Leaders from Palm Beach Atlantic and Florida Memorial University lifted their voices in harmonious praise during a celebration of the two schools’ Lift Every Voice partnership aimed at expanding access to graduate theological education.
The partnership, made possible by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, gives students from Florida Memorial University the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Divinity degree in less time and at a lower cost than it typically takes.
Current pastors, ministers and members of Black churches can also get an M.Div. through PBA at FMU at an affordable price.
Pastors, university leaders and students enrolled in the program at Florida Memorial, the only historically-Black university in South Florida, spoke about the program’s value at a worshipful celebration in PBA’s Warren Library on Feb. 28, the final day of Black History Month.
The Florida Memorial University Chorale sang Lift Every Voice, the Black national anthem penned by an FMU staff member, and an arrangement of the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Julius Sanna, an FMU student, and Julia Sanna, a 2008 graduate of PBA’s counseling program, provided the opening music. Dr. Justin Hardin, associate dean for School of Ministry graduate programs, opened with prayer.
PBA President Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, in her remarks, commended FMU for its “rich heritage of faith and service,” and shared how she had been deeply impacted by FMU alumnus the Rev. Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited. She stressed the importance of sound theological education in ministry preparation.
“Following God’s call into the ministry is one of the highest calls,” she said.
FMU students working toward a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy can complete a bachelor’s and PBA’s M.Div. on their campus in five years, said Dr. Jamila Jackson, who leads the program as director of theological education partnerships. Typically, it takes at least seven years to complete both degrees.
PBA has extended scholarships to FMU students in Lift Every Voice, FMU President Dr. Jaffus Hardrick said. He called on those gathered — which included students in the program — to “let God’s glory radiate” from all they do.
“No matter what others do, no matter what others say, what matters is what we do and what we say,” Hardrick said. “I’m so grateful for the Lilly Endowment and for this partnership. I’m truly convinced that we’re about to do something mighty.”
The partnership originated with a pre-pandemic meet-and-greet at Florida Memorial University between PBA School of Ministry leadership and Dr. Nathaniel Holmes, FMU’s assistant professor of religion and philosophy. The result of that conversation will serve South Florida, and ultimately, the Kingdom of God, said Dr. Jonathan Grenz, dean of PBA’s School of Ministry.
“Lift Every Voice really represents this fact: that we are better together than we are apart,” Grenz said.
Faculty members Dr. Terriel Byrd, PBA professor of urban Christian ministry; Dr. Bryan Froehle, coordinator of enrollment for PBA’s Ph.D. in practical theology; and Dr. Samuel Darko, dean of FMU’s School of Arts & Sciences; also spoke in support of the program’s potential.
The Rev. Dr. Marcus D. Davidson, senior pastor of New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale and a student in PBA’s Ph.D. in practical theology program, said he was encouraged to see the two institutions come together.
“It’s beyond phenomenal,” Davidson said, adding that the Black church has much to offer. “The Academy is rigorous, but it’s rewarding.”
Pastor Alphonso Jackson Jr. commended the presidents and staff of both institutions for embracing the past while looking to the future. They have “taken every obstacle and turned it into an opportunity,” he said.
“Often, people don’t want partnerships. They want to be pioneers,” Jackson said. “Partnerships make history.”
The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Swain, FMU’s dean of campus ministry, closed in prayer.