From a Seminary to a Freedom School | 2022 Convocation Reflections
October 19, 2022
By Rev. Troy K. Venning (G-ETS 2011)
That September night when I walked into the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful was a bit different. It was the first time that I had been there for a service since graduating in 2011. And it was my first time being back since returning to Chicago to reunite with Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2019. That certainly was not the timeline that I set, but all of us and our feeble plans ran smack dab into an entire pandemic. As protocols for this pandemic that refuses to go away have eased, I circled September 14, 2022 on my calendar – a day when two monumental things would happen. First, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary would join in a strategic partnership to positively impact literacy rates for children in Chicago and the surrounding areas. Second, I would get a chance to be the amen corner for one of my favorite preachers, the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson.
The Rev. Dr. Wilson has been a preacher for longer than he even realizes. I remember moments during my undergraduate studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, where he was our freshman class president, when his words motivated folks to take action. And on that September day in the year of our Lord 2022, he did just that. I remember having to hold in a smile behind my mask when I understood just what was happening on that day.
The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Brooks taught us that during the moment of proclamation, find an illustration that kills it. Go as far overboard as you can to draw people in unconsciously into the emotion you are attempting to convey. She taught that, as preachers, we are to use metaphors and images to bring people in deeply to the moment. And I remember the moment in chapel with Dr. Wilson vividly.
Scattered around the room were a number of us who already have an intimate relationship with CDF and the CDF Freedom School Program. So, we saw the moment coming when Dr. Wilson began telling us about a book that he keeps on his desk in DC, and then he pulled it out from amongst his papers.
He left the pulpit, sat down beside it, held up the book, and it became story time. He read to us a story about the children who started a news network, Good News Now, during the pandemic. Not only were we captivated by the words of the story about Good News Now, but the image of Dr. Wilson reading physically transformed the chapel space. He turned Garrett’s Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful into a Freedom School!
That evening it became a place that demands and supports the telling and sharing of the Good News. How fitting when we serve a God who reminds us in Matthew 18:3, that “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Fitting that we, through the reading of a story, were drawn into a moment, were drawn into action which will start a movement of God that will shift the future of children by building a coalition of Freedom Schools all over our beloved city and the surrounding suburbs. We hope that we will be the answer to the prayer, “Dear Lord, be good to me. The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.” That we will be God’s hands and feet helping to strengthen and encourage the 74 million little boats in America. That we will make the big wide sea easier to navigate. That we will equip those little boats, fortifying them for the journey, ensuring that they will not get swept away, but that they would be able to grow and thrive.
Now that is Good News and worth reading a story about!
Rev. Troy K. Venning, MDiv, MBA, is Senior Pastor of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first African American congregation established in the city of Chicago. Prior to serving in his present role, Pastor Troy came to Quinn in October 2019 to serve as the Executive Pastor. Pastor Troy has earned degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, The University of Phoenix-Fort Lauderdale Campus, and Xavier University of Louisiana. A native of Chicago, excited to settle back in and lead the church that he grew up in, Pastor Troy is wonderfully married to Lady Sheryll Brown-Venning and a proud father to Alexis and Jayla.