Gordon-Conwell Blog

Racial Reconciliation Series: My Personal Experience

November 17, 2017

As part of the release of fall 2017 edition of Contact Magazine, the Office Hours Faculty Blog is proud to present a 6-week series on racial reconciliation featuring articles written by experts, scholars and ministry leaders from Gordon-Conwell. The weekly release each Friday and will include articles A Conversation with Dr. Emmett G. Price III, Beyond Colorblind, Ministering to Families in the Urban ContextHow Do We Learn to Love Our Neighbor, Racial Reconciliation: My Personal Experience and Can We All Get Along.

Racial Reconciliation: My Personal Experience

Prof. Dean Borgman

During the 1930s most New England Congregational Churches were admittedly Modernistic, essentially Unitarian and Universalist. But Black Rock Congregational Church in Bridgeport, CT, was an exception. This church moved from Modernist to Fundamentalist (or from “liberal” to “evangelical,” to use today’s terms) in the 1920s under the leadership of Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon MacDowell. His daughter, Winifred, became a leading evangelist, and (not without a dash of romance) she converted a local agnostic, Arnold Borgman.

Charles MacDowell was my grandfather; Arnold and Winifred, my parents. Black Rock was almost entirely “white,” but it bordered projects that were predominantly Black. As dispensationalist Christians, we were interested in the salvation of black souls, for eternity’s sake, but seemingly unconcerned about their present worldly dilemmas. World concerns God had entrusted to Israel; the Church was made up of God’s heavenly people, who were simply waiting for the Rapture.

Through a childhood friend, God opened doors for ministry to Black youth, as busloads of youth joined our Black Rock Teenage Group. It was great, but I never took the time to hear their full stories. While teaching high school and leading a Young Life Club in New Canaan, CT, I spent time with Black students. But despite my enthusiasm for their presence, I never got to hear their stories or understand their deeper issues. Around 1960, I began doing graduate studies at Columbia University and had a roommate, a Brazilian American who identified as Black and gay. He engaged me in deep conversations and introduced me to the notion of systemic racism. My dispensational theology began to weaken, and its individualism was giving way to a more holistic theology with the strong corporate emphases of Scripture.

I became involved in an urban youth ministry with Young Life in an Anglo-Catholic Church on the Lower East Side Manhattan. Systemic obstacles were apparent all around us: in housing, education, and criminal justice; the hopelessness of dreams, pressure to join gangs and powerful incentives to chase adventure and relief through drugs.

In his old age my grandfather came to live in my parents’ home while I worked with black leaders and youth in New York. He turned to me one day and exclaimed: “Remember, Dean, the Civil War was fought over the Union—not over slavery!” I also remember being in the kitchen one day when my mother and grandmother explained: “Remember, Dean, sparrows mate with sparrows and robins with robins.” I remember no malice behind these remarks; they just hung in the air and in my mind. God knew how far I needed to go, through my own failures and pain, to fathom the significance of the Great Commandment in racial reconciliation.

I began to see that my understanding of love and compassion had been generic and superficial. We were not trained to understand communal and trans-generational trauma back then, but the compelling wounds and anger of these youth led us to empathy and a deeper understanding of privilege, power and disadvantage. A year with the Street Academies of Harlem brought us into hard confrontations, emotional encounter groups, and late night discussions with the followers of Malcolm X and others.

My learning curve also included years in Africa. The stories of African supervisors, friends, and servants pointed to the racist aspects of colonialism and our country’s economic imperialism. American aid would bounce once in Africa and then back to the U.S. But the American inner-city was the same: outsiders—landlords, teachers, police, and shop owners—profited from money pumped into such neighborhoods.

In 1975, Dr. Wesley Roberts asked me to team-teach (eventually solo-teach) a new course requested by Black students at Gordon-Conwell. All I had was my privileged perspective; I had to become a humble and receptive learner, receptive to stories of pain. Surveys I conducted as we laid the foundation for an urban Boston campus contributed to my learning curve, as did countless deep encounters with students and colleagues for 40 years at the Boston Campus. As a practical theologian, I listen to the secular world and social scientists. A shelf-full of books on the African-American experience and systemic racism helps educate me to some degree.

The triumphalism of my early theology has faded. Even now I seem to be committed to a cause that will never fully win until our Lord brings God’s final triumph of justice. We seem to be called to faithfulness until final success, knowing that it may not come in our lifetimes.

I recently listened to dismissals of white privilege by young women who see charges of privilege as racism against whites. Their perspective must be part of any discussions leading toward reconciliation. But when our interchanges are characterized by arrogance rather than humility, rhetoric rather than earnest experience, and anger rather than vulnerability, we are pushing polarization rather than seeking beloved community and God’s Kingdom among us. Ears must take precedence over mouths, real listening before even considering a response.

In our academic communities, churches and cities there are deep wounds that result in a lack of trust and hinder genuine community. Too often, we just “don’t get it.” We don’t realize how we, as those with subtle but real social power, come off to those who have always experienced less.

I am called by Jesus Christ to be childlike, to understand the total mystery of ethnic identities and social strata involved in secular society and in God’s Kingdom. Only as a vulnerable, learning sinner can I truly open my arms to relationships with all others.


Dean Borgman, long-time Charles E. Culpeper Professor of Youth Ministries, joined Gordon-Conwell in 1976, bringing valuable expertise in urban and cross-cultural youth ministry and the changing youth culture. Recognized as a leader in youth ministries, he established Young Life in New England, founded its Urban Training Center and worked to integrate youth into Young Life and St. Christopher’s Episcopal Mission in Lower Manhattan, NY. He also taught at New Canaan (CT) High School, New York City Community College, Cuttington College in Liberia, and served as Educational Director of Street Academies for the New York Urban League. An Episcopal priest, he was on the Youth Board of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the Youth, Urban and Spiritual Renewal Commissions of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. In addition, he was the Youth Ministry Consultant at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.


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Racial Reconciliation Series: How do we Learn to Love our Neighbor?

November 09, 2017

As part of the release of fall 2017 edition of Contact Magazine, the Office Hours Faculty Blog is proud to present a 6-week series on racial reconciliation featuring articles written by experts, scholars and ministry leaders from Gordon-Conwell. The weekly release each Friday and will include articles A Conversation with Dr. Emmett G. Price III, Beyond Colorblind, Ministering to Families in the Urban Context, How Do We Learn to Love Our Neighbor, Racial Reconciliation: My Personal Experience and Can We All Get Along.

How do we Learn to Love our Neighbor?

Quonekuia Day, M.Phil./Ph.D. (cand.)

How Do We Learn to Love our Neighbor?” For some, this question may conjure up memories of the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable is told in response to a lawyer’s question to Jesus on how he might receive eternal life.

Jesus initially tells the lawyer to follow the first two commandments of the Law: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. However, this answer is not sufficient for the lawyer, who further presses Jesus to identify the neighbor. This inquiry leads Jesus to present the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the parable, a man is injured, robbed and left helpless. Three men identified as a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan have an opportunity to aid the injured man. But it is only the Samaritan who intervenes to change the injured man’s condition. The priest and the Levi recognize the injured man but do not intervene to change his fate. At the conclusion of the parable Jesus asks the lawyer to identify the neighbor of the injured man, to which he responds by indicating that he was the Samaritan.

Perhaps one of the more notable moments of the Good Samaritan story is when each person sees the injured man. The priest sees the injured man and continues with his journey. The Levi sees the injured man and continues with his journey. But when the Samaritan sees the injured man, he is moved with compassion—splagcnizomai. He stops his journey and acts to change the fate of the injured man. The compassion he feels prompts him to intervene on the behalf of the man.

The Greek word splagcnizomai, translated as “compassion,” is the same word used to describe Jesus’ feelings in Matthew 14:14 as he looked upon the large crowd of followers. He lamented that they had no shepherd and he healed the sick and miraculously fed them after multiplying two fishes and five loaves of bread. In Luke 7:13, the scripture details that Jesus felt compassion—splagcnizomai— for the mother whose son had died, and then he raised the son from the dead. The compassion—splagcnizomai—experienced by the Samaritan and by Jesus leads them each to act to change the circumstances of the injured and the helpless.

Our question is “How to Learn to Love our Neighbor?” Learning to love our neighbor begins with following the example of Jesus Christ and the Good Samaritan—that when we see our neighbor in a helpless, injured condition, we feel compassion to act. It is not enough for us to simply recognize his or her condition as pitiful or a sorrowful state.

The homeless, abused, oppressed and neglected require more than recognition that their state in life is sorrowful. In order for their condition to improve, they will need more Christians to feel and experience something so strong that it interrupts their life, stops their journey and causes action on behalf of the injured. The Christian will have to be moved by compassion—splagcnizomai.

Prof. Quonekuia Day, Instructor in Old Testament, joined the Gordon-Conwell faculty full-time in 2009 after serving as Coordinator of Student Advisement and Mentored Ministry for the Boston campus, and as an adjunct professor. She also taught for Vision New England at her church, Greater Love Tabernacle in Roxbury, MA, and the Southern New England Church of God Ministerial Internship Program. A licensed clinical social worker, she has served at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Dimock Community Health Center, all in Boston. She has also co-facilitated a substance abuse support group. She is an Ordained Minister with the Church of God, Cleveland in Tennessee.


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Racial Reconciliation Series: Ministering to Families in the Urban Context

November 03, 2017

As part of the release of fall 2017 edition of Contact Magazine, the Office Hours Faculty Blog is proud to present a 6-week series on racial reconciliation featuring articles written by experts, scholars and ministry leaders from Gordon-Conwell. The weekly release each Friday and will include articles A Conversation with Dr. Emmett G. Price III, Beyond Colorblind, Ministering to Families in the Urban Context, How Do We Learn to Love Our Neighbor, Racial Reconciliation: My Personal Experience and Can We All Get Along.

Ministering to Families in the Urban Context

Dr. Virginia Ward (MA ’10, D.Min.’16)

Churches in the urban landscape are poised to reach families of all ethnicities.

More families are living in urban areas than in the past. The United States Census Bureau reported that in 1950 only 56 percent of the population lived in the city. That number increased to 76 percent in 1989 and to 80.7 percent in 2010.

The urbanization of communities during the mid-century created new challenges for families. The major support systems of the family, school and work encountered a different set of demands. Urban youth were faced with social and economic problems at a greater rate than their suburban counterparts.1

The biblical “first family” gives us a snapshot of the complexity of the urban family:

A father, although present, is not walking in his full authority

A mother, deceived by Satan, disobeys God’s commandment

An angry, envious son kills his brother

An obedient son innocently loses his life

As a result of these complex issues, the family is a) displaced from their original home environment (the Garden of Eden), b) in trauma over the loss of a son and, c) faces economic hardship due to Adam’s new job situation. Many of the issues facing urban families are displayed in this account: opposing agendas, lack of male leadership, unsupported females, sibling rivalry and economic hardship, to name a few.

Although the first biblical family had a father present in the home, 70 percent of urban families [currently] do not have a male parent living in the home. For the 30 percent that do, most of the parents are struggling to find their spiritual identity and do not feel adequate to help their children.

Today, the urban family is not as well defined as in bible times. The biblical mandates requiring parents to train their children in the ways of God and equip them for life assumed that each home unit was comprised of a father and mother. These mandates were taught from the previous generation and passed on to the current generation in order for them to instruct future generations. Fathers and mothers were given specific roles to accomplish this goal.

The current urban family description does not fit this pattern. With the exodus of men and women from the home to the world of work and the increase of fatherlessness, the traditional, biblical model of parenting is in question. Given the abandonment of children to the influence of technology and the streets, coupled with the epidemic of violence that touches the lives of youth, today families require additional support.2

The extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and all blood relatives used to be a constant network to rely on in times of need. Over the years this extended network has fragmented and families are left with minimal internal support. Immigrant families often have an additional language barrier to face.

Governmental agencies and community supports have risen in attempt to meet the challenge of supporting families. Urban churches can also assist with this challenge to support families, even in complicated circumstances, if youth leaders are properly trained to do so.

In cases where the mother is the head of household, the Church must support single mothers to become the spiritual leaders and champions in the home.3 We have witnessed many single mothers who have raised Christian children who are successful academically, socially and financially. Using the Church as a community, single mothers, Christian and non-Christian, can connect with strong Christian families. Men serving as uncles, big brothers and fathers support the children.

Urban fathers are not totally out of the picture. There are some hard-working fathers who have stayed in the home despite the special challenges and barriers facing urban fathers. Dr. Willie Richardson, author of Reclaiming the Urban Family, declares that the Church cannot build strong families without reaching out to fathers and sons. The Church can help men address the issues plaguing their parenting successfully in an urban environment by being intentional about including men in the spiritual development of youth.

The urban church is a great resource for families seeking additional support for their children’s holistic development. Eugene Roehlkepartain of Youth Ministry in City Churches believes that each urban church must develop its own plan to reach youth and families in their community. He states that since no city is exactly alike; the youth ministry models will also vary. Although the ministry components may be similar, there is no one size fits all approach in urban youth and family ministry.

In Hardwired to Connect it is noted that religious institutions are recognized as one of the strongest civic institutions in low-income neighborhoods.4 Urban churches can provide better leadership by empowering youth leaders to build authoritative communities to support youth and families. This is a practical approach, enabling youth leaders to connect with the multiple systems that surround our youth. Urban youth ministry models must address all aspects of youth development in connection with the family. The urban family needs a connection to the Church and other supportive systems. The youth leader can be the facilitator of these connections.

The living parts or systems in urban environments include the family, health, education, justice, poverty, trauma, faith, court and penal institutions, civic duty and the multi-faceted cultural component. These systems in the urban environment surrounding youth connect with each other, some by choice and others by force. Youth workers should be able to identify these systems and connect with them for strategic ministry to youth and their families. Understanding urban and family systems are essential keys to ministry in an urban context. Youth and family ministry in the urban environment demands an understanding of the complex systems surrounding the urban family and urban church.

In their book The Cat and the Toaster, Dr. Doug and Judy Hall, who for 50 years led the Emmanuel Gospel Center in urban Boston, present a biblical narrative of urban systems and a challenge to urban ministries to think systemically about how to navigate and connect in their communities. Urban church based youth leaders can benefit from these principles and develop relevant ministries to youth and their families.


1 Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Youth Ministry in City Churches: Proven Tips From Over 40 Youth Ministry Veterans (Loveland, CO: Thom Schultz Publication, Inc., 1989), 24.

2 R. Miller, “A Brief Introduction to Holistic Education,” The Encyclopedia of Informal Education (2000), accessed

3 George Barna, High Impact African American Churches, 136.

4 The Commission on Children at Risk, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities. (New York: Institute for American Values, 2003), 45.

Dr. Virginia Ward is Assistant Dean of Gordon-Conwell’s Boston Campus and Assistant Professor of Ministry and Leadership Development. Previously Director of Leadership and Mentored Ministry Initiatives at that campus, Dr. Ward has extensive experience as an urban pastor, ministry organizer and youth ministry expert. A third-generation minister, Rev. Ward and her husband, Bishop Larry Ward, have co-pastored the Abundant Life Church (Cambridge, MA) which they founded in 1988. She has also been a trainer for the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative and the Black Ministerial Alliance, and Director of InterVarsity’s Black Campus Ministries.


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Announcing the 2017 Advent Devotional: Register today to receive daily email Advent Devotionals

November 02, 2017

 Announcing the 2017 Advent Devotional:

Click here to register today and receive daily email devotionals authored by Gordon-Conwell faculty members starting Dec. 3, in preparation for Christmas season.
Read below for an Advent Devotional preview authored by Dr. Tom Pfizenmaier, Associate Professor of Formation and Leadership Development, Director of Formation and Leadership Development, Dean of the Hamilton Campus.


A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Matthew 2:1-12

The Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew’s gospel can be read, I think, as a cautionary “Tale of Two Kingdoms.”

Most of us wonder why Herod behaved as he did in the killing of all the male children under two years of age in Bethlehem when the Magi came. It seems a very “over the top” reaction. But was it? Some have suggested that it was simply Herod being his paranoid (and possibly schizophrenic) self. We know that he was a man who was prone to eliminate any threats to his power. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us in his Antiquities that Herod murdered his beloved wife, Miriamme, as well as her two sons, her brother, her grandfather and her mother, as well as three of his own sons.  But why does this specific announcement by the Magi trigger this response of killing innocent children he didn’t even know? I believe the answer lies in our understanding of who the Magi really were.

First, the Magi were elites. They were scholar-priests, probably Zoroastrians, who read the heavens for signs and portents related to the rising and falling of dynasties and kingdoms. In their time this was considered a precise enterprise, and was highly respected as science is in our time. Politically, the Magi held great power and influence at court. Herod knew who they were when they arrived; notice in the text how deferential he is toward them. They were likely not kings, an understanding which seeped into the tradition much later as the result of theological reflection on Isaiah 60:3, Psalm 68:29 and Psalm 72:10. Nor were they simply “wise men,” although we know from Daniel that he had contact with them in Babylon, and this may be how they first became aware of the Jewish prophecies of a Messianic King. But why did their arrival trigger Herod’s response of killing the children?

Matthew tells us the Magi came “from the east,” and this is important. Literally from “the place of the rising” meant they were Parthians. The Parthian empire stretched from what would now be eastern Turkey across Iraq and into Iran. It was a massive, powerful empire, an empire the Romans had never been able to conquer. Indeed Palestine served as a buffer state between them. So now we have powerful elites on a diplomatic mission of sorts, but does this explain Herod’s violent response to their visit? There’s more.

In the year 40 BC, the Parthians invaded Palestine, civil war broke out and Herod fled for his life to Rome. There he sat for three years, as a ruler in exile. He never forgot this. Even after he was given Roman troops and drove the Parthians back into their own territory, they still sat as a menacing threat on his eastern border, where he built a series of fortresses to protect his fragile kingdom. This also explains the reaction of the leaders when Matthew tells us, “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him” (2:3).

But finally, and this is the decisive thing, it was the news they brought that provoked Herod’s action. These Parthian Magi came with news of a new king whose star they had seen. The implications were clear. Herod was about to be overthrown. Given Herod’s psychological disposition, his personal history with the Parthian invasion, and his knowledge of the clout and influence of the Magi, we can begin to sense the tsunami which was building within him. Herod, of course, tells the Magi that he would like to know where the new king is so he can come to worship him, which is a perfect lie. He desires only to eliminate him. When God warns them in a dream not to return to Herod, he sets out on a rampage to kill all possible pretenders to his throne. Thus the slaughter of the innocents.

For those of us who follow King Jesus, we recognize in this Christmas story a deep irony in play. Yes, a new kingdom was coming, but not the kind Herod feared. The new King would be the anti-Herod. Rather than slaughter the innocents, Israel’s true king would be the Innocent, slaughtered. Rather than act selfishly to preserve a worldly kingdom, Jesus would die sacrificially to inaugurate a heavenly one. Rather than act out of fear to preserve a reign grounded in principalities and powers, Jesus would act out of faith to launch a kingdom grounded in the reign of God.

Herod the Great was right to be threatened, but not for the reasons he supposed. This Child whose star the Magi had seen was destined to be king of the Jews—and the whole world. The “slaughter of the Innocents” still goes on today, in many modes, on many levels, in many lands. Those who carry it out also feel threatened, and so they should, but not for the reasons they suppose. Their kingdoms too shall fall, not through power, might or coercion, but through the relentless power of love. Now, as then, it belongs to those who worship the One before whom the Magi knelt, to serve their King with “energy, intelligence, imagination and love.” Ours is to proclaim and live out the tale of another kingdom which has come, and is coming, in the midst of the Herods of this world who are passing away.

Dr. Tom Pfizenmaier, Dean of the Hamilton Campus; Director of Formation and Leadership Development; Associate Professor of Formation and Leadership Development. Dr. Pfizenmaier is married to Donna, and has three adult daughters: Lenevieve, Kate and Ann. Also a dog named Brewster. He is a native Bostonian, having grown up in Hingham MA. He has served Churches in Oklahoma City, OK; Arcadia, CA as an Associate Pastor, and served for 20 years as the Senior Pastor of Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in the St. Louis area. He holds a Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary in Historical Theology, but teaches in the areas of spiritual formation, leadership and leads the seminary's discipleship initiative. He enjoys reading, cooking and movies. Dr. Pfizenmaier loves spending time with family and friends over good meals. He speaks English, but is fluent in Boston.





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"Preaching as Reminding" by Dr. Jeffrey Arthurs

November 01, 2017


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