Following up on the success of last year’s inaugural lecture series, Sylvania United Church of Christ has lined up another slate of theological heavy-hitters starting next week (Jan. 19 and 20) with the Rev. Dr. Martin Marty.
Marty taught for 35 years at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he is now a professor emeritus, and founded the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion.
He is the author of nearly 40 books, including “Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America,” which won a National Book Award in 1970, and is an ordained Lutheran minister who served for 10 years as pastor of a suburban Chicago church.
Marty is a past president of the American Academy of Religion, has received 80 honorary doctorate degrees, and is the Mohandas M. K. Gandhi Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.
While the 2012 program was funded by a $28,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation, most of this year’s financial support comes from a memorial fund for the late Rev. Bill Chidester, who served as pastor of Sylvania UCC for 25 years. He died of liver cancer in May, 2011, at age 61. The new series is named the Bill Chidester Lecture Series in his honor.
“What we try to do is to focus on the values that Bill offered to the congregation for the 25 years that he was here,” said Susan Rowland Miller, one of the organizers of the series.
“One of the things he was very invested in was environmentalism, as well as science and technology, so those topics will always be a piece of the puzzle” in putting the lecture series together, said Rowland Miller, a former Sylvania UCC pastor who is associate executive director of Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity.
A brochure for the church’s lecture series includes an excerpt from a letter Chidester wrote to his congregation:
"I do not so much care that people remember me, but that I might be a part of creating with you and other people of faith a world community which reflects more clearly the society God wishes for us and which we can experience through our faith."
Other lecturers scheduled in the series are the Rev. Alan Jones, dean emeritus at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, March 16-17; Diana Butler-Bass, author of eight books on religion, Sept. 21-22; and Daniel Spencer, a professor at the University of Montana who specializes in religious communities’ response to environmental issues, Nov. 16-17.
Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar and theologian, will open the 2014 series with lectures at the Sylvania church on Jan. 18 and 19.
The theme of the series this year is “God Is Still Speaking,” a phrase borrowed with permission from the United Church of Christ’s national campaign.
The goal is “to challenge people to think,” Rowland Miller said. “That is one of the things Bill did very well. Also to take seriously the call of faith in our culture today, which is getting harder and harder to figure out what it means.”
Too often, Rowland Miller said, churches try to tell people what it means to be a Christian instead of letting them think it through as individuals.
“This series seeks to help create and spark a dialogue with people and with communities, while taking seriously our journey of faith,” she said.
She added that the Bill Chidester Lecture Series is an ecumenical program, featuring speakers of different Christian traditions, and that people of all faiths are welcome to attend.
The lectures are scheduled from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays, including time for questions and answers followed by light refreshments, and from 9:30 to 10:20 a.m. on Sundays (between services) at Sylvania UCC, 7240 Erie St., Sylvania.