A roundtable discussion on “Racial Reconciliation and Christian Unity” at Erskine Seminary’s Columbia campus August 10 was so well attended that a larger venue than initially reserved was needed to accommodate the crowd.
“The response in the Erskine family to the importance of practicing racial unity in the Christian community was remarkable and encouraging,” Erskine Seminary Vice President Dr. Chris Wisdom said.
The dinner and panel discussion—originally planned by two faculty members for 19 summer semester students—drew more than 60 members of the Erskine Seminary community, with black and white attendees in “roughly equal numbers,” Wisdom noted.
The Monday evening event in Jackson Hall at First Presbyterian Church featured a panel discussion with Adjunct Professor of AME Church History and Polity Dr. Lawrence Gordon, Associate Professor of Ministry Dr. Toney Parks, Adjunct Professor of Worship and Preaching Dr. George Robertson, and John R. de Witt Professor of Systematic Theology Dr. Mark Ross.
Seminary students, faculty, and guests were invited to the free event. Its stated purpose was “to reflect on the events of this past summer in light of Jesus’ command that Christians love and serve one another in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace,” referring in part to the June 17 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Panel participants as well as other attendees deemed the event a success.
Some stressed the need for follow-up in days to come.
“I applaud the leadership at Erskine for sponsoring such a worthy event,” Gordon said. “I pray that others would follow Erskine’s lead in bringing the need for racial reconciliation to the forefront. I appreciate the honesty in our discussion and look forward to moving beyond theory to application.”
Robertson, who is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Ga., a congregation involved in racial reconciliation work, agreed. “It is a good first step,” he said. “As we have discovered in Augusta, true partnership can only come through trust and trust requires a commitment to building relationships. My prayer is that such relationships will soon produce specific ministry initiatives in our respective cities.”
Some were energized by the event and saw the potential in it for sparking new life in the seminary community.
“It was a joyous pleasure to be part of the racial reconciliation panel,” Parks said. “Monday night was a breath of fresh air. I am convinced that more events of this nature will have a tremendous impact on the life and vitality of Erskine as we move forward.”
The Rev. Mike Phillips, assistant pastor for pastoral care at First Presbyterian in Augusta and director of field ministries for Erskine Seminary’s Augusta Extension Center, was also delighted. “What a fabulous evening!” he said. “God seems to be moving through Erskine Theological Seminary.”
Faculty, students, and concerned ministers came from Erskine campuses or centers throughout South Carolina and in Georgia.
“Together they demonstrated the visible unity of the believing body of Christ,” Wisdom said. “They came to seek a way ahead for racial reconciliation and Christian unity by sharing in biblically based, Christ-centered ministry projects together in their respective communities.”
In addition to the faculty discussion, seminary students spoke about their learning experiences. Among the highlights was a presentation by Doctor of Ministry students in a Contemporary Ethics course taught by Ross, who also serves as Associate Dean for Church Relations and Director of the Institute for Reformed Worship. The students talked about reading Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Bryan Loritts.
The seminary hopes to host future reconciliation events in the cities of Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville in South Carolina, as well as in Augusta, Ga., where the seminary has campuses and extension centers.