Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Signs Covenant with Black Churches in Boston
Picture: Dr. Ward praying, with President Sunquist and Dr. Lloyd to her right.
Representatives of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Black ministry leaders gathered to sign a covenant on February 6, 2023 for the long-term extending and deepening of training leaders for Black churches. Held at Gordon-Conwell’s Boston campus, known as the Campus for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), the signing is a historic moment that publicly acknowledges the reconciliation and renewed commitment to the seminary’s mission and vision that have taken place over the last year.
Leaders from both the seminary and churches acknowledge the mutual flourishing that will result from the rebuilding of partnerships. Dr. (Bishop) Claude Alexander, chairman of Gordon-Conwell’s board of trustees and author of Required: God’s Call to Justice, Mercy, and Humility to Overcome Racial Division, believes that the shared hopes and dreams represented in the covenant answer a sacred call the academy and the Black church have for the betterment of the wider community—not just to their own organizations. And this call, he explains, “is entered in the love of God, seeking the power of the Spirit to make it real.”
The chairman of CUME’s board of advisors, Rev. Dr. J. Anthony Lloyd, and the campus dean, Rev. Dr. Virginia Ward, initiated this reconciliation process in April 2022 by bringing together pastors to meet with the seminary’s president, Dr. Scott W. Sunquist. Through that gathering, a second gathering in October 2022, and many other conversations, the seminary heard the ways in which it had been inconsistently welcoming and supportive of Black students, faculty, and administrators. As Dr. Ward explains, “CUME has been a representation of intergenerational and multi-ethnic voices since its inception in 1976, and our community has helped us to identify when we are falling short.”
The covenant captures confession, lament, and a positive commitment to changing patterns of relationships to rebuild trust through partnership with Black churches. It also holds personal significance to Dr. Lloyd, Dr. Ward, Bishop Alexander, and Dr. Sunquist. All four are graduates of Gordon-Conwell who hold teaching responsibilities, and Dr. Lloyd, Dr. Ward, and Bishop Alexander are Black church leaders themselves.
“We are at a historic moment in the relationship of the seminary and the Black church,” says Dr. Lloyd. “A covenant ‘resets’ the crucial dynamic of Gordon-Conwell and the Black church as it develops leaders to serve in many ministry settings. This covenant and ongoing work present a unique opportunity to give a prophetic clarity in the midst of a problematic reality.”
“This has been a long time in coming,” adds President Sunquist. “While a commitment to diversity is part of the seminary’s roots and our biblical vision of uniting many ‘tribes, peoples, nations, and languages,’ we have had an inconsistent commitment in training Black leaders. Now we are mutually binding ourselves together for the enrichment of our lives and the sake of the Church, the Body of Christ.”
Structured after an Old Testament biblical covenant, this covenant has a historical section and prologue which includes a section of confession and repentance. In the section on stipulations, both Gordon-Conwell and the Black church leaders mutually commit to working together to improve the training of church leaders. The covenant repeats the affirmation of “we covenant together” seven times to reiterate commitment and unity.
In addition to this one-time signing ceremony, the seminary and pastors agree to an annual reading of the covenant to reaffirm their commitments. The annual reading presents an opportunity for confession and redirection where there has been failure, and, with thanksgiving, the lifting up of progress and accomplishments.
Ten Boston-area churches signed the covenant with Gordon-Conwell on February 6. Additional churches will be invited to be part of the covenant to increase the seminary’s effectiveness in supporting the Black church and its current and future ministry leaders. Dr. Wards shares that there is hope that this redemptive action would lead to a movement that continues for generations to come. “We also recognize the spiritual strength of the Black Church,” says Dr. Ward, “In the Black church choosing to renew its relationship with CUME and Gordon-Conwell, the institution as a whole will benefit and be able to better answer questions raised by families and communities we serve.”
Continuing to reflect on the impact of the signing, Board of Trustee member Michele Breene commented, “I’m deeply thankful for the promise of reconciled and empowering diversity—illuminating the way towards a powerful new story, especially for the thriving of urban ministry.”
The full covenant can be found on the Covenanting for Gospel Witness page of Gordon-Conwell’s website.
About the Gordon-Conwell:
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary combines a rich tradition with cutting-edge educational innovation on four campuses and online. Rooted in the gospel and God’s Word, the seminary seeks to develop Christian leaders who are thoughtful, globally aware, spiritually mature and ready for a broad array of ministries.
Gordon-Conwell’s Boston campus, known as the Campus for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME), is an international leader in providing urban ministerial education that is theologically rich and culturally-relevant. CUME is an exceptional community of Christians more diverse than its already rich surrounding, led by faculty and staff with extensive ministry and academic experience in urban, global contexts.