The House of Black Church Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary is being championed by Dr. Christopher Davis, associate dean of doctoral studies, and Dr. Karren Todd, program director. (Courtesy photos)

Memphis Theological Seminary just broadened its focus in providing Christian Education in the context of “The Black Church,” thanks to a $1,000,000 grant from the prestigious Lily Endowment.

“Establishing ‘The House of Black Church Studies’ is an extremely significant development at Memphis Theological,” said Dr. Christopher Davis, associate dean of doctoral studies. 

“This is a Cumberland Presbyterian seminary, and this new endeavor represents an intentional effort to acknowledge that the African-American church is a large faction of Christians. Leaders should be trained in the cultural nuances of working with a black congregation.”

Davis, who is also an associate professor of preaching and pastoral ministry, said the entity will store a wealth of sermons and teaching documents. There will be an emphasis on the cultural practices of the “black church.” A deliberately designed component of study will recognize the many contributions of the church.

“The House of Black Church Studies will create exceptional opportunities for our students to focus on the black church as unique and distinctive from the other MTS houses,” said Davis. “This is especially exciting because practitioners will be brought to share about the work they do every day. Creating a meaningful connection between the sanctuary and the seminary will be invaluable.”

Davis said a mutually beneficial expansion of the sanctuary and seminary connection will be the addition of paid internships for students to spend time with church leaders within the church setting.

“They can learn from pastors while sharing what they are learning in seminary. We can pay them a stipend during the internship. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Dr. Jody Hill

MTS President Jody Hill said with the addition of the House of Black Church Studies, “Memphis Theological Seminary can now celebrate that we have houses of study dedicated to equipping leaders in our student body’s three largest congregational settings: the African-American Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church.”

Hill said the new house will “enhance the seminary’s capacity to carry forward its efforts to prepare and support pastors and lay ministers of African-American traditions to serve their local congregations.”

Program Director Dr. Karren Todd said she was “excited to be a part of this new and necessary work for the Black church … Our mission…is to enrich the work and witness of Memphis Theological Seminary as a theological and spiritual resource in the context of the Black church. I look forward to the work and the impact of the MTS House of Black Church Studies.”

Davis said 60 percent of MTS students are African American, and most will likely work in Memphis, which is majority African American.

The grant will partially fund the new house. More than 100 churches are expected to partner with MTS in funding the work of House of Black Church Studies.

The Lily Endowment Inc., has a long-standing record of supporting Christian education.

“Theological schools have played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. 

“…Theological schools will take deliberate steps to address the challenges they have identified in ways that make the most sense to them…. Their efforts are critical to ensuring congregations continue to have a steady stream of pastoral leaders who are well-prepared to lead the churches of tomorrow.”