Society of Gospel Haymanot 2020 Conference Reflections

By Rosie and Anna.

In October 2020 Rosie and Anna attended the Society of Gospel Haymanot Conference. It was a privilege being part of Meachum School of Haymanot’s inaugural gathering of the Society of Gospel Haymanot (SGH). Meachum School of Haymanot (Ge’ez word meaning faith, or theology) exists to “bring biblical, graduate-level theological education to African-American, ethnic minority and low-income communities in a contextualized and affordable manner.” While the center of teaching resides in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, all classes and programs are available online. 

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the launch of the parallel academic society, SGH, also moved online. SGH’s goal is to provide an academic context for Black scholars committed to both biblical orthodoxy and Black liberation.   

Anna:  Rosie, it was so fun to attend this conference with you! I loved the side conversation we had going in WhatsApp alongside the sessions. Can you share some of your conference highlights?

Rosie:  This was my first time at a conference like this, being on the receiving end of teaching by exclusively black theologians and scholars. So a highlight was the new experience of being offered an insight into scripture from black scholars, hearing their views on historical teachers like Tertullian, and being introduced to new names, like the writer Shenoute.

It was exciting how immediately applicable some of the insights shared were to my life. I was intrigued to hear more about worship in Ethiopian contexts, and to learn the Amharic word for Trinity is Shilase. I’ve recently been introduced to some aspects of modern Ethiopian culture through a friend, so I was naturally curious to learn more about the church’s history in that country. It may even spark some interesting conversations with my friend!

A final highlight was the moment of pure joy when we heard Brooke D. Giles share A Poem on the Trinity. Theology presented through spoken poetry was incredible. 

Rosie:  Anna, I really enjoyed sharing snippets of conversations with you too during the seminars. It was great to share each others’ enjoyment! What stood out for you from the conference? 

Anna:  The main thing that hit me was the clear sense that values determined every aspect of the conference. This was evident from the use of theological terminology in various African languages instead of Greek or Latin, to interspersing worship in contextualized African forms between academic papers, to a high percentage of women presenting. SGH certainly embodied the vision of being both biblical and contextualized to the Black experience. 

Reverend Carolyn Palmer didn’t just present, but preached her exegetical paper on 1 Peter 1:3-5 – prompting one professor to comment, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard an exegetical paper that made me want to shout!” After Dr. Elizabeth Pierre’s sobering presentation entitled Black Women, Faith, and Sexual Violence, moderator and professor of Social Work Dr. Jacqueline Dyer led conference attendees in a few minutes of directed breathing exercises to bring us back into the present from any trauma responses triggered by the content. It was masterfully done.

My highlight was Dr. Dennis Edwards’ missional reading of Acts 16. He pointed out how often preachers end the story in verse 35 with the jailor and his entire family rejoicing that they had become believers. But don’t miss the epilogue! The ones who whipped and humiliated Paul and Silas say, “Go in peace.” What Paul does, in getting a public apology, is a demonstration to the new believers of standing for earthly justice – rightful dignity – following spiritual conversion. Here Paul and Silas demonstrate, in Dr. Edwards’ words, “praying at midnight and challenging the authorities in the morning.”

Anna: There are some who question the idea of Black spaces (or female spaces, or affinity-spaces in general, etc) for a variety of reasons. As a black woman, what did it mean to you personally to attend SGH? Why are these types of gatherings needed?  

Rosie: Reflecting where we are as church, in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and ensuing conversations about racism in the church, it did me good to be in conversations that were broader than that, and yet which brought a unique insight into some of the pertinent issues which believers are wrestling with and lamenting. For example, in my context, some of the distressing history of the church in the UK and this country’s history with the transatlantic slave trade. And the question, where do we go from here? A space for Black people gives us a place where we can sigh, grieve, lament with others who know the deep ache which many of us carry. And it can fortify us to go back out as witnesses to wider society where we may be a minority, but we are also ambassadors of Christ who speak of his Kingdom. I felt so inspired being part of the conference that I’ve enrolled to start a MA degree in Theology, with a particular focus on African Christianity. 

Rosie: Anna, your context is as a white woman living as a minority in a Middle Eastern country. Did the conference offer any insight for you or any particular inspiration? 

Anna: I felt very fortunate to be a fly on the wall, having been invited as part of my current graduate studies on Early African and Asian Christianity. To adapt a phrase from biblical studies, while I was aware this gathering was not geared “to me,” it most certainly was a blessing “for me!”    


Find out more about the Society of Gospel Haymanot, and their upcoming conference which takes place on Friday, October 22 and Saturday, October 23, 2021 

Rosie will be presenting a Practical Theology paper at the conference, exploring Isaiah 61 and God’s mission call. 

Closer to home, how about inviting a friend whose background or culture may be different to yours, and sharing a meal (if / when Covid 19 conditions allow) or reach out on the phone? If ever there was a time when the world needs to know we are Jesus’ disciples by how we love one another, it’s now. Let’s listen to Jesus, let’s love one another, and keep preferring one another.