Nearly 400 students students, faculty and community members gathered on September 2 for the School of Divinity’s fall convocation. The event marked the beginning of the new academic year and the inauguration of the Mac Bryan Prophetic Preaching Series.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II urged those in attendance to re-center their moral compasses to find the higher ground and reject indifference and division. “The true representation of the kind of deep love that Jesus calls us to makes it our burden, our calling, to be mindful of the poor, the weak, and those on the sidelines of life,” Barber said. “Not only mindful, but to be in the arena fighting against the domination which causes it. We cannot escape this call.”
Barber is the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, NC, president of the North Carolina NAACP, and architect of the North Carolina Moral Monday-Forward Together Movement. During his address he reviewed several movements of moral dissent throughout United States history, from the civil rights movement to the continuing need for moral dissent today. “Higher ground is the moral calling of us in this moment,” Barber exclaimed.
The Mac Bryan Prophetic Preaching Series honors the late George McLeod “Mac” Bryan, Sr. who was professor of religion at Wake Forest University for 37 years. Bryan taught inside and outside the classroom. He fought tirelessly for Civil Rights, pursued social reform, and was instrumental in helping to integrate Wake Forest College in the 1960s.
George and Carol Williamson, graduates of Wake Forest University, established the series in memory of the legacy Bryan left on their lives. “Mac introduced me to prophetic preaching – uncompromising aimed not at workable solutions, but at ultimate destinies,” George said in his reflections during the service. “If Mac were here today, he would joyously proclaim William Barber a prophet.”
Barber vividly reminded the gathering that society is in need of prophets and prophetic congregations who will stand up and challenge things because they are wrong. “Somebody must yield to the spirit,” he said, as he reminded those gathered that beggars, the sick and broken, the imprisoned, and everyone that society said was unacceptable were the primary recipients of Jesus’ preaching, “liberating them to fight against the struggles of injustice.”
Joining Barber was cultural artist Yara Allen, who delivered a moving spoken word and a cappella musical selection inviting all to be closer to God. Echoing her call, Barber issued an invitation to go to higher ground.:“Those who love freedom and justice cannot settle for low ground.”
A powerful and dynamic preacher, Barber was chosen as this year’s convocation speaker because his religious leadership resonates with Mac Bryan’s career and social justice activism.
“Barber’s leadership has helped us to be better citizens and more attentive to the communities in which we live because he invites us to encounter the world through eyes and ears other than only our own,” said Gail R. O’Day, dean of the School of Divinity.
The School’s mission – to equip students to be agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion – was illuminated in Barber’s message as he called for a willingness and desire for religious leaders to have and lead the hard conversations around injustice. “All of us are better people and our communities more oriented toward human flourishing when we hold ourselves accountable for even the least of these,” O’Day said.
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