Womanist Symposium with Rev. Dr. Teresa Fry Brown Highlights Black History Month Events at SFTS

As part of Black History Month, the dynamic Womanist celebration included: a co-presented interdisciplinary lecture by SFTS’s Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Rev. Yolanda Norton and Rev. Dr. Courtney Bryant-Prince (Visiting Instructor of Theological Ethics, Union Presbyterian Seminary), a special student-planned worship as a part of Professor Norton’s Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible course, and the seminary’s first-ever Womanist Symposium, featuring Rev. Dr. Teresa Fry Brown.

Presented to a packed audience at Stewart Chapel, the symposium was prefaced by a moving video compilation of Black women throughout history who acted in the face of injustice, and paved the way for all women who come after them. The video set the tone for an evening of deep social and theological discussion around intersecting issues of race, class, and gender, and their impact on the well-being of all people.

The evening’s event was grounded by a riveting lecture from the Rev. Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, Bandy Professor of Preaching at Emory University.  Noting “the resilience and resourcefulness of Black women,” Brown provided a historical theological insight into the struggles of Black women in the academy. Quoting the 20th-century author, Zora Neale Hurston, Brown said “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”

Rev. Yolanda Norton described Rev. Dr. Fry Brown as “someone who offers wisdom and wit.” This sentiment was affirmed time and time again throughout Dr. Fry Brown’s visit to SFTS.

In addition, to a her lecture, she captivated  the broader SFTS congregation with her compelling sermon, “Surviving Justice Fatigue.” Here, Brown used the analogy of the eagle, who though born to be a strong, soaring figure, is also subject to times of weakness during its regeneration process. She likened the eagle to those who have no choice but to fight for justice in their daily lives, quoting hip hop artists Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head.”

Though Brown named “justice fatigue,” as a reality for all who seek to make change, her lecture and preaching conveyed strength. As American Baptist Seminary of the West MDiv student, Kescha West commented, “Rev. Dr. Fry Brown offered words of fire—she gave women the space and the voice to create their own agency and walk and live in their own truth.”

“The entire symposium experience was powerful because while it spoke to me personally as an African American woman: the chapel, the symposium, and the Friday worship service all resonated with me at a gut level.  I thought it also included the full spectrum of the Womanist philosophy that is concerned about all people.  I appreciated Dr. Fry Brown’s comments affirming the need for self-care and also the fact that she sees her job as providing help for those coming along now—either so they don’t have to go through some of what she had to go through or to have a first aid kit to clean the wounds if we decide we need to walk through the glass anyway.”

Denise Diaab2nd year MDiv, SFTS

“Through presenting various experiences of Black women in different arenas, the Womanist Symposium challenged white normativity and privilege, especially by naming the ways in which individuals and communities that consider themselves progressive still perpetuate systems of oppression and isolation.

As the Womanist Symposium appropriately challenged me in my privilege, I was invited to participate in worship services and seminars that were powerful, moving, and transformative.”

John Lyzenga2nd year MDiv, SFTS

“The symposium was illuminating and powerful, especially learning the personal stories and struggles of Black women in academia. The worship service was unlike any that I experienced at SFTS especially through the power of Dr T’s sermon, her command of the English language, and her ability to weave together conversations about religion and social systems.”

Ashley Pogue2nd year MDiv, SFTS

“Rev. Dr. Fry Brown offered words of fire—she gave women the space and the voice to create their own agency and walk and live in their own truth. The Beyoncé worship service was a new and different way of doing worship using pop culture music to experience the divine and the Spirit.”

Kescha MasonMDiv, ABSW

This exciting and formative experience at  SFTS was a part of larger month of energized and inspired worship services and events honoring the African-American community and their contributions to society throughout history.

Working in collaboration with Rev. Yolanda Norton and Professor Laurie Garrett-Cobbina (Shaw Family Chair for Clinical Pastoral Education; CPE Supervisor; Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Education), the SFTS Worship Team designed worship experiences connecting the whole of our life of worship to Black History Month, and celebrating African-American church preaching, singing, and worship traditions.

In addition to Professors Norton and Garrett-Cobbina, and Rev. Dr. Fry Brown, the chapel preachers for the month also included:

  • Rev. Stewart Perrilliat (SFTS DMin Student; President, SFTS Students of the African Diaspora (StAD); Interim Pastor, New Liberation Presbyterian Church; and Man to Man Urban Youth Advocate)
  • Bishop Ernest L. Jackson (SFTS DMin Student; Senior Pastor, Grace Tabernacle Community Church, San Francisco)
  • Rev. Dr. Martha C. Taylor (Author of From Labor to Reward: Black Church Beginnings in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond, 1849-1972, Historian for the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. and for Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, California)
  • Rev. Kamal Hassan (Pastor, Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church, Richmond)