In Old Refectory, new alumni awards presented

By Mariah Martin ’10 M.Div.
Director of Communications and Publications Gustav Spohn also contributed to this story

This year’s Alumni Awards Luncheon began with an intriguing journey to what might be considered sacred space—the Old Refectory, recently renovated after being mothballed for most of the past decade. It is probable that not more than a handful of current YDS students know it exits.  But for many alumni at Convocation & Reunions 2009, the luncheon setting undoubtedly represented a pleasant return to a place they remember well for the many meals and good conversation shared there.

Old RefectoryIndeed, during the presentation of awards, which included the William Sloane Coffin ’56 Award for Peace and Justice, it would not have been difficult to imagine Coffin sitting at a Refectory table as a YDS student some 50 years ago, before ascending to the pulpit of Battell Chapel as University Chaplain and becoming famous as a fiery critic of the Vietnam War.

In accepting his year’s Coffin Award, Peter Laarman ’93 M.Div., executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting of Los Angeles quipped, “I knew Bill Coffin a little bit. I knew him to be a tough-minded person with a very tender heart.  And my friends know that I’ve got the tough-minded  part down.  The tender heart part I’m still working on.”

He called the award “aspirational” and noted, “I only follow in the footsteps of so many in this room who show leadership and live it out every day.”

In presenting the award to Laarman, Thomas Duggan ’59 B.D. observed, “‘Christians should see the world as it is,’ you have said, ‘and act ethically in the light of a clear-sighted realism.’ Specifically, you urged people, ‘to pay a bit more attention to the substance of [Jesus’] life and ministry: to the redemptive life and not just the redemptive death.’ As the Executive Director of Progressive Christians Uniting of Los Angeles since 2004, you’ve striven to live that out daily.. Your words continue to inspire, provoke and upset, urging us on in the use of our moral imaginations.”

The recipient of the Alumni Award for the Distinction in Theological education was Don Saliers  ’62 B.D., ’67 Ph.D., who taught at YDS in the 1960s and 1970s and retired from the Candler School of Theology in 2007 as the William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship.  An accomplished musician, theologian and liturgical scholar, Saliers said, “I feel honored and stand here with huge indebtedness to many in this room,” noting particularly the influence on his life of the late biblical scholar Paul Minear.  “I owe a great deal to Paul Minear, who at the right time, as the right teacher, over coffee and tea and harpsichord and recorders, directed me in the direction of liturgical studies and liturgical theology.”

SaliersTaylor“Pastor, musician and worshipper, you bring your full self to all that you do and easily seem to connect with people of diverse perspectives, grounding everything in your lived experience within the church,” said Susan Klein ’77 M.Div. in presenting the award to Saliers.  “Your affection for your subjects, your students, your calling and your God is unforgettable.

The Alumni Award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry was awarded to Nancy Taylor ’81 M.Div., senior minister at Old South Church (United Church of Christ) in Boston.

Cheryl Cornish ’83 M.Div., who received the award herself in 2008, recounted how Taylor had in her first pastorate tended goats in exchange for firewood and highlighted many of the social justice issues Taylor has engaged in as a pastor, including gay rights initiatives, guaranteed minimum wages for farm workers, and clergy sexual abuse.  Cornish quoted colleagues of Taylor as considering her “a superb preacher, a thoughtful pastor, an accomplished leader and a respected public voice on social justice and religious issues who affirms every person as a child of God.”

GrubbsFor her part, Taylor said she owed any of her own accomplishments to the congregations she has served.  “I have served congregations that have been amazingly wonderful, where people truly had a heart for God, from rural, rural main to urban Boston to where I was a ‘missionary’ in Idaho.  I’m only here because of the congregations that I have served, and they have wanted to be in God’s presence and hear God’s voice in this world.”

The Alumni Award Lux et Veritas was awarded to Bonita Grubbs ’84 M.A.R., ’85 M.P.H. The award is intended for a person “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.”

Laarman and AttridgeSince 1988 Grubbs has been executive director of Christian Community Action in New Haven, a not-for-profit ecumenical social service agency.  Allie Perry ’80 M.Div. presented the award to Grubbs, saying, “The vulnerable and powerless have a strong friend and advocate in you, whether they are poor, hungry, homeless, jobless, or without access to health care.... You have not only addressed people’s basic needs but have engaged in transforming systems that disadvantage people and in empowering people to organize, advocate, and speak out on their own behalf.  You are a justice-seeker and a hope-creator.”

“It’s been 20 years and some,” Grubbs noted in describing her two decades at the helm of Christian Community Action, “and because of the variety of things in which I’ve been engaged, it really is, yes, sometimes fatiguing...But it’s still indeed a joy to be able to have the opportunity to serve an organization that really tries to remain part of what the Gospel tries to teach us.”

Though “unmothballed,” the Old Refectory is yet in a state of transition.  It will continue to be used in 2009-10 for various YDS functions, but in the following three years the School of Music will be the primary occupant as one its major buildings undergoes renovation.  Beyond that, future use of the Old Refectory is yet undecided.