WHY I ...

Why I ... Sit on the Board of the Oldest Historically African-American Presbyterian Seminary

, Daily Report

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Henry M. Quillian III
Henry M. Quillian III

The time came in April 2011 for a Buckhead native to join with his brothers and sisters in Christ, at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, founded in Charlotte, N.C, in 1867. Upon striking up a friendship with its president/dean—my exact contemporary Paul Roberts when he substitute preached at my home church, Northwest Presbyterian—I quickly learned that Smith Seminary was comprised of special people dedicated to making the world a better place.

It provides rigorous Presbyterian USA theological education, but with a twist. Crafted by freedmen immediately after the Civil War to help make known the unique aspects of Presbyterian theology and polity, Johnson C. Smith has a rich tradition of educating African-American seminarians. It is, however, interracial, international and intercultural. In fact, the seminary recently was awarded a $100,000 grant for the recruitment of Kenyan scholars.

The Seminary not only reveals liberation theology, but also builds pioneering leaders for Christ and equips them for inner-city pastoring. What's more, the homiletics (preaching style) and service elements, such as music, taught at Smith Seminary belie any semblance of "The Frozen Chosen" tag line often given to Presbyterians.

"Called to Create What's Next" is its inspirational slogan.

Smith Seminary collaborates with five other reformed Christian theology seminaries at the Interdenominational Theological Center at the Clark-Atlanta University Complex, having moved to its campus from Charlotte in 1969. Professors and resources are shared among students from multiple denominations, thus providing a broad-based education to its students. Students and professors visit board meetings and they are quite impressive.

Smith Seminary seeks to maintain a diverse board consisting of a balance of pastors, laypeople, men, women, black and white, from all over the U.S. The call to me came from a need to broaden its connection with more people who grew up and live on the Northside of Atlanta, who I have found generally are ignorant of Smith Seminary's presence in Downtown and of its role in Presbyterian education. My impression and hope is that the body of Christians is becoming color blind and that my long connections with Atlanta's people will inure to Smith Seminary's benefit financially and in terms of student recruitment and post-graduation placement.

For a Buckhead native who grew up in integrated schools, but has lived in an area that historically had been almost exclusively white, this has given altered perspective of how parts of the Bible are interpreted based on the heritage of a people. I endeavor to understand and appreciate the myriad of ways the Bible and Christ's teachings can be understood. Also, I have tried to share my developing knowledge of Smith Seminary, its history and its wealth of resources with others.

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