I was witness to a historic event yesterday as the Riverside Church in the City of New York installed Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler as senior minister. She brings an extravagance of gifts to this august congregation, and together they have forged a covenant of accountability and mutual respect.
Every liturgical stop was pulled, and the organ and soaring music lifted the congregants to the heights of worship. One of the most moving parts of the service was the presence of the Transitions Pastor from Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., The Rev. Allyson Robinson, who entrusted her to the care of her new church, and the new congregation to her shepherding. Many others of her former church came to celebrate this new beginning with her. Their attendance speaks of how transparent her departure was.
Friends and family had traveled from far and wide to participate. On Saturday, I had to wait to check into my hotel because it “is a particularly busy time in the city,” according to the young clerk. “Of course it is,” I said. “Do you not know what is going on at the Riverside Church?”
The presence of so many speaks of Amy’s remarkable networking capacity. Teachers and colleagues and editors and friends gathered in support of this new call. Our school counts it a privilege to claim her among our supplemental faculty, teaching leadership in the Doctor of Ministry program.
On Saturday evening, the President of Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Serene Jones, hosted a gala dinner for Dr. Butler. The luminaries were out, chief among them, Bill Moyers. It was a privilege to have a few moments of personal conversation with him—we are both Baptists, after all—and then to hear his thoughtful reflection about the call to discipleship in our day. He warned that if we claim the title “Christian,” we are bound to some practices of remembering the poor and taking up our cross that most of us avoid. He asked his new pastor, “is there a word from the Lord?” in our day concerning these issues.
On Sunday morning, The Riverside Church celebrated World Communion Sunday. And the world’s people were surely there. African women in colorful dresses, complete with matching head-ties, brightened the lines processing toward the communion table. Dignified business people in the New York black formed the bas relief of the community, and multitudes of children added their energy and giggles to the festal occasion.
Duly feted, blessed, and installed, the Rev. Dr. Butler commences her ministry there. Thankfully, God has granted her what is needed to tend this challenging flock with insight and good humor. I am committed to regular intercession in her behalf, for the sake of this church--and the world.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.