Voices from the Duke Summer Institute: Bill Lamar
Bill Lamar has been a great personal friend of mine and of the Center for Reconciliation. Read below for an interview snapshot of his powerful journey of leadership and ministry.
What has catalyzed your passion for reconciliation?
Lamar: During my nine years as a pastor in Florida I grew restless with traditional forms of ministry. I needed some space and opportunity for reflection on who I was and where I was headed. An outgrowth of this restlessness was beginning my work as a community organizer, bringing together people from different racial backgrounds to pursue a vision of justice. At this time, God graciously brought to me a spiritual coach who enabled me to identify the core parts of my identity as a follower of Christ. With her help, I came to see that my true passions were for reconciliation, justice and peace.
What stands out from your personal journey as particularly formative for your present commitment to those core passions?
Lamar: When I was young, I was given a captivating book entitled Eyewitness: The Negro in American History. My imagination was sparked by reading stories of reconciliation, peace and justice lived out by real people in that book. Also central to my understanding and formation were the stories of Israel, Jesus and the Church found in the Scriptures, and God’s poignant narrative of reconciliation that wove through these stories.
Can you tell us about a particular experience in your life that embodies your desire for reconciliation and transformation?
Lamar: While serving as a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida, I was involved with the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment (ICARE). As a team, we became aware of the significant struggles and challenges facing many students in the local schools, and were determined to take action. We first formed relationships with students from all racial backgrounds in the schools. Then, joining together, we went to the local educational authorities and administrators and worked to change a broken educational system that had left so many disadvantaged. This was an exciting way to step outside the confines of our own individual church congregations and come together to effect change on a community-wide level.
What passage of Scripture has been most influential for you in your journey?
Lamar: Without a doubt, the book of Revelation! It is a book of incredible poetry that lifts the eyes of the faithful to envision God’s hope and new creation. A hope that is both already and not yet. As Jurgen Moltmann has written, eschatology is the crucial Christian doctrine. I would not be a Christian apart from eschatology. This hope sustains us and enables us to persevere in the work of reconciliation despite seemingly hopeless circumstances.
How is your current role as Managing Director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School providing opportunities for you to be engaged in the work of reconciliation?
Lamar: We are facilitating an environment of hospitality and learning through ecumenical dialog, bringing together people and groups that would not normally be in conversation with one another–liberals and conservatives, those from a wide range of denominations. This could be considered “internal” reconciliation, but it is no less important to the embodiment of the Gospel message.
About the Author: Bill Lamar is an itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a managing director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. At Leadership Education, Bill designs, resources and facilitates educational opportunities on such topics as social innovation and the economic and communications challenges faced by denominations.
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