Union Theological Seminary is excited to announce the appointment of Rev. Timothy L. Adkins-Jones to the position of Assistant Professor of Homiletics. Rev. Adkins-Jones was led to faith in Christ at an early age by his grandfather, the Rev. Leroy Jones at Pilgrim Journey Baptist Church in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Before being called to the historic Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., Rev. Adkins-Jones faithfully led congregations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, building a young legacy of community activism and Christian service.
We spoke briefly with Rev. Adkins-Jones about what brought him to Union and the classes he’s excited to teach in the Fall.
What were you doing before coming to Union?
I’ve been pastor at Bethany Baptist Church for a little over four and a half years now, which is what brought me to the greater New York area. I went to undergrad at Amherst College and have remained north of the Mason-Dixon Line since then. I’ve always tried to keep a foot in the academy and the ecclesial world at the same time, which helps balance my mind and keep me sharp as a practical theologian. Maintaining the practice of homiletics is really helpful as I teach, and that duality has continued since I was in school, where I was a youth pastor and a senior pastor in the midst of my Master’s and Doctoral program. One of the things I love about Union is the chance to think about preaching in different contexts, particularly with training proclaimers from other religious traditions, who are atheistic or serve in interfaith backgrounds.
What drew you to homiletics?
As a brash and naive beginner in my M.Div program, I actually didn’t want to take a class on preaching because I thought my pastor had already taught me that. It wasn’t until my final year that I took a class on homiletics with Dr. Dale Andrews, who planted the seed of doing doctoral work. For me it felt like a Ph.D. in homiletics was practical, something that would be helpful for the job. Once I got into my studies it became clear that it was something I had a passion for.
What classes are you excited to teach in the Fall?
My classes for this fall are very apropos, one is “Preaching and Protest” and the other is “Preaching at a Distance: Virtual Preaching and Beyond”. I’m really excited to be thinking through with students about the practice and ethic of preaching from a distance, which has been going on long before this pandemic season. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and Paul’s Epistles are examples of distance preaching. I’m really excited to wrestle with that with students as we consider the practicalities of preaching into a screen. My own research is on call and response within the Black Church Tradition, and I’ve had to reimagine what response looks like today as I preach in front of an empty room while keeping an eye on YouTube live stream comments.
How do you hope to cultivate a sense of community here as a professor?
I would like to develop a sense of intentionality in cultivating community. There are a lot of conversations on social media and one of the trappings as it’s currently constructed is the randomness of it, algorithms rather than you intentionally saying “I want to see how this person is doing”. In these times, it’s so important to develop the habits and practice of being intentional in creating space, cultivating community, and checking in with one another. It’s important for students in the community to know that I am committed to communal learning. Though tasked and blessed with the opportunity to teach, I never like to think of myself as the expert but as someone attempting to lead a communal place of learning and discovery. There’s so much to learn and discover and what excites me about the classroom is being able to discover together. I certainly don’t operate from a transmittal pedagogy, where I am the holder of information tasked with transmitting my knowledge to students, because that’s not how I think, live, or even view teaching. I want to learn together, to be a guide, and to see what we can discover together in concert. The way Union operates, with the great diversity in thought and experience, is a fertile ground for that kind of new discovery.
What have you found helpful as you weather the pandemic and social distancing?
Family has been important. My wife is a professor at Boston College and would typically commute, but now we’re all together at home. My youngest was born on Martin Luther King Day and is just six-months-old. She’s certainly kept me grounded with her smile and carefree nature during this time. I’ve been enjoying authentic conversations with friends I haven’t talked to in years, so there’s been this rediscovery of relationships. Pastoring can be very lonely at times, but it’s been the exact opposite recently with the intentionality of connecting with others. I’ve reconnected with high school friends, college friends, and enjoyed deeper conversations with those around me. The notion of being grateful for what you have has been really important and the hymn “Count Your Blessings” comes to mind; the idea that even in tumultuous times like these, I’m going to look at reasons to be grateful. Pastoring has been different in this season, but not necessarily easier. People’s desire for an encounter with God, community, and practices like Bible study have been at an all-time high for me. I’ve never seen people’s desire for God and community higher than it is now. It has kept me busy, but also nourished.