Image of Renita Weems

The late Reverend Dr. Katie Cannon will be remembered at the closing worship services at this year’s Big Tent celebration in Baltimore. Cannon, a leading voice on womanist theology as well as renowned lecturer and author, died last year following a battle with leukemia.

The remembrance is part of closing worship that will feature the Reverend Dr. Renita J. Weems as guest preacher. A graduate of Wellesley College and Princeton Theological Seminary, Weems was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Old Testament studies as well as deliver the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures.

“We need to open the tent for conversation and listen to each other, widen the tent to include different kinds of people, and have heart-to-heart conversations. I think that’s what the church is going to have to do,” said Weems. “Churches need to engage in new and sometimes difficult conversations or the church becomes irrelevant. The heart of the gospel is at stake.”

Weems has taught in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University and served as the William and Camille Cosby Visiting Professor of Humanities at Spelman College. She also served as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at American Baptist College in Nashville.

Weems says she’s looking forward to joining Presbyterians in Baltimore this summer.

“I am interested in the spiritual grounding of social justice causes. I do not know if there’s ever been a time that the church was not involved in social justice issues,” she said. “Christianity and social justice go hand in hand and that’s always been paramount.”

Weems says technology has allowed churches to bring these issues into the public marketplace in a way that hasn’t been done before.

“When I started out as a young academic, we didn’t have technology to discuss this across disciplines and denominational and theological lines,” she said. “The church has not been able to protect itself from those conversations because everybody is weighing in and a lot of people care about this topic and this is where we are in this moment in history. It’s exciting.”

Weems spends a lot of time writing as well as co-pastoring the Ray of Hope Community Church in Nashville alongside her husband, the Reverend Martin L. Espinosa. She says different kinds of church models are emerging. Some, she says, are more community focused while others are continuing the traditional form of Sunday worship.

“We have to prepare the church for the future and not always look to the past. It’s frightening and exciting at the same time. If it’s not flexible and innovative and doesn’t engage in critical conversation, it will not survive,” said Weems. “It’s a tsunami we are entering and it is not the first time. I don’t know what it will look like, but it must provide young people some stakes to put in the ground to keep the tent up and trusting in God.”

The theme for this year’s Big Tent is “Called to a Movement Beyond Institution,” which is also the theme for the 224th General Assembly (2020), with Romans 12:2 as scripture reference.

The event will be held in Baltimore, August 1–3. Click here for registration and hotel information.

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