Campus & Community

Henry Luce Foundation renews support for Divinity School’s urban ministry program

3 min read

Harvard Divinity School has announced that the Henry Luce Foundation has approved a three-year grant of $240,000 to continue support for the School’s program in urban ministry. “This splendid renewal grant from the Luce Foundation will greatly help the School to give better preparation to students who want to be effective ministers in inner-city communities,” said J. Bryan Hehir, Chair of the School’s Executive Committee.

Central to this effort to improve the School’s training of ministerial students is the creation of fresh opportunities for them to work with inner-city clergy and lay leaders who have particular skill in identifying resources for community-building and in creating coalitions across ethnic, racial, and denominational lines. The new grant follows a 1995 grant from the Luce Foundation that enabled Nancy Richardson, the Associate Dean of Ministry, to sustain a pilot program in urban ministry from fall 1997 to spring 2000. Two key elements of the program have been the Luce Lecturers in Urban Ministry and the Urban Ministry Fellows.

The Luce Lecturers in Urban Ministry are distinguished clergy and scholars with experience in urban ministry who have taught at the School for a semester in their various areas of expertise, as well as teaching an urban-ministry seminar with Richardson. This semester, the Luce Lecturer was the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk, executive director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago from 1990 to 1998. She was preceded in the two previous academic years by the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr., senior minister at the Riverside Church in New York City, and Eldin Villafane, professor of Christian social ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, the Luce Lecturers have played important roles in Divinity School forums: Forbes led workshops at a 1997 symposium on preaching that was titled “Secure Enough to Risk Justice”; Villafane spoke at the School’s October 1998 symposium “Salsa Christianity: Urban Ministry in the Latino Context”; and Delk participated in “Claiming Authority, Power and Passion; Women’s Ministries in Church and Community, a recent three-day conference.

The Urban Ministry Fellows Program provides continuing education at the Divinity School for local clergy and other faith-based workers, and gives students another way to learn from clergy and lay people who are already engaged in a range of inner-city ministries. Five of the eleven Urban Ministry Fellows from 1997 to 2000 were supported by the Luce grant; tuition for the other six was provided through the Divinity School’s Field Education Program. The fellows have brought to the School a rich array of experience: Bertha Smith Pittmann, for example, is pastor of the New Life AME Zion Church in Brockton; Sister Margaret Lanen is a member of the Sister of Notre Dame Pastoral Ministry Team at St. Williams Parish in Dorchester; Manuel Duran is executive director of Casa Nueva Vida, a Boston shelter for homeless families; and Neal Halvorson-Taylor is pastor of the First Lutheran Church in Roxbury.

“It is a crucial opportunity to be intellectually refreshed in the midst of the spiritual battles that we encounter every day,” said another Luce Fellow, Robert Gray, who is a youth worker with Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain and director of the Brookline District Court Juvenile Probation Department.

The renewal grant from the Luce Foundation will enable the Divinity School to continue the Lecturers in Urban Ministry and the Urban Ministry Fellows for three more years. During this time, the School will also be exploring the creation of a concentration in urban ministry within the Master of Divinity degree program.