Divinity school dean vows to provoke and instruct students

Dean Bill LeonardWake Forest University’s new divinity school will provoke as well as instruct generations of future ministers, its dean promised Tuesday night at an inaugural convocation that drew an audience of clergy from across North Carolina and representatives from divinity schools nationwide.

“This new school seeks to provide not simply instruction, but provocation that stirs up students, challenging them and calling forth from them ideas and issues that help form their Christian ministry,” declared Bill J. Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, which held its first classes in August.

“Sooner or later, all good instruction involves provocation, pressing us beyond our certainty and ourselves, demanding more than we ever dreamed possible,” added Leonard in an address titled, “Not Instruction, but Provocation: Doing Theology at a New Divinity School.”

“Ultimately, we must hope all this research and learning may provoke us to a greater understanding of what the ancients called ‘the care of the souls,'” said Leonard, a church history professor and Baptist minister renowned for his writings on Baptist history.

Maya AngelouWriter Maya Angelou joined Leonard at the evening event in Wait Chapel marking the school’s opening. Angelou, Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest, briefly sang, spoke and recited poetry.

The divinity school is the first professional school to open at Wake Forest in 30 years. It has 24 full-time students in its first class, but expects to have approximately 120 enrolled within three years.

The school offers a three-year master of divinity degree with a core curriculum of biblical studies, church history, theology and ministry studies including pastoral care and preaching.

“We say we are Christian by tradition, ecumenical in outlook, and Baptist in heritage, a confession sure to delight or offend everyone,” Leonard told the audience.

Outlining the school’s mission, Leonard emphasized that “this divinity school prepares ministers for churches.”

“The students in this first class speak of their desire to serve churches as Christian ministers,” Leonard said. “The forms of that ministry will vary, but most know that they will be involved in preaching, teaching, counseling, praying with, and guiding congregations or their extended ministries in the church and in the world.”

Leonard added the “divinity school prepares ministers to respond to basic issues of life and death, pain and struggle, joy and celebration in faith communities where many of the old structures, resources and identities are in permanent transition.”

Tuesday night’s inaugural convocation is one of the highlights of a two-day celebration of the school’s opening that extends through Wednesday. The celebration is titled, “Theology at the Threshold of the 21st Century.”

On Wednesday, the following events will be open to the public:

Nancy Ammerman of Hartford Theological Seminary will lecture on “Serving Communities of Faith at the Threshold of the 21st Century” at 9:45 a.m. in Brendle Recital Hall. Ammerman is professor of sociology of religion in the Center for Social and Religious Research at Hartford. She has written extensively on the nature of religion in the post-modern context, on the involvement of clergy in the civil rights movement and on the links between Baptists and the secular New Christian Right.

Members of the divinity school faculty will present seminars at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. in Wingate Hall. The theme of the seminars is “Assessing Present Trends.” Participants will have the opportunity to consider the changing role of religion in society.

Lawrence Carter of Morehouse College will present the lecture, “Growing Up into the Spiritual Edge of Theology’s Crown,” at 2 p.m. in Brendle Recital Hall. At Morehouse, Carter is the dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, college archivist and curator, and professor of religion. Carter’s extensive writings have appeared in The Journal of Pastoral Care, The National Baptist Voice, and The Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Categories: School of Divinity