A Pastoral Letter

By: William D. Shiell

This weekend marks a historic occasion at Northern Seminary. We celebrate the graduating class of 2020. Among these are students from the first MANT and MATM cohorts. Along with our MAW students, these students pioneered Northern Live. Congratulations to the class of 2020, and we look forward to seeing you at commencement on October 10 at Christ Church of Oak Brook.

In the midst of these accomplishments, our hearts carry heavy burdens. We are grieved and heartbroken over the murders of George Floyd and Ahmoud Arbery. As members of the body of Christ, we stand in solidarity with African American persons, churches, and nonviolent protestors across America. Black lives matter to Northern Seminary. America is a broken country and in need of divine intervention. We are infected with the viruses of COVID-19, racism, injustice, violence, white supremacy, and police brutality. All of these issues have ravaged communities of color and destroyed lives. Following the murder of George Floyd, many of us have participated in nonviolent protests. Other violent incidents have occurred, including looting, primarily instigated by professionals. As a seminary, we denounce looting, violent destruction, and division that distract us from the cruel deaths of these men and so many others.

Northern Seminary continues to teach and train pastors to address these issues through the church. Many of our white students report that Seminary is the first time that they have ever studied under an African American professor. While we still have much work to do, we have seen many lives transformed at Northern over the past several years. Even more students are taking classes on the South Side and through the Lawndale Center. Today, 54% of scholarship recipients are persons of color. We have assisted 8 students already with relief during COVID-19. One student reported to me just a few weeks ago how Coach Gordon’s class “turned his world upside down.” He preached in his church about race, the murders of black persons. He called for the church to break down barriers and lament over black persons who have died.

Let’s continue to turn the world upside down for God’s glory and the reconciliation of all people to Jesus. You can do that now in several ways:

1.) Give to assist students. Many of you have already given generously to support your fellow students. Thank you so much for your example. We still have 11 students who need over $54,000 with assistance with rent, utilities, and food because of the pandemic.

2.) Continue to pray for God to awaken righteous police officers and prosecutors who will do justice in God-honoring ways. George Floyd and many others would be alive today if these police officers’ hearts were changed.

3.) Watch and lead a group discussion of Brenda Salter McNeil’s and Jonathan Brooks’s courses on Seminary Now. Both offer practical ways for people to engage and love our black brothers and sisters. We will be posting more content from Northern faculty and IVP authors in the coming months. Invite local police officers in your church to participate, and ask persons of color to lead the discussion. Engage in dialogue, learning, and transformation through the power of small groups.

4.) Attend the National Baptist Congress virtual Vision Conference. Northern faculty and staff will be participating. Support our new partnership with R. H. Boyd Publishing and learn more about black churches’ work across our country.

5.) In this time of social distancing, invite your congregation to virtually attend a historically black or multi-ethnic church. Now is a great time to be guest worshipers in a tradition outside of your own. Encourage your church to offer their assistance to clean up neighborhoods where looting has occurred, and support local businesses that were damaged.

6.) Follow these timely suggestions from Greg Armstrong, Wayne Gordon, Scot McKnight, Nijay Gupta, and David Fitch.

7.) Read here about Dr. Christopher Toote’s amazing ministry to feed 225,000 hungry people on the South Side through the University of Chicago.

8.) Advocate for your children to learn from African American teachers throughout their educational journey.

9.) Inform your congregation about the temptation to call 9-1-1 whenever there is an issue. We have turned any suspicious activity into an excuse to get out of relationships. When you see something suspicious, ask yourself if this is an implicit bias against someone or a legitimate concern. Engage people by talking to them, not talking to the police about them. Find ways to build bridges in communities without the help of law enforcement.

10.) Continue to practice Sabbath. We’re in the wilderness as the church, and God instituted the Sabbath before the Israelites arrived at Sinai. We have a long journey ahead. Take time to rest, and trust that God will provide more manna tomorrow. Pastors are carrying even more stress than they normally do, and so are church members. Talk to a chaplain or counselor, and stay connected to friends.

I’m proud to say that the graduating class of 2020 is prepared to be agents of Christ’s reconciling love and justice. If I can be a conversation partner with you on the journey, I’m here for you. Let’s get to work.



Bill Shiell

June 9, 2020

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William

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