ETS STUDENT SPOTLIGHT
Two Class of 2018 Grads Replace Loss, Challenges and Roadblocks With Caps, Gowns and Degrees
Both Pamela Shropshire and Alicia Skillman encountered challenges and obstacles during their studies at Ecumenical Theological Seminary (ETS). For Shropshire, it was a bad car accident and the loss of loved ones and a beloved professor. Skillman also experienced losses: several family members in a short time frame and job changes.
But both persevered and will be among the 22 graduates of ETS on June 2. Shropshire, 53 and originally from New Orleans, will receive her Master’s degree in Pastoral Care and Counseling. Skillman, 55, and a Detroiter and Saginaw native, is getting her Master of Divinity degree.
Shropshire, who grew up in the Crescent City’s tough Ninth Ward, said her teachers always encouraged her and told her she could be whatever she wanted. For many years, she was a pastry chef. Now, she said, “I’m a minister.”
Her pastor used to work at ETS and invited her to tour the historic building on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue.
“At the time I was still in my bachelor’s program and planned for my master’s to be in clinical psychology,” she said. “From the moment I walked in the building I felt as if I needed to be there. At the same time, my involvement with ministry began to grow. Once I had earned my bachelor’s degree and started to research other grad schools, I continued to be drawn to ETS.”
She chose ETS because of the diversity of the seminary and its faculty.
“The professors come from all walks of life and also many different religious and spiritual beliefs,” she said. “They never make you feel as if your beliefs are wrong. They teach with love, facts, diversity and sensitivity.”
Shropshire said among the memories she will cherish is the closeness between students as well as the faculty. She said everyone at ETS works to ensure every student succeeds. “The staff and faculty treat us not just like extended family but also brothers and sisters in Christ,” she said.
Another fond memory is the worship experiences.
“Each student has the opportunity to plan and execute a worship service,” she said. “The togetherness of that is a great experience.”
Shropshire said after her car accident, the ETS staff worked with her to meet her needs. She, like many others at ETS, also mourned the death of Professor J. Harold Ellens. “He was very passionate about church history,” she said. “I learned things I will never forget.”
She said ETS “was a Godsend” during a period when she lost five family members in two months. “I shall truly never forget it,” she said of the faculty and staff generosity.
Skillman also fondly recalls the support from many of the ETS faculty and staff. “I could name them individually but it literally would take up the entire page,” she said. She credits them for helping her through the rough patches, whether it was the difficult coursework or the deaths of loved ones.
“Every now and then I asked myself, ‘Why am I here?’ But with prayer that always got answered,” she said.
She said she felt called by God to attend a seminary and chose ETS because of the emphasis on understanding and uniting multiple faiths. ETS “is intentional about practicing it.”
She said the knowledge and understanding that she received from ETS “is unique and like no other curriculum I experienced.”
“I’m excited now when church members or seekers generally ask me questions, wanting to get closer to God and I actually have answers, patience, compassion, and love for them,” Skillman said. “Plus, who wants to let down their pastor and God?”
She likes that she can use her new degree “at a moment’s notice, not just on Sunday. It’s fabulous.”
After the two women graduate on Saturday, they plan to take divergent paths.
Skillman said she doesn’t plan to be a church pastor, but she enjoys “assisting others with spiritual development.”
“My daily work is in ethics and a good number of my courses help to inform my work there,” she said.
Shropshire said she would like to use her degree to pastor a small church.
“As my ministry and ministry experience grows, I will go wherever God leads me,” she said. “I will forever be in God’s service.”
The National Day of Prayer was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. In 1988, the law was unanimously amended by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Thursday, May 5, 1988, designating the first Thursday of May as a day of national prayer. Every president since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.
Prayer brings people together. Prayer builds bridges between opposing persons and even political parties. Prayer reminds us that we are created in God’s image and He desires for us to represent Him everywhere we go. Prayer brings UNITY. In 2018, our theme will be Pray for America – UNITY, based upon Ephesians 4:3 which challenges us to mobilize unified public prayer for America, “Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Our hope is that individuals, churches, and spiritual leaders in America, will humble ourselves and unify in prevailing prayer for the next great move of God in America. We can come together in clear agreement that this is our greatest need. We can become a visible union, standing together in prayer. We can pray more than ever before, and practice extraordinary prayer for the next great move of God in America that will catapult the message of the gospel nationally and internationally.
Pray with us. Sponsor an event in your community. Become a volunteer. Order resources to help promote an event in your area. Support the National Day of Prayer financially. Together, we can mobilize unified public prayer for America!
“There is no great movement of God that has ever occurred that does not begin with the extraordinary prayer of God’s people.” Dr. Ronnie Floyd
Three nationally-known preachers, scholars and social justice activists headline a day-long symposium organized by the Frederick G. Sampson Foundation and hosted by the Ecumenical Theological Seminary (ETS) in Detroit.
The symposium, “I Think I Said Something…Prophetic Proclamation & Social Activism,” will be held on Saturday, May 19 at ETS, 2930 Woodward Ave. It is open to the public and costs $50. Register here.
The day will feature two plenaries, a keynote address and three breakout sessions.
The three featured speakers are:
- Rev. Dr. Frank A. Thomas – The Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics and Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis
- Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. – Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and a world-renowned preacher, theologian and teacher
- Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III – Senior Pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas for 31 years, leading the ministry and membership from less than 100 members in 1983 to more than 12,000 now
All three speakers were friends of Rev. Sampson, who was pastor at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church for 30 years and a nationally-known preacher, teacher and a leader in civil rights and social activism.
“These three men have been a blessing in my life and I’m grateful that they’re giving their time and their prophetic voice to this symposium,” said Freda Sampson, daughter of Rev. Sampson and president of the FGS Foundation.
The symposium begins with a continental breakfast and opening prayer and meditation at 7 a.m. followed by Rev. Thomas delivering the opening plenary. This will be followed by a breakout session with three options – “Poor Peoples Campaign: Prophesy on the Streets;” Jailbreak: Prison, Power & Patriarchy;” and, “Popular or Prophetic.”
Rev. Wright will then deliver a mid-day keynote address. After lunch, there will be a panel discussion on “Ecumenical Dialogue on Race & Activism in the 21st Century.” The event will close with Rev. Haynes.
Sampson said the foundation is busy with its mission of theological education, social activism and securing the legacy of Dr. Sampson and it is for this reason she wanted to partner with ETS on a symposium.
“Shortly before my dad’s death I became more conscious of his support of ETS,” said Sampson, who recently joined the ETS board. “So, I knew he had an appreciation for the institution.”
Rev. Sampson was born in Mansura, Louisiana and raised in Port Arthur, Texas. Initially interested in the sciences and medicine, his calling to ministry led him on a journey throughout the country and eventually led him to the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit in 1971.
He earned two doctorate degrees, several other degrees, including many honorary ones. He lectured at colleges across the country, conducted yearly revivals and broadcast regularly on the radio. His work included conducting conferences on African American male spirituality, planning the 1965 voting rights march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and serving as president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. He was twice named one of the 15 Greatest Black Preachers in America by Ebony Magazine.
He passed away in 2001, and his daughter started the foundation that same year with the goals of offering international teaching and training courses through the Sampson Institute for the purpose of theological discourse and to publish the collection of works of Rev. Sampson. The foundation was granted nonprofit status in 2003.
Sampson said rarely does a day go by that someone doesn’t share with her a story about how her father influenced them. And while he traveled around the world he was a very present and attentive father.
She said it was “a remarkable gift and a blessing to be selected as his daughter.” Sampson will also release her book on her father titled, “I Think I Said Something” on the day of the symposium.
“My father was my pastor, my friend and my biggest supporter,” Sampson said. “But more than that, he was the most amazing and loving father, and the kindest human being I have ever known.”
THE J. HAROLD ELLENS MEMORIAL FUND AT ETS
Remembering The Rev. Dr. Ellens With Gratitude for His
Commitment & Contributions to an Inner-City Seminary
I first met Dr. J. Harold Ellens when Ecumenical Theological Seminary (ETS) was searching for new faculty members during the 2011-12 academic year. It was a time of transition for the seminary. I was the newly appointed Dean and inquired of friends and colleagues for help in identifying candidates for adjunct positions.
A friend, a former Greek student and tutor who was now engaged in Ph.D. studies at the University of Michigan, responded to my call for possible adjuncts. In doing so, it reminded me of a theologian he had mentioned to me over the years, one he greatly admired, one who had an impressive personal library and often hosted gatherings in his home to discuss theological-ministry topics.
Dr. Ellens resume was extremely impressive and I wondered how interested he would be in talking with the dean of a small, inner-city seminary. Thankfully, he agreed to meet. I remember shaking hands with a very mature, distinguished gentleman who held two Ph.D. degrees, the second earned only recently. It was easy to see he was a man of grace, charm, high energy and exceptional intellect.
Thankfully, he was impressed with our seminary, its mission, its people and our Midtown Detroit context, and was eager to join the faculty. He was quickly approved as an adjunct professor teaching multiple disciplines. Later, Dr. Ellens was promoted to full professor. He was elated, and went on to become a pillar of the faculty, a favorite of students and one of ETS’s strongest supporters.
It was a relationship made in the heavens. He was a perfect fit at a seminary that seeks out relationships framed by deep mutual admiration, respect and love. Tears well up in my eyes as I fondly remember this literary giant and man of God whose smile, gentleness and graciousness are already missed.
I am deeply moved that Dr. Ellens’ beautiful family has established The J. Harold Ellens Memorial Fund and has designated ETS to be the recipient of gifts made in his memory.
Donations to the fund using a credit card can be made at this link. Checks can be made payable to Ecumenical Theological Seminary, Attention: Rev. Dr. J Harold Ellens Memorial Fund and mailed to the seminary at 2930 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201.
The fact that ETS is celebrating its 60th year and 2018 has been designated as A YEAR OF GREAT CELEBRATION makes the Ellens’ family gesture even more special. We are humbled and honored and grateful.
As the only fully-accredited seminary of the Protestant tradition located within the City of Detroit, we are proud of our history and tradition of service.
The best is yet to come, and your gifts will provide much-needed funding for scholarships, faculty development and program enhancements that we intend to use to honor Dr. Ellens and make his presence felt and lasting.
Thank you in advance for remembering Harold Ellens through your generosity to the school he loved.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris
President and Academic Dean
Professor of Biblical Studies
Frederick G. Sampson Foundation
“I Think I Said Something”
Saturday, May 19, 2018
7:00 am-8:00 am
Continental Breakfast, Registration, and Dawnseekers
(prayer and meditation)
8:00 am-9:30 am
Rev. Dr. Frank A. Thomas
9:45 am-10:45 am
“Poor Peoples Campaign: Prophesy on the Streets” – Rev. Bill Wylie Kellermann
“Jailbreak: Prison, Power & Patriarchy” – Rev. Dr. Mayowa Reynolds
“Popular or Prophetic” – Rev. John Harvey
11:00 am-11:50 am
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.
12:00 pm-12:50 pm
1:00 pm-1:50 pm
Ecumenical Dialogue on Race & Activism in the 21st Century
Rev. Ed Rowe, Rev. Ezra Tillman, Minister Kenita Harris, and
Rev. Raul Echevarria
2:00 pm-3:00 pm
Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III
For its reporting on the local commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., WDIV-TV (Channel 4) visited ETS to see how the seminary was remembering Dr. King. Reporter Paula Tutman filed two reports for the April 4 telecast.
The first report on the 4 p.m. newscast featured the seminary’s historic pipe organ and the significance of the one key that wasn’t working on the organ. Here is that report.
The second report, for the 6 p.m. newscast, focused on how ETS President Rev. Dr. Kenneth Harris used King’s death to find his own voice for social justice causes. Here is that report.