Alton B. Pollard III installed in Chapel ceremony marked by drumming, music and joy
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — “Buckle your seat belts, Louisville Seminary,” the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told the crowd in a packed Caldwell Chapel Friday during the inauguration of the seminary’s 10th president, the Rev. Dr. Alton B. Pollard III. “A new day is coming to this institution, a new day that has been ordained by God. Praise be to God for what God has in store for this work of ministry and faith.”
Pollard, the former professor and dean of the School of Divinity at Howard University in Washington, D.C., began his work heading Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Sept. 3, 2018, succeeding the Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins, who retired. Pollard was installed Friday by the chair of the LPTS Board of Trustees, the Rev. Lant B. Davis, as the seminary’s president and professor of religion and culture.
Trustees announced Pollard’s selection on June 7, 2018. Less than two weeks later, the General Assembly confirmed Pollard’s election.
Pollard answered Davis’ installation questions Friday standing beneath a copy of the David Cassidy painting, “Whosoever,” an image that hangs in Pollard’s office and features a faceless Christ with hands extended. “Whosoever” is a key word in one of the key verses of the New Testament — John 3:16. It’s the verse Pollard chose for his inauguration.
“Social, religious and cultural qualifications do not matter to the Nazarene,” Pollard said. “It is the face of everyone and no one. It is you and me. No one is outside the pale or prerogative of God. Everyone belongs.”
Pollard told a story he called “formative,” when as a fifth-grader a group of white boys “descended on me with a torrent of fists and racial epithets. To this day I don’t know how I got the best of that fight — I only know that I did.”
School suspensions followed — “theirs, not mine,” Pollard said. His mother, who “always told me I would have to answer to her if I did not vigorously defend myself when confronted,” was pleased with the outcome, “but my father, not so much.”
Each succeeding year in high school, “my anger as a young black man grew,” Pollard said. People asked him why he didn’t smile for any of his high school yearbook photos. “I didn’t have nothing to smile about,” he would tell them.
But college, he said, was a time for “re-education, my metanoia experience as a person of African descent.” What emerged, he said, was “a recognition that atrocities and injustice notwithstanding, the divine invitation was to goodness and generosity, joy and justice. It became a sacred truth for me — whether you accept me or not, we are made for each other.”
He said he envisions a Louisville Seminary “where no pretense is required,” a “theological institution that wrestles with inconvenient truths,” a school of higher learning that “wages peace and practices anti-racism with unprecedented courage.” He sees LPTS already as a place that “invites, advocates and includes” people of every age, class, sexuality, gender identification “and more, every religious tradition and none at all, a graduate theological school that extends belonging to the community and around it,” spreading even into “disregarded places.” He said he also sees a “learning network responsive to the sacred call to care for the Earth.”
The seminary’s motto, “many lamps, one light,” means LPTS is to be “a signpost on the way to the one who calls us beloved, who calls us into community,” he said. “Ours is an imperfect institution filled with imperfect people, beginning with an imperfect president.”
“This is a place that celebrates ‘whosoever,’” Pollard said. “I don’t believe in aspiration — I believe in realization. If we are who we say we are, then thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Two LPTS faculty members, the Rev. Dr. Amy Plantinga Pauw and the Rev. Dr. Scott C. Williamson, presented Pollard to the gathered family, friends and guests as a seminary faculty member.
The energy and hope that Pollard has already demonstrated are “fueled by the sense that there’s still a lot of important work to do,” Pauw said. “They are sustained by a debt of gratitude for generations past who kept on keeping on, who, as he has said, ‘held on when there was noting to hold on to.’”
“His scholarship, energy and hope will help (faculty) to educate men and women to participate in the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ in the world,” Williamson said.
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