To the Readers of the InterFaith Leadership Council Newsletter,
I am grateful to the leaders of the IFLC for inviting me to introduce myself to you, and to speak about the organization that I represent, Ecumenical Theological Seminary. It was my great pleasure and honor to join ETS at the beginning of July to serve as the fourth President and as Professor of Systematic Theology and Preaching.
If you are not familiar with Ecumenical Theological Seminary, it is an accredited seminary founded by a number of Protestant Christian denominations in the suburbs, now housed along the cultural corridor of Woodward Avenue in the historic building of the First Presbyterian Church of Detroit. We are a relatively young seminary situated in one of America’s greatest cities, throwing our arms wide open to an interdenominational, even inter-religious student body.
In our classrooms on any given evening, one might find Presbyterians and Episcopalians, Baptists and Congregationalists, Catholics and Lutherans, as well as Muslims training toward chaplaincy positions. Our students are not merely future ministers and priests, but social activists and musicians, artists and teachers. This dynamic community pursues masters and doctoral degrees, along with post-baccalaureate certificates and diplomas, exploring ways of pursuing ministry and service to their communities within the context of this intercultural and multi-religious city of Detroit, or simply exploring Biblical studies, theology, religious ethics, pastoral care and counseling, and religion and the arts.
Ecumenical Theological Seminary welcomes people of all backgrounds to come together for our educational degree programs and community events, as we offer a meeting place for people of all backgrounds and faiths who seek justice, love mercy, and wish to offer hospitality to their neighbors is in the next pew or in the temples, synagogues, and mosques down the road.
I have been struck by the hospitality and warm welcome that I have received from the faith communities of Detroit and its vicinity, and I am eager to meet you and work with you in the months and years ahead. My family and I join your community from the Boston area, where I served for the past six years as the Senior Pastor of The First Baptist Church of Boston, founded in 1665, the third oldest church in Boston and the fourth oldest Baptist church in America.
I also served as American Baptist Chaplain to Harvard University and Denominational Counselor and Lecturer in Ministry at Harvard Divinity School, and have spent the past three years founding a new liberal arts college along the Hudson River in upstate New York as Dean of the College and Associate Professor of Theology. Previously, I served as the chaplain and on the faculty of Endicott College, Skidmore College, and Suffolk University, and as an administrator at Yale University’s Dwight Hall Center for Public Service and Social Justice.
In parish ministry, I have served as the pastor of American Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ congregations in urban, suburban, and rural settings of Massachusetts and New York. I grew up United Methodist in Delaware and went to high school at The Episcopal Academy outside of Philadelphia. I was introduced affectionately at a conference as “an ecumenical movement unto himself,” so I should fit in just fine among all of the religious constituencies that make up Ecumenical Theological Seminary!
I received my B.A. in philosophy and religion from Bucknell University, the M.B.A. from Endicott College, the M.Div. from Yale University Divinity School, and the M.Phil. and Ph.D. in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where my doctoral advisor was the womanist theologian Dr. Delores S. Williams. When I was studying at Union, I met my wife, Cynthia, a former concert harpist who did her doctoral work in clinical psychology on the West Coast. Our son, Hunter, is a terrific little boy who keeps us on our toes, loves to swim, and amazes us every day.
I anticipate this good, holy work with and among you. Ours is a seminary that refuses to allow theology to be bound up in the Ivory Tower of academia alone, but recognizes that theology must spill into the streets demanding to be relevant and seek justice. Ours is a seminary that must celebrate the distinctions of this great city of Detroit which is its home, drawing together the churches and communities of faith of both the city and the suburbs so that we might learn together, serve together, pray and sing together. Our greatness comes in our commitment to do this work as part of an urban community that honors and cherishes Detroit as one of the artistic capitals of the world, renowned for Motown and hip hop, the symphony and the street, the Institute of Art and the poetry of motion that comes amid proud sports teams and the ballet. Ecumenical Theological Seminary is poised to be a necessary and prophetic voice of conscience as Detroit reclaims its birthright as one of America’s brightest lights.
This next week, the annual meeting of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) will take place on the campus of Wayne State University, just a few blocks away from ETS, and I am excited by the leadership that IFLC has displayed in developing an outstanding program and playing hosts to people of similar inter-religious convictions in public life. I hope to see many of you throughout the days of August 10-13, and on Tuesday I am happy to moderate the plenary panel made up of the Religious Leaders Forum for that evening, “City on Edge: Leading the Fight Against Enmity.” This will be one of many important conversations that we will share over the course of this week, and I look forward to the opportunity to share in these conversations with you.
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Butler Murray
President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Preaching
Ecumenical Theological Seminary, Detroit, Michigan