News & Announcements

  • 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

    Brenneman photo-2


    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)

  • Black History is American History – February 27

    February 27, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Oscar Brown Jr. (1926 – 2005)

    Oscar Cicero Brown Jr. was born on October 10, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Oscar Sr., was a lawyer and real estate agent and his mother, Helen Clark Brown, taught school. Though African Americans were legally, socially, and economically second-class citizens throughout most of the country, Brown and his sister Helen enjoyed a comfortable middle-class upbringing. “I really enjoyed growing up in Chicago, you could say I was fat, dumb and happy,” Brown told Black World Today. “I wasn’t aware of a lot of the problems.” However, Brown soon learned about activism by example. His father was a leader of the Chicago branch of the NAACP and both of his parents were active church-goers, committed to giving back to their community.

    At the age of 15, Brown got his first taste of show business when he landed a role on the national radio series, Secret City. During his early education, Brown had been an excellent student. For the next few years Brown bounced from Wisconsin to the University of Michigan to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. With the exception of English, Brown was a failure in college. “I never got out of my college freshman year,” Brown told Global Black News. “However, I was turned on to writing.”

    After returning to Chicago in 1947, Brown landed a broadcasting job with Chicago’s first African-American radio news show, Negro News Front. It brought him face-to-face with the current events affecting the black community. “[That] sort of pivoted me,” Brown told Black World Today, “it changed me around and made me not only an actor but also an activist.” He became involved with the Civil Rights Congress, a movement led by Chicago activist Will Patterson that openly accused the U.S. government of genocide against black peoples. Brown also joined the Communist Party.

    At the age of 21, Brown decided to go into politics. He joined the Progressive Party and ran for Illinois State representative. Although defeated, he ran again in 1952 in the Republican Primary for Congressman of the 1st District which he also lost. As Brown became more politically active, his on-air commentaries became increasingly radical. By 1953 the white station owners had had enough and Negro News Front was cancelled. By the mid-1950s the Communist Party had also had enough. “I got kicked out for being a black nationalist…. We were too black for the Reds,” he was quoted in Black World Today.

    Over the next few years Brown served in the U.S. Army and worked for his father. Eventually he returned to his first love—writing—and started to compose songs. In order to get them heard, he began singing in local night clubs. In turning to music, he did not abandon politics. “The liberation of black people from the domination of racist whites can only be achieved by application of the necessary force. Can music provide this force? Yes, it can, due to its matchless ability to stir the human spirit,” he wrote in an essay entitled “Music: The Liberating Force,” published on his Web site.

    In 1959 Brown attended the Chicago opening of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun.” There he met the playwright’s husband, Robert Nemiroff, a music publisher from New York. Impressed with Brown’s music, Nemiroff made an introduction to executives at Columbia Records. Columbia promptly offered Brown a recording contract. Brown was not so sure. “When they first sent me the contract for a singer, I wanted to go in as a writer,” he told Global Black News. “I let a year go by before I realized that was the best offer I was going to get so I signed as a singer.”

    Brown’s 1960 album “Sin and Soul” debuted to critical acclaim and made Brown a national celebrity. The 12 songs moved from hard-hitting social commentary to light-hearted humor, all bound by the rhythmic flow of classic jazz. “Bid ‘Em In” offered a somber look at slave auctions delivered with a lyrical style that many critics have called a foreshadowing of rap. “Signifyin’ Monkey” was a humorous reworking of an old black folk tale. “Brown Baby” was a lullaby written for his newborn son, Oscar III. It was later made famous by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. Several songs were instrumentals by other jazz artists to which Brown added lyrics, including Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” and Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere.”

    The success of “Sin and Soul” introduced Brown into the world of jazz greats. Brown’s performance style made him an instant sensation. Brown was soon sharing the stage with names like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. He teamed up with drumming great Max Roach to pen lyrics for Roach’s 1960 Civil Rights album, “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.” In 1962 he headlined a sold-out shows in London called “Oscar Brown Entertains.”

    Even as “Sin and Soul” was cementing his fame as a singer, Brown remained a writer at heart. Making the rounds of New York’s music scene he always had a copy of his musical, “Kicks and Company,” in hand. Dealing with racism and revolution, Kicks was both timely and riveting. Determined to produce the show on Broadway, Brown embarked on a string of fundraisers including private performances for guests from Martin Luther King to Harry Belafonte. In an unprecedented—and never repeated—display of support, NBC’s Today Show dedicated a full-two hour program to Brown and Kicks. Though the play never made it to Broadway, it did have a brief run in Chicago in 1961.

    In 1962 Brown moved to Los Angeles to host the television program Jazz Scene USA. There he met singer and dancer Jean Pace. The two would eventually marry and collaborate on dozens of projects during a 30-plus-year partnership. Back in Chicago, Brown wrote and produced the musical “Opportunity Please Knock.” It was a success, not only for its music but for its performers—members of the notorious Chicago street gang, Blackstone Rangers. The Washington Post wrote that Brown originally confronted the gang members about “steppin’ on my hustle, scaring my audience.” Eventually he recruited them to appear in the show. The result was a reduction in gang violence and national fame. Members of the gang were invited to perform on the popular TV show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Brown was also recruited by Gary, Indiana, officials to launch a talent search in that town’s troubled inner-city. Among his early discoveries were five brothers known as the Jackson Five.

    Brown produced several other plays during the 1960s, including “Joy 66,” “Summer in the City”, and “Buck White.” The latter, a musical based on themes of black power and militancy, made it to Broadway with Muhammad Ali in the title role. At the time Ali was under a government-enforced hiatus from boxing due to his refusal to join the Vietnam War draft. Meanwhile Brown continued to write and record music all for Columbia. In 1965 he moved to Verve and recorded the critically hailed “Mr. Oscar Goes to Washington.” Like “Sin and Soul,” this album showcased Brown’s vocal dexterity and ability to swing from politically confrontational songs such as “Brother Where Are You” and “Forty Acres and a Mule” to lighthearted humor as in “Living Double in a World of Trouble,” about having two girlfriends at once.

    By 1972 Brown had recorded nine albums and collaborated on dozens more. Though jazz aficionados considered him a visionary, Brown could not get a new recording contract. Nonetheless, Brown stayed active in music and theater. He served as artist-in-residence at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he produced “Slave Song,” a musical drama told in rhyme. He produced a television special, “Oscar Brown Is Back,” that won two Chicago Emmy awards. In 1983 his play “Great Nitty Gritty” debuted in Chicago, once again with local youth in the cast. Brown also made television appearances, hosting music specials such as the 13-week PBS series “From Jump Street: The Story of Black Music,” and guest starring on shows like “Brewster Place” and “Roc.” He also regularly performed onstage, often with his daughter, jazz singer Maggie Brown. His son Oscar III had also shared the stage with his father until his 1996 death in an auto accident.

    Brown made a comeback in 1995 with the album “Then and Now,” a compilation of old and new songs. Despite his age, his voice was still commanding and his message still relevant. Three years later, Brown recorded the live album “Live Every Minute” during a tour of Europe. He was 72 at the time. Over the next few years Brown toured worldwide, headlining shows and appearing at political rallies, including several against the Iraq War. He also became an honored guest on the Russell Simmons show “Def Poetry Jam.” In 2003 the show “Serenade the World: The Music and Words of Oscar Brown Jr.” debuted to packed houses in New York. In 2004 a documentary about his life, “Music Is My Life, Politics Is My Mistress,” premiered.

    In 2004, when asked by NPR radio host Tavis Smiley what he gets out of performing at the age of 78, Brown responded, “Same thing I got out of it at 38…people are applauding.” He added, “That’s the best of all possible worlds. And so, you know, the more I can keep that going….” Brown did keep it going, all the way to May 29, 2005, when he died of respiratory failure. The loss was great, but as his daughter Maggie said in a statement quoted in the Chicago Defender, “he has left a wealth of works that will continue to touch the world.”

    Oscar Brown Jr. was not a man easily defined. Labels like songwriter, composer, actor, singer, director, producer, playwright all fit, but not quite. He was also an activist, a visionary, and a social commentator. As influenced by the Harlem Renaissance as he was by the Civil Rights Movement, Brown had a desire to create and to communicate. “I wanted to present a picture of black culture to anyone who could hear it,” the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying. In doing so he penned over 1,000 songs, recorded 11 albums, and wrote several plays. Though he never received the recognition many felt he deserved during his life, his music and words have had a continued influence on a whole new generation of artists and activists.

    Full article and further reading: