Ecumenical Theological Seminary

Announcements at ETS

Frederick G. Sampson Symposium on May 19, 2018 — April 18, 2018

Frederick G. Sampson Symposium on May 19, 2018

Ecumenical Theological Seminary in partnership with the
Frederick G. Sampson 
The Frederick G. Sampson Symposium
“I Think I Said Something”

Saturday, May 19, 2018

7am Continental Breakfast, Registration & Dawnseekers
8am Welcome, Occasion & Opening Plenary

Guest Speakers: 

Rev. Dr. Frank A. Thomas, Christian Theological Seminary, Indiana
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Pastor Emeritus Trinity UCC, Illinois
Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, Friendship West Baptist Church, Texas
Register at Eventbrite or
You do not want to miss this event!

Conference Schedule

7:00 am-8:00 am
Continental Breakfast, Registration, and Dawnseekers
(prayer and meditation)

8:00 am-9:30 am
Opening Plenary
Rev. Dr. Frank A. Thomas

9:45 am-10:45 am
Breakout Sessions
“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   
Mid-Day Keynote
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
Closing Plenary
Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III


WDIV-TV Visited ETS —


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.


Rev. Dr. J. Harold Ellens Memorial Fund — April 17, 2018

Rev. Dr. J. Harold Ellens Memorial Fund

Jay Harold’s Story

Jay Harold Ellens was born on July 16, 1932 in McBain, Michigan, a rural agricultural community not far from Cadillac. He passed away peacefully on April 13, 2018. He was at home in Novi, Michigan surrounded by his family when he passed. He is survived by Mary Jo (Lewis) Ellens, his spouse of 63 years, two sisters, one brother, seven children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Harold received a Bachelor’s degree from Calvin College; Master’s degrees from Calvin Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Michigan; Doctoral degrees from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.  He was a US Army Chaplain from 1953 until he retired with the rank of Colonel in 1992, after serving for many years both on active duty and on reserve duty. Harold served six Christian Reformed Church congregations during his first 25 years as a civilian pastor, followed by nine Presbyterian Church congregations during the next 31 years.  He was known well as a pastoral counselor in his parishes and in the general community; and he was a scholar who notably explored the relationship between spirituality and human health.

Harold was the Founding Editor in Chief of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity.  He served for 15 years as Executive Director for the Christian Association of Psychological Studies International. At the time of his death he was a Professor of Biblical Studies and Spirituality at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary of Detroit, after having taught part-time throughout his life at Oakland University, Calvin Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, the University of Michigan and Oakland Community College.

During his lifetime Harold was author, co-author or editor of 178 books and 167 professional journal articles. He was a known lecturer on many topics and was knighted for his contributions by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in 1974.  He was founder and director of the Lyceum in Farmington Hills, Michigan, which met monthly for more than 20 years, providing a presentation and discussion venue for a diverse range of speakers and musical performers on topics that spanned the humanities and science. The Lyceum met in Harold’s expansive library, which housed a wide-ranging collection and included sub-collections that addressed his specific scholarly interests.

More than anything else, throughout his entire life, Harold was a mentor. He encouraged individuals to reach for their next level of potential. He believed in the unlimited potential and goodness of every individual. He was often able to help those individuals, who sought him out, to break what had seemed to be impossible barriers.

In spite of his many accomplishments, Harold always remembered his humble beginnings as a Depression-era farm child. He was friends with people of all backgrounds and all walks of life. Harold’s final wish was that we do not take his passing as a goodbye, but as something akin to a good night because he believed that we will meet on the “other side,” when the sun again rises.

Memorial Service:
Saturday, June 9, 2018 at 1:00 PM
First Presbyterian Church of Farmington
26165 Farmington Road,  Farmington Hills, MI 48334

The family asks that anyone wishing to make a memorial contribution honoring Harold, do so to the Ecumenical Theological Seminary, Detroit Michigan.

Checks may be made payable to ETS
Ecumenical Theological Seminary
Attn: Rev. Dr. J Harold Ellens Memorial Fund
2930 Woodward Avenue, Detroit Mi 48201

Credit Card payment may be made at
Profile: Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris — April 11, 2018

Profile: Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris

When Rev. Dr. Kenneth Harris first came to the Ecumenical Theological Seminary (ETS) in 1992 as a doctoral student, he didn’t quite know what to make of the place.

He came from a conservative Bible college, even “quasi-fundamentalist,” he says, and ETS with its “liberals, Catholics and modernists running around” was for him “another world.”

“It was so different,” Rev. Harris says with a laugh.  “I wrote about ‘alien prayer forms.’”

But Rev. Harris also admits that enrolling at ETS and later joining the faculty became “life changing” for him.

“The thing about one’s religious viewpoint is that you can get caught in a narrow hallway,” he says. “You don’t see the world as it really is. It’s a distorted view.”

On April 14, Rev. Harris will be inaugurated as the sixth president of ETS, a place he credits with giving him a broader world view, and with it, significant changes to come.

Rev. Harris was born in the African-American enclave of Royal Oak Township. His father was a self-taught plant engineer and his mother sold real estate and cosmetics. Both were devout Christians, serving as a Sunday School Superintendent, deacon and deaconess at New Mount Vernon Baptist Church.

“We were the family that opened the church in the morning and closed it at night,” Rev. Harris says.

One brother of Rev. Harris is a pastor in Flint while another is minister of music at a Detroit church. His sister is married to a minister.  His daughters are seminary-trained ministers, and he has nieces and a nephew who are also ministers.

Not surprisingly, Rev. Harris says he had a “natural inclination” towards the church and was influenced by it. His father also noticed his son’s abilities and conducted a weekly Bible study with the family at home. Rev. Harris says it was during these study sessions that he learned to read with greater comprehension.

As a young boy, he says church elders took a special interest in him. Perhaps, he says, it was because he had a stammering problem when he spoke. Regardless, they told him he was special, that he would “be something.”

“In black churches, this was common,” Rev. Harris says. “They spoke what they saw. It was buried in my psyche or my spirit. It made me feel good; it made me feel like people cared about me. They were focused on the future and they saw something in this kid.”

Rev. Harris attended Detroit’s High School of Commerce for three years and attended Cass Tech for his senior year after Commerce was torn down for the I-375 project. He went to Highland Park Junior College to study business but after his first year he “received a call to the ministry.” He was 19.

“The call in my spirit was so strong that I started looking for another school, a school of ministry,” he says.

He enrolled at a local Bible college, which Rev. Harris says was conservative, “almost fundamentalist” and strong on Scripture. There Rev. Harris found his love for the New Testament and New Testament Greek. “I was a Greek geek,” Rev. Harris jokes.

While in Bible College, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The college president intimated that King’s liberal theological positions were responsible for his own death. Rev. Harris says the president’s comments shattered his idyllic world and gave him the “first shock in my life.”

“I was highly offended by someone I highly respected,” he says.

Rev. Harris, without much thought about the consequences, started an aggressive campaign to rebuke the president’s words. It took off, getting the support of students, alumni and some faculty. Eventually, the president acknowledged his mistake and asked what he could do.

“I was allowed to address the faculty and student body,” he says. “I talked about unity, why we are one body in Christ, why we ought to love and respect each other.”

Though pleased with himself, a faculty member scolded Rev. Harris for not being harder on the president. Rev. Harris now knows the professor was right, but as a young student “I didn’t have the requisite worldview to do that.”

But the lasting impact was Rev. Harris realizing the power of his words, his actions and his writing to bring about change in the world.  And people back in his community applauded his actions as well, telling him “that’s what Dr. King would have done.”

“I learned the power of the pen, and I learned how to use it in a responsible way,” he says. “That you can challenge and tear down strangleholds without destroying people.”

After graduating from Bible college, Rev. Harris began work at General Motors’ Pontiac

Truck and Bus plant as a purchasing agent. He also was a pastor at a church in Port Huron, a position he took while still a student. He later pastored the Twelfth Street Baptist Church.

He says he lived in both worlds and learned a lot about life from both. He remembers getting off a private plane at Pontiac airport and driving to Twelfth Street for an evening meeting or Bible study.

“Both informed the other,” Rev. Harris says. “My life of faith informed my work at GM. My life at GM informed the reality of life in my preaching.”

He spent 12 years at GM, negotiating with Fortune 500 companies and touring coal mines in Kentucky – often as the only African-American. One mine owner was so fond of him, he gave Rev. Harris a black miner’s helmet with “Big Ken” written in white letters. Other mine visitors had white helmets with black letters. The helmet sits on a windowsill in Rev. Harris’ office.

After GM, he went into the ministry full-time. He had founded a small Bible study that turned into Detroit Baptist Temple, now Detroit Bible Tabernacle. He also went back to school, receiving master’s degrees from Ashland Theological Seminary and Western Theological Seminary, and a doctorate at ETS.

While a student at ETS, he was asked to help launch the Urban Ministry Diploma program for non-traditional seminary students. It was the first of many roles he had at ETS, including five years as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean.

It wasn’t long before this “alien” place of ETS grew on him and changed him. Where before he wrote a paper questioning the usefulness of meditation, chanting or sitting quiet in a room for 20 minutes – “Who does that?!” Rev. Harris asks with a laugh – he was now trying it at ETS.

Or, in his previous church world he says “we didn’t talk to Catholics,” but now one of his many Catholic friends was ETS faculty member Anneliese Sinnott, a Dominican nun.

“The wall I had built up began to crumble,” Rev. Harris says. “I didn’t change in terms of my conservative roots with regard to the centrality of the Scripture. I now better understood how my theological conservatism and my liberal social-economic-political viewpoint intersected in a very complex world. Regardless of the variety of views and positions, we were still the church.”

His 1996 doctoral dissertation was titled, A Community Divided:  Reframing Biblical Metaphors to Rediscover Ways to Celebrate Unity, Diversity and Equality Within the Body of Christ.  His 1998 Master of Theology thesis was entitled, Racism and Agape:  A Scriptural Response to the Sin of Racism.  Family and friends are pushing him to publish the works as they are more relevant today as they were twenty years ago.

In 2016, Rev. Harris announced his retirement from ETS. But he wouldn’t be gone long.

Last year, the seminary’s board of directors asked him to return as president. ETS Board Chairman Ron Wagner said the board was looking for someone with integrity, someone to create a dynamic atmosphere and someone who represents the values, qualities and traditions of ETS. In short, “an individual who lives the mission,” Wagner says. “We believe that we have found that leader in Rev. Harris.”

For his part, Rev. Harris says he was “quickly adapting to retirement,” enjoying more golf and 10 a.m. breakfasts. But he viewed the chance to once again serve ETS as an “opportunity of service.”

“This seminary is a very special place,” he says. “I think about the lives it has changed, including mine. And I think about the fact that in this 21st century we need good schools in underserved communities like Detroit that have not always had seminaries.”

Rev. Harris says he is a proud Detroiter who celebrates the city’s comeback downtown and in Midtown. But he also fears “the establishment of ‘gated communities’ without gates that might exclude longtime residents from housing and business opportunities.

“There also is the matter of disappearing Detroit communities that seem to be stored up for future development,” Harris says. “As rivers and streams of billions of dollars flow into the city, other parts are becoming deserts where untouchable pensions are co-opted and water shut-offs are used to evict residents from homes.”

He also bemoans the decision by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to cut off free bottled water for Flint residents because some areas show lower lead readings, and the exorbitant and unfair auto insurance rates Detroiters, including him, have to pay due to the redlining of Detroit neighborhoods.

“As a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, a denomination that speaks out against injustice and racial inequalities, I wonder what ‘evangelical’ means in light of current affairs,” he says.

Yet despite all of this, Dr. Harris remains hopeful that ETS will prepare leaders who know the difference between “prophets and profits” in the
Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition.

Today Is Historical — April 4, 2018

Today Is Historical

Dear Friends,


Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At 4PM today, Paula Tutman, Emmy winning broadcast journalist from WDIV Local 4 will broadcast LIVE from Ecumenical Theological Seminary. The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris, President and Academic Dean, will be interviewed regarding the 50th Anniversary.  Be sure to tune into WDIV Local 4 at 4PM.

Thank You and God Bless You,
Ecumenical Theological Seminary


Inauguration of Our Sixth President The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E Harris —

Inauguration of Our Sixth President The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E Harris

The Board of Trustees of Ecumenical Theological Seminary Requests

the honor of your presence at the inauguration of


as the sixth president of the seminary

Saturday, the fourteenth of April
Two Thousand and Eighteen
At ten-thirty o’clock in the morning

In the sanctuary
Ecumenical Theological Seminary
2930 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201

Dr. Harris and the entire Ecumenical Theological Seminary
family will be honored to have you join us.
Take a moment to complete the brief RSVP form.

Inquires: or 313.831.5200, e 207

A Day To Remember – 50 Years Later — April 3, 2018

A Day To Remember – 50 Years Later

Reflections on Dr. Martin Luth King, Jr. by Dr. Keneth Harris

April 4, 1968.  6 p.m. Lorraine Motel. Memphis, Tenn.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was asked to not travel to Memphis, but he felt compelled to go. Why? Sanitation workers were seeking justice from a racist and unjust system that marginalized them and their work.  MLK knew their plight, and he heard the words of our Lord when He spoke at His hometown synagogue in Nazareth:

 Luke 4:18-19

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” NRSV

Sanitation workers? Who really cares? Jesus cares! The prophets and the people of Jesus care!  All people of good will care! The lyrics of a song of celebration at MLK’s funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta beautifully expressed his calling to serve others:

If I can help somebody
As I travel along
If I can help somebody
With a word or song
If I can help somebody
From doing wrong
My living shall not be in vain.

My living shall not be in vain
My living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody
While I’m singing this song
My living shall not be in vain.

“If I Can Help Somebody Lyrics.” STANDS4 LLC, 2018. Web. 1 Apr. 2018. <>.

In 1968, I was a 20-year-old junior at a conservative Bible college in Michigan. I had the best of both worlds – a wonderful upbringing in a Christian home, growing up in a marvelous local Baptist church, as well a great Bible college –  all of which I loved.  My idyllic world turned dark on that April 4th day. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The news hit me hard. I remember sinking into a dark pit of shock and disbelief. How could Martin be dead? Who would kill this beautiful brother who spoke with such power, eloquence, and grace, and who was the role model for young, black impressionable ministry students like me?

If that wasn’t enough, the president of our college addressed the King assassination at our next chapel and what he said deconstructed my idyllic world. My world of a black church and white conservative Bible college suffered violent upheaval. The president basically portrayed Dr. King’s killing as deserved.  King was a biblically-liberal troublemaker who preached a social gospel, the president said. He asked for it! Laws needed to be obeyed, even if they were unjust.   What? The gospel has always been social in the prophetic tradition.  Exodus 20:16-17 foresees a just, lawful and righteous society for humankind:

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”   NIV

Just laws should protect everyone. Unjust laws should be challenged. A preacher who spoke against social, political and economic injustice in the tradition of the prophets “asked for it”? I was outraged, which motivated me to write an opposing challenge to the president’s remarks. I didn’t know anything about conservative or liberal, right or left. I did not understand how these systems of belief intersected theologically and politically. When I was ignored, I began circulating a petition among the student body and alumni articulating my protest of the president’s public comments. The petition was widely circulated and was signed by blacks and whites alike, pressuring the president for a meeting. In brief, I was granted the opportunity to address my concerns at a morning chapel service. At that service, I shared my disappointment and shock at my school’s response to someone I dearly loved and held in high esteem. I also, in the King tradition, made an appeal for the school family to respect one another and rebuild an environment of love and mutual respect. My present role as president of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary is informed by my experiences of the past. I must be a voice to speak truth to the community I am called to serve. I intend to do so.

My world would never be the same, and my theological and philosophical innocence was destroyed forever. That world came crashing down as I examined the pieces of my deconstructed reality. I did not know how to begin reconstruction when I was emotionally, spiritually and intellectually wounded. It was sad to see King’s dream struggle to get back on track. It seemed like we were so close.

For me and others, the assassination of John and Robert Kennedy was a message from segments of our nation that they would do whatever necessary to let hope for a better day die with King.  Fifty years later, the feelings and concerns have returned. In some ways, it’s worse than before.  As a young African-American male, I read the stories of lynching, castrations, the disembowelment, and beheadings of black men in the South. I read about black soldiers who returned home after WWII, only to be lynched by cowardly bands of misguided fellow Americans. I can still feel some of that. When unarmed black men and boys are shot and killed in the streets of America by wayward law enforcement officers with cameras rolling, I think of the KKK – without hoods but with badges. What would Martin say about the “New Jim Crow” that makes it profitable to imprison millions of black men? The events of Charlottesville deeply affected Americans in different ways. For me, it was a reincarnation of racial and ethnic bigotry from the past. It was unnerving to see a new generation of young whites who embrace neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and rebranded racial hatred. The alt-right and white supremacists who boldly paraded their bigotry and racial bias did not hide behind robes and hoods. They declared their convictions as the finest of the American tradition – being white and male is in – “other” is out!


For one who looked death in the face many times, Martin would have been in Charlottesville talking peace and love for all of humanity. He would have exhorted all of us to take a deep breath and think about the world we were shaping for future generations. He would have chastened Trump for giving bigotry a platform of legitimacy, and he would have challenged us to fight the good fight of faith by confronting such evil in church and society. He would have been willing to give his life so that all Americans could share and enjoy the blessings of a nation where justice and righteousness rules.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber and the reincarnation of MLK’s “Poor People’s Campaign” gives me renewed hope. Killing the man does not mean his dream is dead. Fifty years later, MLK’s dream lives on in all Americans of good will.


MLK’s death still brings tears to my eyes – 50 years later!  So young and full of hope, he sensed his advocacy for the rights of sanitation workers would cost him the ultimate price.  It did, and I close this piece with the lyrics of another song used at his funeral and said to be among King’s favorites.



Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling—
Calling for you and for me;
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching—
Watching for you and for me!

Come home! come home!
Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!


Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading—
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies—
Mercies for you and for me?


Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing—
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, death-beds are coming—
Coming for you and for me!


Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised—
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon—
Pardon for you and for me!





















The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris
President and Academic Dean
Professor of Biblical Studies
Ecumenical Theological Seminary