Alumni/ae Tuesday – Keith Caldwell
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While enrolled at Vanderbilt University Divinity School it became apparent to me that the instruction about religion that was being provided through a rigorous academic analysis of Biblical texts needed to be placed in dialectic with the devotional religious instruction that had formed my faith.
I became a member at Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church, located in North Nashville, and within the first year of school I was selected to become a Strengthening the Black Church for the Twenty-First Century (SBC-21) Intern. The program is designed to help predominately black United Methodist Churches become more effective in mission and ministry.
My then pastor, Reverend Dr. Vance P. Ross, was working on his dissertation and had called a group of a half-dozen men together in order to make room for them to be in conversation about issues that were directly affecting their lives, issues that were not being addressed by the Church. The group began as a support group that agreed to name explicitly the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth as the spiritual framework from which they interpreted their reality. We named ourselves Brother’s Keeper because we realized the importance of both holding each other up, and holding each other accountable. Our numbers went from roughly just over a dozen men in the first three months to over thirty-five men at every Wednesday night gathering.
Many of the men have experienced profound social and political marginalization. The group understands itself as, “Coming to the Church through the back door.” Some of the men have served out felony convictions and are working to be re-integrated into society; some of the men have battled chemical addiction and are actively in rehab programs; some have simply not been able to make sense of how systems of violence, like racial profiling, has criminalized their very embodiment.
Over the past year the group has witnessed extraordinary healing. Men have secured meaningful employment and have been restored to familial relationships that they had fractured; they have been restored to healthy community.
This past November, Mayor Megan Barry came to Pearl-Cohn High School and asked the community to help respond to the spike in violence that primarily occurred in North Nashville, the economically poorest area in the city. The men rose to the occasion and showed up in numbers for the community gathering. They have been in conversation with youth who have been identified as “at risk” by making plain where desperate decisions will cause them to land. We are currently working with over thirty youth who are being given a re-orientation of who they are; they are gaining the understanding that they are made in the Image of God.
The group also has become keenly aware that even though they are being held accountable for their personal responsibility that unjust systems remain in place that continue to subordinate their lives. They ask if the Church will provide the prophetic witness that was commanded at its commissioning.
Keith Caldwell, MDiv’15