Brite Divinity School welcomed its latest faculty member Tuesday afternoon in an “atypical ceremony.”
Brite President Dr. Newell Williams introduced the event and warned the crowd there would be no singing, but participation was encouraged as prayers were spoken out loud with involvement from every audience member.
Brite Dean Joretta Marshall introduced the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney as associate professor of the Hebrew Bible for Brite.
Robert Carr Chapel was packed with supporters and Brite professors to celebrate Gafney’s emotional, yet exciting step closer to a professorship.
Gafney teaches advanced degree programs at Brite with a concentration in women, black and Jewish studies. She is an author, Episcopal priest, researcher and professor.
Energetic supporters cheered Gafney on when she spoke eloquently about being an African American woman who teaches the Hebrew Bible.
“I do this work as a womanist, a feminist and as black woman,” said Gafney, who teaches an advanced seminar about translating and interpreting the Hebrew Bible.
Although Gafney’s race and gender may conflict with the words in biblical text, she said with a prideful demeanor that this did not discourage her passion for translation and studies.
“I am also keenly aware that I am translating a text that has been used to humanize, enslave and subjugate my people,” Gafney said. “It is a text that has bruised and has blessed me.”
Gafney said she hopes to promote public wide involvement with the Bible and encourage her students to practice deep thinking in a wide range of topics.
“I hope to shape Brite by educating doctoral students in classical and contemporary approaches to Hebrew Biblical scholarship, from translation studies and text critical scholarship to womanist and feminist biblical hermeneutics,” Gafney said.
Brite provides classes in a variety of topics ranging from black studies, Jewish studies, Asian studies and more. Having a diverse range of viewpoints is important to Gafney when interpreting text.
“The world is plural and diverse as are the spaces in which our students do now and will in the future encounter and engage the biblical text,” said Gafney, who is a former US Army Reserve chaplain. “A degree program that focuses on only one cultured or gendered approach to a body of literature unnecessarily deprives students of a full and relevant education.”
The ceremony closed with prayer for the universal church, the nation, the welfare of the world, the community and the ancestors.
Assistant Professor of Theological and Social Ethics and Director of Black Church Studies Dr. Keri Day gave the send off speech and recognized the memorable influence Gafney has on her students.
“Dr. Gafney, continue to shape and train the next generation of religious leaders,” Day said.