Beyond the Label of Pentecostalism: The Holy Spirit at Work in Many Spaces and Places - Princeton Theological Seminary
Beyond the Label of Pentecostalism event announcement.

The Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies and the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) will host an annual conference from July 15-19.

BTLI is a week-long gathering of scholars, pastors, church leaders, and community activists who convene to explore issues of relevance to the Black church and community. Each year, Dr. Latimore, Director of the Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies, which hosts BTLI, orchestrates “a carefully curated audience of approximately 40 to 50 participants, leaders, and scholars who come together and engage in an impactful period of theological and practical reflection.” This year’s event theme is: Beyond the Label of Pentecostalism: The Holy Spirit at Work in Many Spaces and Places.

Sushama Connor first championed the concept of BTLI 13 years ago. Two years ago, the program transitioned from continuing education to the Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies. Latimore and the center have managed program operations since then.

This year’s topic was first suggested by Dr. Keri Day, who has a deep history and theological interests in the Pentecostal church, Latimore says. Essentially, participants and speakers have an opportunity to explore whether a conversation can be had around Pentecostalism without denominational constraints. They will also consider how Pentecostalism has influenced African American religion, theological thought, and religious practices.

“We believe this was a vibrant place of conversation and discussion to look beyond the denominational constraints to examine all the ways in which African American religious experiences have been shaped, impacted, or formed by elements of Pentecostalism,” Latimore says.

The agenda aims to bridge the gap between the topic of Pentecostalism and its contextual implications, he says. For this reason, the festivities launch on Monday with a morning lecture led by Dr. Keri Day. Throughout the week Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems, Rev. Dr. Eric Williams, and Rev. Dr. David Douglas Daniels will also lead morning lectures. Attendees can expect a panel on Black Church & Climate Discussion, as well as dedicated time for personal reflection.

“What distinguishes BTLI is the balance between rigorous academic conversation with practical impact and applicability for the various religious leaders that are gathering,” Latimore says.

What distinguishes BTLI is the balance between rigorous academic conversation with practical impact and applicability for the various religious leaders that are gathering, Latimore says.

The primary objective for the conference is that all stakeholders deepen and expand their understanding of the influence and impact of Pentecostalism on African American religious thought and practices. As it stands, there hasn’t been sufficient thought or consideration of the ways in which Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian practices are impacted by various constructions of Pentecostal thought, Latimore says.

Another hope is for attendees to walk away with a deeper and broader understanding of the ways in which they might implicitly utilize the theology, rituals, and practices of Pentecostalism to enrich their own experiences or the experiences of their congregation.

A final directive of BTLI is to focus on the attendees experience. “I hope that rich participant engagement will occur throughout the week. We want participants to walk away with not only a broadened theological and intellectual understanding of Pentecostalism’s impact but also with the fruit of conversations with their fellow participants that explore the practical consequence of these theological considerations for the churches and communities participants are dedicated to serving.” 

To this end, Latimore is particularly excited about the afternoon cohort meetings, which are smaller in size and offer rich moments of participant engagement and reflection. Additionally, the evening worship services offer another highlight of the week. They begin with the opening dinner on Monday, Led by Rev. Dr. Tim Adkins-Jone of Union Theological Seminary, followed by Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner of Mississippi Blvd Baptist Church, Rev. Maria Morales Crompton of Elmwood United Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Dr. Melva Sampson, of Wake Forest Divinity School. “These individuals represent the best of African American scholarship and preaching tradition. It’s a wonderful way for us to end our day engaged in substantive, enriching, and empowering worship,” he says.

While the number of participants may seem small, Latimore points out its reasoning. A priority is to ensure there’s substantial fellowship, engagement, and conversation between conference participants, as well as between the participants and the leaders and lecturers for each day, he says.

“There has always been a focus to limit the size of the Institute” Latimore says. “We have been very rigorous in choosing individuals to participate who can contribute to this deeply reflective theological moment while offering diversity of both theological perspective and geographical and life experience. We spend a lot of time creating the cohort for each year to maximize benefit from the engagement.”

At the conclusion of the program, participants become BTLI Fellows and join an illustrative group of religious and community leaders who have participated in BTLI for more than a decade. This affords these new Fellows with the rich resources of previous participants, expanding their network and offering them continued conversation and fellowship beyond the conference.

“It gives the participants a rich reservoir from which to draw from for pastoral and communal input and practical considerations,” Latimore says. “So, we welcome this year’s participants into the fellowship of the BTLI fellows, which is another wonderful attribute and resource for those who attend.”