New Alum Memoir Recounts Ministries of Social Justice and Service
More than a quarter-century ago, the Rev. Dr. Robert L. Polk, ‘55 was honored by his fellow graduates as the Distinguished Alumnus of Hartford Seminary for 1988. Originally from the south side of Chicago, Dr. Polk’s first pastoral call was to be the minister of a rural congregation in North Dakota, an African American leading an all-white congregation. It was the first of many deliberate steps in a ministry committed to civil and human rights. He served as Youth Program Secretary at the YMCA in Minot, North Dakota, Minister to Youth at Riverside Church in New York City, Dean of the Chapel and Acting Dean of Students at Dillard University, and, from 1969-76, Minister of Urban Affairs, again at Riverside Church. Over the years, Dr. Polk continued to be an influential figure in many social justice efforts in the U.S., including early action to combat the HIV-AIDS crisis, meeting heads of state and Pope John Paul II.
The story of Dr. Polk’s fascinating and faithful life is now told in his recently published memoir, “Crossing Barriers and Building Bridges,” a copy of which he presented to the Seminary’s Library. Included in the narrative are descriptions of the social and academic life at the Hartford Seminary of the 1950s, when four schools comprised the “Foundation.” While formal dinners in jacket and tie with linen tablecloths and napkins and silver flatware are long gone, the diversity and richness of the students’ faithfulness and backgrounds remain 60 years later.
“Hartford was a very interactive and relational school. The four distinct schools blended readily and provided a great deal of diversity of students in terms of race, color, ecumenical backgrounds and nationality. The school was designed in a way that nearly all of the students, regardless of what school they were in, took classes from other schools and interfaced with each other in and out of the classroom, not only in groups of race, ethnicity and nationality, but places where people with various theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical differences and points of view could rub elbows and learn from each other.”
Do you know of a Hartford Seminary graduate who has a story that should be told? We would love to tell it! Please contact the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Lee, ’10, at email@example.com, and visit the Alumni/ae pages of the Seminary website, www.hartsem.edu, for more features on our graduates and their work.
Jay Ebersole’s Gift for the Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program
Hartford Seminary alumnus the Rev. Dr. Jay Ebersole ’53, in memory of his wife, the Rev. Dr. Eleanor Ebersole, ’51, ’53, along with their son Mark and Judy Ebersole have made a gift to the Seminary to support participation in the Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program (BAP). He has created an endowed fund, The Rev. Drs. Eleanor and Jay Ebersole and Family BAP Fund, that will provide annual income to underwrite student tuition, travel and accommodation expenses to participate in this program. Dr. Ebersole’s preference is that the scholarship be awarded to current United Church of Christ pastor in the Southern Conference, within which Dr. Ebersole resides in retirement.
Building Abrahamic Partnerships is an interfaith community of learning for Jews, Christians and Muslims that provides a solid foundation in interfaith ministry and education. This year, it will be held from June 23 through June 30 on the Hartford Seminary campus.
“I made my gift to Hartford Seminary because of all that Hartford Seminary has meant to me and my wife, Eleanor, over the years,” Dr. Ebersole explained. “I was particularly inspired by the work that has been done to create the Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program, which I read about in a recent edition of Praxis.”
Dr. Ebersole was also inspired to contribute when he learned that a portion of their bequest of his long-time friends and classmates, Bill and Jane Inderstrodt, had helped fund the Abrahamic Partnerships endowed faculty chair, completed this past fall. “We were all very much aware of the growing importance of interfaith dialogue from our studies and from our classmates who came from a wide variety of faith traditions. We were studying in an era when Hartford Seminary professor Dr. Kenneth Cragg, who increased Muslim studies in the 1950’s, created a greater emphasis on the importance of interfaith dialogue, following the lead of Prof. Duncan Black Macdonald,” commented Dr. Ebersole.
Hartford Seminary President Heidi Hadsell commented recently, “It is inspiring to see that our alumni/ae have had such rewarding careers and are now eager to support interfaith dialogue with gifts that will ensure that this training will be available now to leaders of today and tomorrow. I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Ebersole’s thoughtful generosity and his desire to provide interfaith training for pastors from the mid-Atlantic.”
Photo caption: Ebersoles’ Engagement Party with Hartford Seminary Students in Hosmer Hall Dining Room, Feb.21, 1952. Seated: Eleanor Seaton and Jay Ebersole. Standing: Jane (Sattler) Inderstrodt.
Hartford Seminary alumna Amy Chan Wolsdorf, M.A. ‘69 has established an endowed scholarship fund at Hartford Seminary to benefit female students coming to the Seminary to prepare for careers as Christian educators or ministers.
“I had nothing when I came to study in the U.S., but I had help from a Hartford Seminary scholarship and many kind people along the way. Now I feel I must share what I have accumulated with others,” Amy relates. She used these words to explain why she has created an endowed fund at Hartford Seminary. The income from this fund will be used to provide scholarship support for Christian female students at Hartford Seminary.
“We are so grateful that one of our alumna has chosen to make it possible for other women to receive the gift of learning at Hartford Seminary,” said Hartford Seminary President Heidi Hadsell. “Amy benefited from her time at Hartford Seminary which prepared her for a career as a thoughtful Christian educator. We are blessed that she has chosen to provide similar opportunities for women coming to Hartford Seminary in this generation.”
Mrs. Wolsdorf, who was born and educated in Hong Kong, spoke with gratitude about her experience at Hartford Seminary. The memory of that time and being the recipient of financial support has stayed with her over the years. Mrs. Wolsdorf explained that she attended Hong Kong Chinese University after high school, also through scholarships. She attributes her career choice to the profound influence of an English and religion teacher in high school named Lucille Hartman, who was a missionary associated with the United Church of Christ.
Like her mentor, Mrs. Wolsdorf became interested in teaching religion, which she first practiced when hired by her former high school. While there, she continued to work with Ms. Hartman, who suggested that Amy consider continuing her training at Hartford Seminary. Ms. Hartman helped her former student obtain a scholarship to attend the Seminary. Both thought that the multicultural and interfaith aspects of Hartford Seminary would be very beneficial for Mrs. Wolsdorf, who to this day attests to the accuracy of that prediction.
Following her graduation from Hartford Seminary, Mrs. Wolsdorf pursued a career in religious education. She worked as a Christian Education director first for three years in Oregon, then for four years in Ohio before her marriage to Carl Wolsdorf. Following his death, she made her permanent home in Washington State. There she has been involved with a UCC congregation and devotes time to volunteer with an AIDS organization. She also acquired skill with computers and developed a new talent for stock market investment.
Mrs. Wolsdorf believes strongly in sharing her good fortune. “So now I am giving back to Hartford Seminary, which gave me the opportunity for new learning through their scholarship. I hope to make a difference in the lives of other women, who hope to come to Hartford Seminary, by making this scholarship available. I will always remember the Seminary’s compassion and generosity.”
A recent graduate of Hartford seminary, this fall “Jacky” Manuputty received a Peacemakers in Action award from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in recognition of his peacemaking efforts, particularly citing his Peace Provacateurs program.
Following his return to Indonesia after completing the International Peacemaking Program and an M.Div degree at Hartford Seminary, Manuputty helped form Peace Provocateurs to use social media to combat religious conflict between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia. After watching local troublemakers use SMS (cell phones) and social media to incite fights or exaggerate events to create discord, Manuputty and a diverse interfaith network of students, lecturers, religious leaders, activist journalists and others decided to retaliate. “If provocateurs could use the new technology to incite violence, we could use it to undermine their incitement,” says Manuputty, a Protestant minister.
To counteract reported conflict, Manuputty and others dispatch volunteers to any location in a matter of minutes to check the credibility of disturbing claims. They then send the facts to the Peace Provacateurs’ leadership to double check the details with other witnesses. In turn, they can craft and send out messages to set the record straight before a crisis arises. SMS text messages spread news most quickly throughout local communities while Facebook and Twitter are also employed (the latter being critical in reaching the local media).
The Peace Provacateurs network has expanded its activities, even posting volunteers in the streets to address flare-ups directly. To reinforce normalcy, they now send texts, tweets and photos to demonstrate and reinforce the fact that the vast majority of people in Indonesia coexist peacefully and have no interest in supporting violent reactions.
Such campaigns have been widely recognized for their success in limiting the scope of the conflicts and preventing them from spreading. Many of these models have been adapted for use in other parts of Indonesia.
A graduate of the International Peacemaking Program in 2012, Haidar Reda came to study at Hartford Seminary “to gain knowledge, skills and practices to incorporate into my research and dialogue.” Interfaith dialogue is important to Haidar, because “as an Iraqi citizen, the conflicts in Iraq and in the Middle East affect my daily life on a very personal level. Misunderstanding of other faiths causes the conflicts. When there is interfaith dialogue, we can find the common ground among faiths,” he said.
Haidar has returned to Iraq with the goal of establishing a center for interfaith dialogue. Already he has established a non-profit organization called Ur for Interfaith Dialogue and Peacemaking, which is dedicated to interfaith dialogue and peacemaking. Its mission is to build respectful relationships among diverse individuals and communities and to forge common ground that promotes social justice, peace and freedom among the people.
For his initial steps, Haidar has built a Facebook page for this organization that provides interfaith research, images and short descriptions of various centers in Iraq that are part of a mosaic of different faith traditions. To promote interfaith dialogue, he has also begun introducing individuals to these religions by offering guided visits to these sites, such as the Sabean Mandaean Mandi, a site of the oldest monotheistic religion in Mesopotamia—modern Iraq. Visit Ur for Interfaith Dialogue and Peacemaking on Facebook to see these images.
In addition, Haidar has also been participating in interfaith conferences. He notes that a wonderful and interesting URI MENA (United Religions Initiative—Middle East & North Africa Region) conference was held on November 29-December 1, 2012 in Amman, Jordan. Entitled “Social Responsibility in Religious Traditions – A Time for Forgiveness,” the conference included a variety of discussion topics and provided an opportunity for building peace in the region through dialogue and cooperation. Haidar delivered a presentation, “Mercy and forgiveness in the Bible & Qur’an.”
A Nigerian Peacemaker’s Journey
By Amy Robinson, Hartford Seminary Trustee
If ever there was a life that illustrated the need – and passion – for interfaith dialogue, Ezekiel Abdullahi Babagario’s is a perfect example. This former Nigerian Air Force major has seen firsthand the terrible cost of religious enmity, both in his family and community. In spite of family tragedies, he has sought a special calling: interfaith peacemaking.
Babagario traveled to Hartford Seminary to pursue studies in their International Peacemaking Program. This dedicated peacemaker now looks ahead to applying his M.A. degree in Nigeria. To read more about his journey, click here to see the full article in Praxis, December 2011.