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Four YDS graduates honored with alumni awards

A highlight of Convocation and Reunions is always the opportunity to honor a select group of alumni who have distinguished themselves in various ways.  This year’s honorees, nominated by alumni and chosen by the YDS Alumni Board, are Bonita Grubbs ’84 M.A.R., Lux et Veritas Award; Peter Laarman ’93 M.Div, William Sloane Coffin ’56 Award for Peace and Justice; Don Saliers ’62 B.D., ’67 Ph.D., Distinction in Theological Education; and Nancy Taylor ’81 M.Div., Distinction in Congregational Ministry.

GrubbsLux et Veritas Award
Bonita Grubbs ’84 M.A.R.

The Lux et Veritas award is awarded to someone who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in applying the compassion of Christ to the diverse needs of the human condition through the wider church, institutional ministries, ecumenical organizations, not-for-profit organizations, government, or industry.

Bonita Grubbs ’84 M.A.R. has been executive director of Christian Community Action in New Haven for two decades.  A not-for-profit  ecumenical social service agency, CCA’s mission is to express faithful witness in three primary areas: providing emergency food, housing and support to the poor in New Haven; encourage the poor to attain self-sufficiency; work to change systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice.  Under Grubbs’s leadership, CCA has established a number of new programs, including the Mothers for Justice program, a group of women from the New Haven area dedicated to improving the lives of families who are low-income; an internship program aimed at helping low-income persons obtain jobs that offer opportunities for advancement; and a Children’s Summer Program that brings together children from all CCA housing program sites for a six-week "camp" focused on the development of socialization skills. In 2005 CCA launched its Health Advocacy Voices Emerging Network (HAVENetwork) to provide people of color who are poor with the opportunity to share their experiences and have their voices heard as policymakers work to improve the nation’s  health care system. In an interview published in the Winter 2006 issue of YDS’s Reflections magazine, Grubbs said, “This is not just a job, this is God’s calling upon my life... The prophetic part of what I do is really trying to grab hold of this vision of what community ought to be, what society ought to be, trying to help us grasp the prophetic in a way that it becomes real, it becomes tangible, visible before our eyes.  It moves us from the reality of the human condition to the vision that we have for society that people so desperately need to hear in these times.”


LaarmanWilliam Sloane Coffin ’56 Award for Peace and Justice
Peter Laarman ’93 M.Div.

The Coffin award is given in honor of the life and ministry of William Sloane Coffin, former Chaplain to the University and one of the 20th century's most significant religious
leaders.  The recipient of the Coffin award will be someone who shares Coffin's passionate and prophetic witness, a courageous devotion to the dignity and worth of all persons, and who has made a notable contribution to the work of peace and reconciliation.

Peter Laarman ’93 M.Div. is executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting of Los Angeles.  In its mission statement, the organization says it “inspires and equips individuals and communities for courageous leadership in the 21st century” with a vision to help “individuals and communities grow more deeply in faith, find strength in one another, and build the prophetic movement for social transformation.”  At PCU Laarman has worked on developing more vital local networking opportunities for progressive Christians, nurturing young leader development via PCU's campus program, upgrading PCU's communications and web capacity, building a stronger board of directors, and paring program emphases down so as to sharpen PCU's identity and effectiveness. An ordained UCC minister, he also writes and blogs extensively. In 2006 Beacon Press published a book of essays he gathered and edited under the title Getting on Message: Challenging the Christian Right from the Heart of the Gospel.  During a panel presentation at Convocation and Reunions 2007, Laarman said, “Our slogan is ‘See, Pray, Act.’ We want people to understand as much as possible that the unfettered rule of wealth and the habit of deference to the rule of wealth in the culture is a fundamental challenge to Christian people.  It absolutely violates the essence of Christian beliefs in the common table, shared abundance, and a place under the sun for every child of god.”

SaliersDistinction in Theological Education
Don Saliers ’62 B.D., ’67 Ph.D.

One of the finest traditions of YDS is the excellence of its faculty and their world class scholarship. Thus, the recipient of the award in Theological Education will be a scholar of distinction whose research and teaching reflects the best of traditions of YDS.
Don Saliers ’62 B.D., ’67 Ph.D. retired from the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta in 2007 as the William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship.  A former member of he YDS faculty, he is an accomplished musician, theologian, and scholar of liturgics and the author of many books on the relationship between theology and worship, including Filled with Light, Worship Come to Its Senses, and Worship and Spirituality.  Recently, he edited A Precious Fountain: Music in the Worship of an African-American Catholic Community by Mary McGann.  He also co-authored A Song to Sing, a Life to Live with his daughter Emily Saliers, a member of the popular singing group Indigo Girls.  One published tribute to Don Saliers described him as having “shaped a generation of pastors, musicians, scholars, and teachers” and said he has “led the way as part of a distinctively United Methodist but ecumenically formed and minded liturgical team in crafting trial liturgies, liturgical supplements, and the resources for a denominational book of worship that, over twenty-five years, have reshaped United Methodist worship.”

TaylorDistinction in Congregational Ministry
Nancy Taylor ’81 M.Div.

At the heart of YDS is the commitment to train women and men for the lay and ordained ministries of the Christian church. The award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry is awarded to a lay or ordained individual who has shown exceptional pastoral competence in the work of developing the ministry and mission of local congregations.

Nancy Taylor ’81 M.Div. is the first woman to serve as senior minister at Old South Church in Boston, one of the nation’s most historic churches. She has been at Old South since 2005, having previously served as minister and president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ.  As the leader of the largest Protestant denomination in Massachusetts, Taylor helped draft legislation making clergy mandated reporters of suspected child abuse; worked to establish a public voice for the United Church of Christ; supervised $1.5 million Lilly Endowment grant for a pastoral excellence program; hosted Freedom Schooner Amistad’s visit to Boston Harbor; and worked with interfaith leaders in the aftermath of 9/11. She also served congregations in Boise, ID; Hartford, CT; and East Stoneham/North Waterford, ME.  She was a cofounder of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center and was instrumental in the effort that successfully defeated two anti-gay ballot initiatives and helped to secure a minimum wage for Idaho farm workers. She served as the Moderator of the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (1999-2001).  At a conference on “The Future of the Congregation” held at YDS in the spring, Taylor said a key element is to convey the excitement of the Gospel in church: “I would propose that part of what needs to happen is that it needs to be a place that is truly exciting in which people are being connected with things that matter deeply...Church can and ought to be as riveting, as enthralling, as compelling, in its own way, as is Fenway Park when the Sox are in town...We want that person to break that thing open, that Word, give it to us in a way that helps us to see and feel God’s presence.  I think some excitement, as well as elegance and beauty and contemplation, is what’s wanted.”

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