In keeping with the long tradition of the School to provide ministers for the Black Church in the context of the universal Christian mission, the Program seeks integration in all dimensions of the curriculum, as it prepares men and women, regardless of race or ethnicity, for professional ministry that appreciates the contribution of African American religious experiences to the totality of Christian faith, life, and witness. The Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Institute of Religion, the Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Thurman Lectures provide contexts in which students are exposed to leading scholars and practitioners of ministry in the Black church tradition.
The Program emerged out of the vision and courage of students, faculty, and members of the Rochester community. Established in 1969, with the assistance of the Lilly and the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller foundations, it is the oldest program of its kind in the nation. Alumni, who are among the most visible national leaders of African American intellectual and ecclesiastical life, include Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, Joseph H. Jackson, James A. Forbes Jr., and Samuel Proctor, to name but a few. The Program celebrated its 40th anniversary on October 27, 2009.
Intended to give voice to the public and personal dimensions of black religious experience for emancipatory learning, living, and ministry, Black Church Studies has two main curricular objectives:
- to develop a theological perspective attentive to relations of race, class, and gender that connects personal experience, professional ministry, and course offerings to the struggles of peoples of African descent, and;
- to prepare students with language and critical skills of theological discourse, pastoral competence and personal accountability for ministry in a pluralistic world and among peoples of African descent.