News & Announcements

  • In Memoriam – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    April 4, 2018 ~ Meagan Wood

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    On the anniversary of his death, we at the American Baptist Seminary of the West deeply mourn the loss of fellow Baptist, fellow Christian, fellow pastor, fellow human being, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We honor his spirit when we imitate him as he imitated Christ: waging peace, challenging injustice, and loving others. In this high and holy season, we are grateful for his life, we mourn his death, and we anticipate, with all the saints, his resurrection into life everlasting. May he rest in peace even as we work to make his dream of a beloved community come to pass on earth as it is in heaven.

    -President Jim Brenneman

  • March E-Newsletter

    March 29, 2018 ~ Meagan Wood


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    MARCH 2018
    A periodic update of news from the Berkeley campus


    A Message from President Brenneman

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    HOLY WEEK contains the darkest and most glorious hours of Christian faith: Jesus on the cross and the empty tomb! In truth, holy week holds a “wrinkle in time,” a cosmic vortex, where divinity and humanity, good and evil, time and space, miracle and everyday life intersect. In other words, life as we know it. ABSW exists to help prepare students of faith to lead well in all the holy weeks of all the intersections of all the days of our lives.

    I have been here for just over six months now as ABSW’s president. Not a week goes by that I have not grown in faith and understanding. This amazing place refuses to break apart the very real intersections we all experience all the time, sometimes simultaneously, between what is, and what could be, and “the ubiquitous presence of God,” as Professor Jennifer Wilkins Davidson, reminded us in chapel just this week. All of us at ABSW are ceaselessly invited to seek to understand God and each other with our whole hearts, souls, and minds with what W.E. DuBois called a “double consciousness,” expanded to triple or quadruple consciousness depending on one’s race, language, culture, gender, class, migration or religion. Wow! What hard work, but what holy work! In a real sense, at ABSW, we are reclaiming Jesus (see for this time and place in history, this particular wrinkle in time. We are reclaiming his whole life, his sorrows, his pain, his exile, his death on the cross and so also, his joy, his amazing teachings, his miracles, his inspiration, and yes, his resurrection!

    Though I’ve been here only six months, I assure you, every week is a holy week, here. So I say, without hesitation, if you or if you know of anyone, ANYONE!, who wants to join us on this amazing journey of faith and learning, please invite them to check out the ABSW website or, better, go the website yourself and sign up or give us their contact information. We will do the rest.

    In Christ’s just peace,

    Jim Brenneman 2
    Jim Brenneman
    ABSW President

    Dr. Brenneman’s preaching schedule

    April 8
    Prairie Baptist Church
    7416 Roe Ave
    Prairie Village, KS
    Morning Service: 10:30 am

    May 27
    First Baptist Church
    909 SW 11th Ave
    Portland, OR

    June 17
    American Baptist Church
    600 S Shields St
    Ft. Collins, CO

    Please contact our office to find out if Dr. Brenneman will be in your area and/ or if you would like him to preach at your church (510-841-1905 x246).


    Join us for alumni reunion and commencement.

    Thursday, May 17
    5:00 PM Alumni Dinner
    7:00 PM Lecture: Sacred Texts – Sacrifice

    Friday, May 18
    Lunch event on Hornblower Yacht in the Bay
    3:00 PM Walking tour of ABSW/CAL/GTU
    7:00 PM Lecture: Sacred Texts – Mercy

    Saturday, May 19
    10:00 AM Alumni Brunch and Dialogue with ABSW President Dr. James E. Brenneman
    2:00 PM Commencement at First Church of Christ, Scientist
    2619 Dwight Way (across the street from ABSW)
    Reception will follow the commencement at ABSW

    More information (including registration) will be coming your way soon

    ABSW Alum of the Year Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews

    We are pleased to announce that Michael-Ray Mathews (1998) has been selected as alumnus of the year for 2018.

    mrmathews Michael-Ray Mathews is an ordained American Baptist minister and a leading pastor in the multi-faith movement for justice.  He brings over 30 years of ministry leadership experience – as a senior pastor, grassroots leader, psalmist and community organizer – to his work as the Director of Clergy Organizing for PICO National Network.  

    Since 2014, Michael-Ray’s leadership has centered on the Theology of Resistance. Developed in the aftermath of the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Theology of Resistance is a prophetic, multi-faith discourse and is intended to ignite conversations and spark faith leaders to fight injustice and dehumanization and cultivate Beloved Community.   Michael-Ray engages these conversations as the host of the Prophetic Resistance Podcast.

    Rev. Mathews is the founding convener of the Racial Justice and Multiculturalism Community of the Alliance of Baptists.  Along with Drs. Marie Onwubuariri and Cody Sanders, he is the co-editor of Trouble the Waters:  A Christian Resource for the Work of Racial Justice, a project of the Alliance of Baptists.

    A native of Compton, California, Michael-Ray earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences and Communications from the University of Southern California and a Master of Divinity degree from the American Baptist Seminary of the West and the Graduate Theological Union.

    Michael-Ray and Dené, his wife of 25 years, live in San José, California and are the proud parents of one son, Kenan, a junior at The Ohio State University.

    Alumni/ae Updates 

    Loretta Belton (2014) was ordained on January 27, 2018, in a service that took place at Appiean Way Seventh Day Adventist Church, El Sobrante, CA.

    In Memoriam

    Everlyn Breese (1958) Alum and former trustee passed away in February 2018.

    Mason L. Brown (1956) A memorial service in celebration of his life was held on February 4, 2018 at Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, CO.

    Wesley H. (Wes) Brown (1957) A celebration of life was held on January 6, 2018 at First Baptist Church in Pasadena.

    Robert D. Gilmore (1960) A memorial service was held at Newburg Friends Church on February 24, 2018.

    Jane Gahs Wilson, trustee emerita of ABSW, passed away in January 2018. A memorial service was held at First Baptist Church of Los Angeles on February 12, 2018.

    Faculty and Staff News
    Associate Professor Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble, with three of twenty Bay Area mentees and vmt covermentors,  attended the Rise Together Mentorship launch in New York City at Union  Theological Seminary on March 8-10.  ABSW is the NorCal Western Regional Affiliate, one of seven regions. Over 800 diverse women in ministry attended from across the U.S. 



    Dr. Jennifer W. Davidson, Associate Professor of Theology and Worship, shared in chapel on March 19 about her recent trip to Nagaland in North East India where she visited the urban and rural campuses of the new North East Christian University being established in the region. While there, Dr. Davidson presented at a Church Leaders Conference on baptism and communion, based on her forthcoming book River of Life, Feast of Grace: Baptism, Communion, and the Call to Radical Discipleship to be published by Judson Press. Dr. Davidson traveled with Rev. Dr. Don Ng, a former trustee of ABSW, and Rev. Dr. Rex Rogers from the Great Rivers Region.



    The Dominican Chorale of Dominican University in San Rafael will be presenting their Spring 2018 concerts on April 20, 8:00 pm at Dominican University and April 22, 5:00 pm at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Petaluma, CA. The program includes Mozart’s “Solemn Vespers” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” You can find Rev. Carolyn Matthews and Dr. Terri Brenneman in the first soprano section of the choir. 

    ABSW WELL REPRESENTED at ABHMS Aligned Action Network and Other Collaborative Gatherings in Glendale, California, March 15-17, 2018

    An ABSW board member, president, several alums and a student recently attended the American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) “aligned action network” meeting and other collaborative gatherings at American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles, Southwest and Hawaii’s (ABCOFLASH) conference center at First Baptist Church of Glendale, Calif.

    Thursday’s aligned action network meeting was also attended by partners from churches, campus and community ministries in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming. It was led by Dr. Jane Wei-Skillern, an adjunct professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and facilitated by the Rev. Lisa Harris Lee, ABHMS director of Mission Engagement and National Network Initiative.

    ABHMS developed aligned action networks so that American Baptists in geographic clusters throughout the United States and Puerto Rico can convene to share resources, funding opportunities, communication practices and actionable ideas to ultimately create ministries that make a difference in people’s lives.

    ABSW president, Jim Brenneman, says of his experience, “What a wonderful gathering of ABC leaders united in mission as the focus of our unity as the church. I was impressed with Dr. Jane Wei-Skillern’s evidence-based research that underscores the “self-emptying” approach to organizational life and ministry. I am grateful the ABHMS is promoting this model of collaborative ministry. Such an approach requires the church to shift its focus away from traditional approaches that emphasize scale and growth of one’s own organization to becoming truly collaborative. Wei-Skillern’s research shows such grass-root aligned action networks are key in making any truly significant impact on positive spiritual and social change in the 21st Century.”

    On Friday and Saturday evening, more than a dozen diverse young adults participated in the “Empowering Young Intercultural Leaders” workshop hosted cooperatively by ABHMS’ Intercultural Ministries and Emerging Leaders program. The event showcased tools, leadership techniques and wide-ranging discussion geared toward young church leaders who work with multicultural groups.

    ABSW M.Div. student, Kwee Say, says she shared learnings from the workshop with her local church andKwee Say leaders of Karen Baptist Churches USA.

    “One thing I learned at the training that really sticks with me was the importance of working across cultural boundaries with ‘RESPECT’ [Responsibility, Empathetic listening, Sensitivity, Pondering, Examining, Confidentiality, Trusting/Tolerating ambiguity] as a minister, a pastor, a chaplain and a servant leader of God,” says Say, a recently endorsed American Baptist Navy chaplain officer candidate, who currently serves as a chaplain intern in Spiritual Care Services at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.

    Public Theology Certificate Program

    What is Public Theology?The second cohort of the Public Theology Certificate Program, offered jointly by ABSW and PICO National Network, will be starting this fall! The ABSW/PICO partnership for the creation of a program in Public Theology has been made possible by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

    This five-course, 16-month program covers topics from morality and society to community organizing. Courses are offered in an intensive format, either over one week or several weekends.

    For more information or to start your application, visit Scholarships are available!

    It’s not too late to apply!

    Are you or someone you know thinking about seminary, or investigating some next steps in theological education? Let us know! Whether you have questions about programs or the application process, or want to get in touch with a current student or faculty member, were happy to help! Fill out the brief form available here, or reach out to our Director of Admissions, Meagan Wood, at or (510) 841-1905 ext 229. We’ll be looking forward to talking more soon!

    American Baptist Seminary of the West
    2606 Dwight Way
    Berkeley, CA 94704-3029
    Telephone: 510-841-1905
    Fax: 510-841-2446
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  • RISE Together: A National Mentorship Network Launch – March 8-10

    March 5, 2018 ~ Meagan Wood



  • Black History is American History – February 28

    February 28, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Mary Lou Williams (1910 – 1981)

    Mary Elfrieda Scruggs was born on May 8, 1910, in Atlanta, Georgia. She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When Scruggs was a small child, she surprised her mother by playing a song she had just heard on the family’s pump organ. Trained by her mother, and aided by her gift of perfect pitch, she was playing professionally by the age of seven.

    Appearing as Mary Lou Burley (her stepfather’s last name), she worked in locations that ranged from gambling dens to the vaudeville stage. As a teenager, she started performing with saxophonist John Williams. The two married in 1927, thus making her Mary Lou Williams. A few years later, Williams followed her husband to Kansas City, where she would become an integral part of the swing scene.

    Though relegated to menial tasks at first, Mary Lou Williams began performing with the Twelve Clouds of Joy, a Kansas City band led by Andy Kirk. In addition to being the group’s pianist throughout the 1930s, she also composed and arranged much of its music. Her success with the Twelve Clouds of Joy meant Williams was soon sending compositions and arrangements to bandleaders such as Tommy Dorsey, Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. Her work as a composer and arranger for Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy in the early 1930s reveals one of the earliest examples of a woman given due respect from her peers for her musicianship. William’s career opens a window into the critically important Kansas City jazz scene that produced such giants as Count Basie, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker.

    In 1942, Williams left Kirk’s band. When her second marriage to trumpeter Shorty Baker ended, she settled in New York City. There, she performed at a Greenwich Village nightclub and on a weekly radio show. Her Harlem apartment became a gathering place for musicians, and was where Williams mentored talents like Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.

    During her time in New York, Williams demonstrated her musical adaptability. Not only did she incorporate bebop into her playing, she created longer pieces such as the “Zodiac Suite.” Three movements of this 12-part composition were performed at Carnegie Hall in 1946. In 1952, Williams relocated to Europe, where she remained until she walked out of a performance in Paris in 1954.

    Even after Williams returned to the United States, she refrained from performing, as she felt that her spiritual needs were incompatible with the world of jazz. However, she eventually found solace in Catholicism. In 1956, Williams underwent a spiritual conversion to Catholicism and gave up playing to concentrate on spiritual matters until reemerging in 1957 with a performance alongside Dizzy Gillespie at the Newport Jazz Festival. Compared to her rigorous schedule of touring over the previous 30 years, she played only sporadically over the next decade. She formed the Bel Canto Foundation to assist drug- and alcohol-dependent musicians in 1958. This initiative prefigured her founding of Cecilia Music, a publishing firm to release her compositions, and the establishment of her own record label, Mary Records, the first started by a woman, to issue her and other selected artists’ recordings. Given her newfound Catholic faith, Williams began to work on sacred pieces, composing several masses. One of these was Mary Lou’s Mass (originally called Music for Peace).

    In 1971, Mary Lou’s Mass was interpreted by choreographer Alvin Ailey. Four years later, it became the first jazz piece to be performed at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Williams still continued to perform, including at President Jimmy Carter’s White House Jazz Party. In 1977, her career undertook yet another significant turn. Duke University formalized William’s role as an educator by appointing her as artist-in-residence, a position she held until her death in 1981. Duke permanently honored William’s contributions by opening the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture in September 1983 with an address by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison.

    Williams was 71 when she succumbed to bladder cancer in Durham, North Carolina, on May 28, 1981. She left behind more than 350 compositions. Though she is known for being one of the first women to succeed in jazz, she had a career whose accomplishments place her in the top echelon of musicians.

    Jazz fans and historians long ago concluded that Mary Lou Williams was the most important female jazz musician to emerge in the first three decades of jazz. William’s multidimensional talents as an instrumentalist, arranger, and composer made her a star from her earliest days and, over the long haul, an equal to any musician successful in those endeavors. Her longevity as a top-flight jazz artist was extended because of her penchant for adapting to and influencing stylistic changes in the music. In his autobiography, Music Is My Mistress, Duke Ellington wrote, “Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her writing and performing have always been a little ahead throughout her career. Her music retains, and maintains, a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul.” (on Mr. Rogers neighborhood)