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Announcing the Very Rev. Dr. Michael Battle as the Inaugural “Trinity Church Theologian-In-Community”
Dear Trinity Church and Friends,
Grace and Peace to you from God in Christ. I hope this message finds you well.
I write with the thrilling news that the Very Rev. Dr. Michael Battle, Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at General Theological Seminary in New York, has accepted a call to serve as the inaugural “Trinity Church Theologian-In-Community,” beginning in September of this year.
Some will remember that Dr. Battle presided at our mid-morning Eucharist and delivered the ABBS lecture on March 8, 2020 – the last Sunday before the pandemic fully declared itself. Having kept in touch with Dr. Battle in the years since, we were delighted to welcome him again this January to discuss his most recent book and to reflect on the life of his mentor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Around that time, Dr. Battle and I began a conversation about a role I imagined as a new kind for Trinity: an endowed position for a Black leader in the Church to partner with us in the ministry of Beloved Community, not only for our parish, but for the whole world. Our shared discernment culminated with Michael’s call to join our staff in this consequential role.
Continuing his teaching ministry at General, Dr. Battle will travel to Boston for his on-site days at Trinity, and he will bring to us his experience of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in both the academic and parochial settings. He will bring to us his lifetime of commitment, study, and practice of anti-racism and peacemaking. He will bring to us character and compassion, a deeply pastoral presence rooted in the spirituality he has nurtured across continents and contexts.
As a white leader, I recognize the limits of what I can create and convene in our ministries of repair, even as I recognize the necessity for me to do all that I can. I am as humbled as I am excited to serve with Dr. Battle, to learn from him and to discover with him. I pray that our partnership will reflect the values and aspirations of our Beloved Community work itself – justice, equity, and hope, among others – and, as I named in my first outreach to Michael about this opportunity, “not every congregation can change the world, but Trinity Church can – and Trinity Church should.” I believe this call continues our commitment to aspire nothing less.
Please see below a brief biography of Dr. Battle; an overview the “Theologian-In-Community” position and its inaugural scope (mark your calendars: Dr. Battle will first preach and teach at Trinity on Sunday, September 18); a message from our Wardens; and a word of introduction from Michael himself.
With high hopes,
The Rev. Morgan S. Allen
The Very Rev. Dr. Michael Battle
The Very Rev. Michael Battle, Ph.D. has an undergraduate degree from Duke University, received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, a Master of Sacred Theology from Yale University, and a PhD in theology and ethics, also from Duke University. Ordained priest in 1993 by Archbishop Tutu, Michael served as vicar at St. Titus Episcopal Church in Durham, NC; rector at Church of Our Saviour, in San Gabriel, California; rector at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, N.C.; and interim rector or associate priest with other churches in North Carolina and in Cape Town, South Africa.
In 2010, Battle was named “Six Preacher” by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, a distinction that goes back to Thomas Cranmer and 16th century England, and given to only a few who demonstrate great dedication to the Church. Michael’s academic experience includes service as Interim Dean of Students and Community Life at Episcopal Divinity School, Dean for Academic Affairs, Vice President and Associate Professor of Theology at Virginia Theology Seminary; as Associate Professor of Spirituality and Black Church Studies, at Duke University’s Divinity School; and as Assistant Professor of Spiritual and Moral Theology in the School of Theology at the University of the South. Dr. Battle has published eleven books, including his latest: Desmond Tutu: A Spiritual Biography Of South Africa’s Confessor.
Dr. Battle’s Trinity Church Ministry, 2022-2023
This fall, Dr. Battle will work with Trinity Church’s staff, vestry, and parish leaders to establish “Ubuntu Circles” as the universal model of our small-groups, committees, and programs. As Dr. Battle has written, “Ubuntu Circles take on the form of indaba – based upon an African concept of purposeful discussion on the common concerns of our shared life. It is a process and a method of engagement to get us to listen to one another. An indaba acknowledges first and foremost that there are issues that need to be addressed effectively to foster ongoing communal living. It enables otherwise reluctant participants to engage and speak openly while at the same time mindful of the privileged and the backdrop of who is powerful in our societies. And of course, mindful of how often those in power can silence the voice of so many people. Ubuntu Circles encourage person to person encounters so that all voices are in proximity to one another. Such proximity can produce the best outcomes of restorative justice and peacemaking.”
By this strategy, we will not have collections of anti-racist ministries and others that are not; rather, every Trinity Church ministry gathering will be rooted in the principles, values, and dispositions of Beloved Community. To achieve this, Michael’s initial teaching will emphasize smaller-group trainings, even while his parishwide engagement will remain substantial. Mark your calendars for September 18, when Dr. Battle will overview the Ubuntu Circle model, preaching all that Sunday’s services and leading our first Forum of the Program Year.
Dr. Battle will launch our Lenten formational programming (including on Ash Wednesday) and bookend the Program Year with three Easter Sundays of Forums. He will preach twice in the fall trimester, and then three times across spring and winter, including Good Friday. In sum, he will be with us about 15 Sundays during the upcoming year, a schedule we have coordinated to prioritize our 9am, first-Sunday-of-the-Month “Community Breakfasts,” which begin in October.
Dr. Battle will serve as the clergy support of our Anti-Racism Team and participate in its monthly meetings. He will work with me to chaplain and support the staff during our Zoom meetings, and he will regularly engage with parish leaders as we advance our work of Beloved Community in the congregation. Michael will also write and record on behalf of Trinity, publishing essays developing digital media for the parish.
Finally, Dr. Battle will include Trinity Church parishioners and staff in pilgrimage programs: a Civil Rights experience in the United States, and a contextual experience in Cape Town that he has created and organizes around Bishop Tutu’s life and theology. We are already working to assemble the pilot group for the first of these to Cape Town in January 2023.
The “Trinity Church Theologian-in-Community”
We intend Dr. Battle’s call to inaugurate an endowed position – much like a Chair in an academic setting – ensuring a Black leader in the Church is always partnered with Trinity Church in our parish’s ministry of Beloved Community.
While this leader will necessarily change over time, the post will remain the same. For this reason, we chose a purposefully broad title, allowing for a variety of gifts, experiences, and specialties to find their home at Trinity, as new seasons might benefit. Likewise, the language of “Theologian” intends not to limit the pool of potential leaders to clergy (even if that remains a preference), and, in a related spirit, we elected for “in-Community” to identify this leader as committed to contextual ministry – among the people – rather than the ivory-tower, solitary thinker that “in-Residence” can imply.
In its recently published report, the Task Force on Justice & Reparations recommended repurposing The Greene Foundation Fund, which the Task Force learned was endowed by a family whose wealth can clearly be traced to the slave trade. The Greene resources, with a current corpus of approximately $500,000, was established to fund an associate priest on the Trinity Church staff. Seeking to redeem its origins while working within this legal restriction, the Greene Fund will seed the Trinity Church Theologian-In-Community position. As soon as next year, our Director of Stewardship, Lonsdale Koester, and I will fundraise so that this renewed fund can support a full-time role and subsidize its attendant programming (for example, the pilgrimages Dr. Battle will lead).
Dear Trinity Church family and friends,
We are inspired and delighted, as your wardens, to join with Morgan in celebrating the news that the Very Rev. Dr. Michael Battle will next month be joining our clergy team as the first-in-history Trinity Church Theologian-in-Community. We don’t yet know him well, but hugely look forward to welcoming him here. Even more, we look forward to seeing how his long-honed approach to building beloved community, his spacious learning, and his evident spiritual depth, will enlarge and shape our sense of what Trinity can be – in Copley Square, Boston, and the world.
Dr. Battle’s coming to be among us promises to be deeply consequential now, and would have been at any time in this community’s modern history. It is a little breathtaking how much he is taking on in the way of preaching, teaching, training, not to mention leading pilgrimages, domestic and foreign. All of this on top of demanding duties on the faculty of the General Theological Seminary. Clearly, the energy and breadth of spirit that enabled him to earn multiple degrees, win major honors, write 11 books, and build deep, enduring ties to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, perhaps the most astonishing and history-shifting Anglican of this era, have given the world, and now us, a remarkable life force.
Dr. Battle’s hiring also marks the first step toward fulfillment of some hopes of the Task Force for Justice and Reparations as expressed in their report published in June. Trinity will now and, we can hope, forever have a Black leader on its staff. His position will be funded in part from the redirecting of proceeds from a fund in our endowment begun long, long ago by a Trinity family enriched by the trade in enslaved Africans. This feels exactly right, and is a strong start on our voyage of reparation, which will continue as long as we do as a community. It is a down-payment on the work of peacemaking, as Dr. Battle prefers to call it, and what a welcome and timely idea that is.
We would be remiss not to mention our rector’s essential role in all this. Morgan, in the midst of one of the busiest and most taxing seasons of our common life, somehow found time to support our parish’s connection with Dr. Battle over the last two years, relationship building which allowed the inspired spark of an idea – a longshot to say the least – to become real and now right on the horizon. In this work of recruitment, Morgan has taken a major step toward the dream of unifying the parish at all levels and within all ministries around the themes of inclusion, reconciliation, and community.
We would also be remiss not to mention that Dr. Battle's call overlaps a season of other exciting arrivals – and bittersweet departures. Why we just welcomed to our midst the wonderful Abi Moon last week! It is already clear that she will be a force for good (and good order!) in many dimensions, not to mention great company. We are, meanwhile, still savoring the newness of our bond with Kit Lonergan who has, to understate, settled into our hearts and minds quickly. And the multiply-gifted Colin Lynch is moving up to a big new role as our interim music director just as soon as he and 50 or so choristers and choir stalwarts conquer England and return home, exhilarated and, no doubt, a little exhausted.
What a time in our life together! There is indeed much to celebrate. We hope all of our fellow parishioners are as uplifted and full of anticipation as we are.
Dear Trinity Church in the City of Boston,
I pray I find you well.
It is with genuine enthusiasm that I join you as my new church family!
What an honor to serve as the inaugural “Trinity Church Theologian-In-Community,” beginning in September of this year. As I said when I was with you in the past, it is an honor to know you and to participate in your ministries and vision for God’s reign on earth. As I begin this homemaking among you and we get to know one another, here are a few details about my work, nuclear family, and hobbies.
I currently serve as the Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at General Theological Seminary in New York. I teach seminarians, laity, general learners and clergy about issues that relate to theology, ethics, spirituality and diversity. Living with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa’s pivotal years of 1993 and 1994 was the big bang that set my vocation in motion. I encourage you to know more details about my vocation by visiting my website, www.michaelbattle.com.
I am deeply blessed to be married to Rachael (aka Raquel) Battle, Ph.D. Raquel is currently building the first hospice in Belize, Central America where she was born. It is beautiful to see how Raquel’s theoretical work in her doctoral dissertation is now becoming incarnate in the paradisiac environment of Belize. Our oldest daughter, Sage Battle, just finished her Honors degree in anthropology at the University of Cape Town. Bliss Battle, is our middle daughter, blessed with a green thumb and vocation to be a farmer. And our youngest son is Zion Battle, who manifests the musical gene in our family and is a rising senior in high school.
Lastly, you may be interested in some of my hobbies (motivation here: to benefit from many of you who are actually good at these things I list here!!). I aim to the be the Old Man and the Sea and catch my first marlin. Scuba Diving and marathon running “were” my major past time activities— having finished 8 marathons. Since I teach about confession, I should come clean here: I could never qualify for the Boston Marathon. A few activities in my bucket list are to walk the Camino, see my only unseen continent, Antarctica, and to climb Kilimanjaro.
I pray that during our time together we will indeed become family—the kind of family implied in the understanding that we are all children God.
The Very Rev. Dr. Michael Battle
Trinity Church Theologian-In-Community