glory of god

glory of god

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Distinguished Alumni/ae Award: Peter Selby


Distinguished Alumni/ae Award

The Right Reverend Dr. Peter Selby  ‘66

Bishop and Theologian
Visionary for Justice and Inclusion in Church and Society

In an article titled “Risk, Fear, and Faith”—focused on Britain’s banking system— Peter Selby wrote: “There is no human event, from falling in love to learning to swim, that does not involve at some level the overcoming of fear... Therein lies the meaning of the most repeated biblical injunction, ‘Fear not’: it is not that we are to avoid noticing what are the forebodings and anxieties that threaten to make fear the wellspring of action, and as a result to lead us into wrong decisions; rather it is a call to a proper assessment of our fears and the harnessing of the inner resources of love and faith to overcome them.”

This reflection has relevance beyond the contexts and issues originally addressed. Fear is all around us—in the rapidly changing institutions of theological education, in the wider community of the church, and in societies concerned with their own safety and prosperity. Since his graduation fifty years ago, Peter Selby’s ministry has focused on encouraging and empowering the people of God to overcome fear by harnessing the inner resources of love and faith.

Perhaps the first clue that his life and ministry would be characterized by this confrontation of fear with faith was his decision to leave Oxford and travel across the ocean to study in this place. Here on Brattle Street he met professors and classmates—likewise following the risky and faithful call of the gospel—who have challenged each other and sustained profound friendships across time and across oceans. One of those classmates, supporting and challenging, across time and space is Jonathan Daniels.

Peter Selby’s ETS education led him to answer an even riskier call to travel further west, to the other US coast, where he pursued Clinical Pastoral Education at none other than San Quentin Prison. It was a transformational experience that would lead to a life-long concern for criminal justice and, in particular, for ministry with prisons.

Upon graduation, Peter worked as a curate in an increasingly multicultural London parish, followed by educational ministry for the laity, doctoral studies in New Testament, and a canonry in Newcastle on Tyne. Along the way, he married Jan and raised three children. Jan undertook a leading ministry of her own. With friends she founded NOW—the Newcastle Ordination of Women group—meeting, lobbying, campaigning for the change that is only now coming to full realization with the ordination of women to all orders of ministry in the Church of England.

Peter Selby was appointed to the episcopacy during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, serving the Diocese of Southwark in south-west London. It was a ministry that required the skill of a faithful pastor at a time of social upheaval and divided visions for the nation. After 8 years, he turned his attentions to academe with a fellowship at Durham University. There he began pioneering work in thinking theologically on the nature economic debt. His book Grace and Mortgage: the Language of Faith and the Debt of the World has been cited as prescient of the financial crisis of 2007.

He returned to church leadership with an appointment as Bishop of Worcester in 1997, including membership in the House of Lords—surely not a typical honor for an EDS alumnus. But he used that position to advocate on criminal justice issues, leading to an appointment by the Archbishops of Canterbury, York, and Wales as Bishop to Prisons. Notably, he celebrated the Eucharist in a jail every Christmas Day, sharing the incarnate love of God with those often forgotten by society. Upon retirement, he assumed the presidency of the National Council for Independent Boards –monitoring the treatment of those in custody – both in prison and immigration detention. Subsequently he has worked with St Paul’s Institute, seeking to engage with the financial sector of London. His most recent book is An Idol Unmasked: a Faith Perspective on Money.

As bishop Peter Selby has consistently combated the institutional fear evident in the Lambeth Conferences’ and the Church of England’s sexuality-based restrictions on ordination. Instead he has drawn upon the inner resources of love and faith to argue in favor of marriage equality in church and society. And he has served as one of two Episcopal Patrons of the international No Anglican Covenant Coalition, helping to defeat it in England and across the Communion.

In his first book, Look for the Living: the Corporate Nature of Resurrection Faith, published in 1976, Peter Selby wrote: “I have been constantly aware of the debt which I owe to my teachers at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in particular to Dr Harvey Guthrie and Dr Lloyd Patterson, whose course on ‘Biblical Eschatology and the Church’ has continued to offer me a framework of theological thinking which can move critically with change.”

Bishop Peter Selby, over his long and extraordinary vocation in ministry, has confronted fear with faith, taken risks, and stood steadfastly for the gospel, thinking theologically and moving critically with change. In the process he has broken down barriers and shone the love of God in the darkest corners of society. For his extraordinary vision and commitment, for his lifetime of ministry embodying EDS’s historic and current mission, and most importantly for his embrace of the call to confront and overcome fear with faith, love, and risk, I am pleased to present Peter Selby ‘66 with the Episcopal Divinity School’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni/æ Award. 

Matthew P. Cadwell ‘99
Alumni/ae Executive Committee

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