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‘Delivering theological education for the present age’

Dr. Tony McNeill is conductor, clinician and shaper of seminary education

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Tony McNeill

GALVESTON, Texas — Described in his introduction as a lover of Waffle House and the owner of about 250 bow ties, Dr. Tony McNeill described during a Thursday talk at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators annual event the work that he and others at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary are developing to “deliver theological education for the present age.”

One of the modules under development, a certification in worship leadership, seeks to identify the habits and characteristics of worship leaders “who plan, lead and reflect on corporate worship with one foot planted in rehearsing the worship of the cosmic God and the other foot ready to gather the community to be agents of transformation,” McNeill said. “What is the DNA of a worship leader who pitches a tent at the intersection of worship and justice? What does a worship leader grounded in justice think about? What do they say?”

The goal, he said, is to transform “the slot-filler” and even the “crowd-pleaser or the tear-jerker” into “those who embody the life of justice-seeking.”

A sought-after clinician and guest choral conductor, “Dr. T,” as he is affectionately known, also directs the Sanctuary Mass Choir at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and was the interim choral director at Texas Southern University in Houston.

Sermons may be what many worshipers come to church to hear, “but all of worship is proclamation,” McNeill said. “As music ministers, we too carry the gospel in the message of the songs we choose. Those choices help form how he congregation engages with God and perceives God, a God who loves justice.”

Recalling the prophet Amos’ vision that justice will roll down like waters, McNeil spent some time during his talk churning the water in a fount in APCE’s space at the Galveston Island Convention Center. “It’s no accident,” he said, “that the imagery of water is used concurrently with justice.”

“Justice is not just projects and mission trips and voting campaigns,” he said. “It’s a way of being in the world.”

Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary has determined it seeks to form people who:

  • Think theologically
  • Plan effectively
  • Lead intentionally
  • Are about the sacred, which McNeill defined as “what we should be in the world as a result of being in church.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. anticipated the need more than five decades ago, and McNeill closed his talk with this King quote: “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”



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