinity School to sponsor several alumni/ae retreats. She has also worked with Disciples organizations across the country as an anti-racism trainer, and been a featured preacher and speaker at many events. With alumna Rebecca Anderson’s expertise and collaboration, they developed several “DDH StoryHour” events. Most recently, another grant from the Oreon E. Scott Foundation is allowing her to partner with Sandhya Jha for a new project entitled, “Living Justice: An Anti-Racism Practicum.” These are substantive initiatives that have shaped the House and its future.
At the end of November, she will conclude her work as Associate Dean in order to take on a new challenge and opportunity as Interim Executive Secretary of the National Convocation and Associate General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are already missing Yvonne Gilmore's style, spark, humor, insight and vision. Our consolation is that she has important work to do there, and, even more, we know she will always be a DDH alumna, and in that sense (and surely in many other ways), she will always be part of “the House.”
When her grandmother, Teresa Gilmore, died—who is remembered in the new fund—Yvonne wrote these words about her. They also apply to Yvonne herself: "She outgrew straight lines before I ever learned to describe them / she was an epic hymn sung in rounds worth repeating." The work of DDH and its students has been enriched and strengthened through the extraordinary companionship of Yvonne Gilmore—and by an epic hymn to move us as we go.