From the Dean’s Desk

Harry Attridge

As this issue of Reflections goes to press two exhibits grace the campus of YDS. On the interior walls hang pictures from Iraq, taken by “unembedded” photo-journalists showing scenes of strife and human suffering. On the Quad stand ranks of military boots and civilian shoes, part of the traveling exhibit “Eyes Open,” another graphic representation of the agony of our current involvement in the Middle East. Both exhibits remind me of the kinds of dramatic demonstrations that prophets such as Ezekiel made in order to proclaim the “Word of the Lord.” They remind us as a community of one of the roles for which our graduates prepare.

In the spring of this year we mourned the passing of an exemplary prophetic voice, well known at Yale and in the wider world. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., whose ministry at the University combined the pastoral and the prophetic in extraordinary ways, was until his death a vigorous voice calling out our best efforts to be responsive to a God of justice and mercy. At a celebration of his life and ministry here at Yale held in April 2005, he rose one last time to challenge his friends and admirers to resist violence in its most threatening forms, particularly in the form of nuclear weapons. That same event marked the endowment of a scholarship in Bill’s honor, which is awarded to incoming YDS students who demonstrate his prophetic leadership, his passion for justice, and his critical theological interpretations of the contemporary social and political scene. Our first Coffin scholar, Ms. Rahiel Tesfamariam, who spent her early childhood in war-torn Eritrea, began her studies with us this autumn. Bill’s life and ministry, at Yale and at Riverside Church in New York City, will continue to inspire students of divinity preparing for service in the world of the twenty-first century.

How to shape and cultivate an effective and responsible prophetic voice remains a challenge. Opening our eyes to see the challenges of the contemporary world, as the exhibit on the Quad challenges us to do, is certainly a necessary condition. Being ready to speak truth to power, as Bill so often did, is an essential part of the equation, but there is certainly more. Our faculty, alumni, and friends writing in this issue of Reflections explore the dimensions of what constitutes prophetic ministry today, from what we say in the pulpit, to how we work in the community, from how we construe the heritage of biblical prophecy to how prophets can lead the way in reconciling the deepest divisions in our world.

It hardly needs saying that the church and the country need prophets today. We hope that this issue of Reflections will help us all to think about what that calling entails.