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Alumni Celebrate Convocation and Reunions 2005

Yale Divinity School's Convocation and Reunions 2005 was a time for renewing old acquaintances, making new friends, taking care of alumni business, worshiping, and attending lectures and concerts. Much transpired, but among the most lasting images will certainly be those of the family of Sam Todd '84 M.Div. seated in the front rows of Marquand Chapel as classmates and friends remembered him a service entitled Mourning a Loss, Celebrating a Life.

Todd was just 24, five months short of graduating from YDS, when he disappeared in New York City in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 1984 after a night of celebration with his brother Adam and friends. Despite street-by-street searches of Manhattan by family, friends and classmates, his placement on the New York City missing persons list, and numerous newspaper articles about the disappearance, Todd has never been found.

At the October 10 service, the opening day of Convocation, Sam's other brother, John, offered the family's gratitude for the support of the Yale Divinity community and recalled the "figurative search" the Todd household went through in trying to reassemble Sam's memorabilia "into a person who made sense of this incomprehensible hole in our life."

"In the end, we didn't find that Sam who disappeared," said John Todd. "But we did find Sam another way. We found him in the physical pieces he left-his books, music, papers, drawings. We found him in the memories shared with us and in the things we learned he did. And we found him in community-in the communities of friendship and faith that came together to support us and to look for Sam, as well as in the communities of the dispossessed where we searched for him and where we knew he believed he should be." Also present, in addition to Sam's brother John, were his brother Adam and parents, George Todd '51 B.D. and Kathleen Todd.

Members of the Yale Divinity classes of 1984, 1985 and 1986 participated in the service and performed a powerfully poignant speech choir, The Darkness is Not Dark, written by classmate Steven Bonsey '84 M.Div., '87 S.T.M. Integrating song and spoken word, the choir recounted the search for Sam Todd among the homeless in the streets of Manhattan, the Bowery, Times Square and Pennsylvania Station-interspersed with references to the parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin and passages from Revelation and Ezekiel as well as anti-colonialist writer Franz Fanon.

At one point, the choir chanted, "We looked for you among the lost. /You found us and we lost ourselves. /We found the lost. We found the dark. /We lost you and we found ourselves. /We found you there on darkened streets. /We found you there where we were lost."

Yale Divinity School has established The Samuel Arthur Todd Scholarship Fund in memory of the young jazz enthusiast and candidate for the Presbyterian ministry. Scholarships will be awarded to students who "exemplify the spirit of Sam Todd by showing a deep interest in ministries committed to social justice, to empowerment of people, and to peace."

Lecturers at Convocation included Harry S. Stout, the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History (Lyman Beecher Lectures); William P. Alston, professor emeritus of philosophy at Syracuse University (Nathaniel Taylor Lectures); Robin Eames, Anglican Primate of Ireland and chair of the Lambeth Commission (Berkeley Divinity School Pitt Lecture); and Janet R. Walton, professor of worship at Union Theological Seminary (Institute of Sacred Music Kavanagh Lecture).

Stout's three lectures were on the topic Preaching Morality in America 's Civil War, based on research conducted for his new book, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the American Civil War (New York: Viking/Penguin). His lectures told a sobering story of how both sides in the nation's bloodiest war enlisted God on "their side" with the help of the churches, part of a " web of lies, suppression, and evasion" that "bear witness to the power of war to corrupt."

"Northern and Southern clergy no less than northern intellectuals fell victim to the sheer power of patriotism following Sumter," Stout asserted. "The capitulation of the clergy, North and South, to their nation states' political and military agenda would prove devastating... North and South would enlist them for the task of the sacred legitimation necessary to mount a mutually 'defensive' war that would be just in the eyes of God."

Alston's Taylor lectures topic was Divine Mystery and Our Knowledge of God. Due to limitations on Alston's travel necessitated by health concerns, the lectures were given by Nicholas Wolterstorff, the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical theology at Yale Divinity School. Delivered in the form of what Alston termed "an Hegelian dialectical triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis," he analyzed the writings of Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Paul Tillich and John Hick to probe whether human concepts can or cannot truly apply to God. What emerged was an Alston synthesis that allows for the ability of human concepts to achieve "a close approximation to truth" when applied to God - an ability that Alston called "crucial" to the Christian life.

Eames lamented the turmoil within worldwide Anglicanism caused by disagreement over such controversial issues as homosexuality in the Western world, polygamy in contemporary Africa, and the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England. In an address entitled Where Now for World Anglicanism? he stressed the need for an agreed-upon "level playing field" for "considered exchange" among competing interests.

Asked Eames, "What is all our division and argument doing to the first priority given to the Body of Christ - namely, the witness to a Gospel of salvation, compassion and care for a world of desperate need?"

Walton spoke on the topic Ritual Action <-> Global Action, raising the question of whether the work she and other liturgists engage in matters. It can and should, she suggested, by adapting innovative and nonhierarchical worship forms that bring rituals more into the daily lives of worshipers and challenge injustices in the wider society.

"We are not skilled in hearing one another and speaking in our own name as an integral part of our regular worship services," observed Walton. "But when indignities are faced, when real freedom is felt, hope lives, something happens. We are brought to the brink of chaos face-to-face with the living God. Our work does matter. It can change the mess of this world."

Preachers during Convocation week included Sharon E. Watkins '84 M.Div., who was elected general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) earlier in the year; Martin Copenhaver '80 M.Div., senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational Church in Wellesley, MA; Clayton Thomas '90 M.Div., assistant professor of spirituality and ethics in medicine in the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University; and Shelley D. B. Copeland '00 M.Div., executive director of the Capitol Region Conference of Churches in Hartford, CT.

Yale Divinity School honored five graduates with distinguished alumni awards at a special banquet on the second day of Convocation. Award recipients included

  • Nancy H. Broeder '85 M.A.R., who has made over 2,000 visits to prison inmates across the country (Distinction in Lay Ministry);
  • Arthur B. Keys, Jr. '73 M.Div., founder and president of International Relief and Development, a relief agency with operations in 15 countries in Africa and Asia (William Sloane Coffin '56 Award for Peace and Justice);
  • Frank E. Reynolds '55 B.D., retired professor of history of religions and Buddhist studies in the University of Chicago's Divinity School and Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations (Distinction in Theological Education);
  • Joy D. Skeel '76 M.Div., professor of medical humanities and ethics in the Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine at the Medical University of Ohio in Toledo, OH (Distinction in Community Service);
  • Richard B. Wilke '55 B.D., retired United Methodist bishop who wrote the DISCIPLE Bible study for Christian leaders (Distinction in Ordained Ministry)