Faith-forward: a talk with Rev. Timothy Levi Jones 


Rev. Timothy Levi Jones, the new Pastor-Elect of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, talks with Bryan Epps.

Bryan Epps: What inspires you to do your work?

Jones: So many things! Certainly I’m inspired by my relationship from God and a deep gratitude for how gracious God has been to me. I do not take for granted the salvation I have through Jesus Christ and feel that is incredible motivation to do my work. But I also am inspired by the witness of my family and my people. I feel a deep desire to make the village around me proud. It is so clear that we stand on the shoulders of giants to do the work that we do today, and I do not want history to tell that I have dropped the baton that has been passed on to me.

Epps: How should we define a progressive Church?

Jones: A progressive church in 2016 is one that takes seriously the fight for justice for all people. Not regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status or any other difference that exists amongst our people but because of the great diversity that exists within the world. All churches should follow the example of Jesus, and build an inclusive community that welcomes all and that seeks equality for all outside of the safety of a church building. It is not good enough to talk a good game within the sanctuary, or even to create great community in a church. To be progressive, a church must be willing to challenge the status quo that exists outside of the church and speak prophetically to world in dire need of life giving, justice filled messages.

Epps: 350 years ago Robert Treat came from New Haven and “founded” New-ark with a grand vision. What dream(s)/vision(s) helped contribute to your decision to come to the city from that same place?

Jones: I dream of community. I dream of pastoring a congregation that loves each other unconditionally and that loves the community that it resides in unconditionally. I dream of being a part of a community that helps change the narrative about a wonderful city like Newark. As I have begun this transition into Newark it has been interesting to listen to people’s reactions around the country as I share the news. Almost universally people say something along the lines of “oh wow, Newark huh? Yea you’ll have a lot of work to do there” or something like that. There is a built in understanding of Newark to be a place where you really don’t want to be unless you have to be. I dream of this no longer being the case. I dream of working with other churches, congregations of other faiths, the government and the people at large to work on the kinds of problems that cause people to say these things and ultimately to change those perceptions. As I have begun to meet the people and learn the history of this great city, I get excited about where we can go.

Epps: Is it possible for people to dream and actualize dreams collectively?

Jones: Not only is it possible but I believe it’s necessary. I do not believe that we can accomplish all that we set out to in a vacuum. Thus we need to realize our dreams as a community. I am reminded of something Dr. King said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.” There is no dream that we can actualize that is separate from anyone else. Which also suggests to me that we need to dream dreams as a community if there is any hope for them to actually come about. I believe that God gives vision and helps guides our steps but I also believe that God speaks often times through other people. And in some ways, the dreams for me may be initiated or at least confirmed by those around me.

Epps: I read that you studied practical theology at Boston University School of Theology before teaching at Yale. It seems to be very applicable to Newark (if we viewed the entire city as a congregation). What are some of your thoughts on how theologians can help build the dreams of Newarkers?

Jones: The basic tenet of practical theology is the sense that our lived theology is based on an observation of our actual religious practices, an analysis of those practices based on history and theory, and then a redoing of those practices in light of what you’ve just researched. Practical theology attempts to mine what people actually think about God and God’s things by examining what we actually do. Applying practical theology to Newark might mean examining the practices of the people of Newark. What do people in this city do? What is important to them? Why is it important to them? What customs and traditions have become irreplaceable parts of the city and why? Doing this kind of analysis of the practices of the people of Newark would help determine what the city collectively wants to do. This may be a way for us to dream together, by looking at what we already do and figuring out why and what we need to continue to do.

Epps: So, let’s play a game of rapid fire?! Give me your first thoughts/responses on the following:

Portuguese or Italian food? 

Jones: Can I say neither? Give me soul food any day but for the sake of the game I’ll go Italian.

Busy avenue or a quiet Street? 

Jones: Busy avenue

Favorite color?

Jones: Krimson and Kreme

Favorite book in the bible (author)? 

Jones: I’ll resist the urge to say my namesake Timothy and say Ephesian (Paul….maybe)

Favorite “secular” book (author)? 

Jones: Jesus and the Disinherited (Thurman)

Top 5 rappers?

Jones: In no particular order: Jay Z, Biggie, Pac, Lil Wayne, Eminem, with major apologies to Nas, Kendrick, Andre 3000 and Kanye.

Favorite sport? 

Jones: Basketball

Finally, can an intellectual find any joy in ratchet television aka reality TV?

Jones: Absolutely, if you can find a show that lets you escape reality without feeling too guilty I say go ahead and enjoy it.

Epps: Thanks so much!

More on Reverend Timothy L. Jones: 

A native of Richmond, VA, Rev. Jones has served previously at St. John’s Congregational Church (Springfield, MA), First Central Baptist Church (Chicopee, MA), and as the Senior Pastor of Community Baptist Church in New Haven, CT. A scholar, Rev. Jones earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Amherst College, a Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, and is a current candidate for the Doctorate of Philosophy in Practical Theology at Boston University. Rev. Jones serves his alma mata Amherst College as the Graduate Fellow for the Hermenia T. Gardner Christian Worship Series and is an Adjunct Professor at Yale Divinity School. A member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, Rev. Jones is a former college basketball player who also enjoys comic books, movies, and working out. He is the proud father of three beautiful children, Sofia Esperanza, Ezekiel Levi, and Isabella Oleta. Visit Bethany’s site:








Inspired by Dr. Betty Shabazz – Noelle Lorraine Williams


During 2015 women’s history month Bryan Epps, Executive Director of the Shabazz Center interviewed Noelle Lorraine Williams. Williams is a conceptual artist living and working in Newark. (Above Photo Credit: Colleen Gutwein for The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project)

Epps: What/who is most important to you?

Williams: Imagination is most important to me.

I live so our world community feels strong, imaginative and believes that all are contributors to the development of humanity, through utilizing our imagination and individual/collective power. My work deeply lies in the spiritual, not necessarily connected to religion.

I believe in the retelling of history to highlight interventions and acts of power and the sharing and claiming of public space for all people. I believe this is our contemporary popular spirituality

I particularly focus my work and interests on the United States, though my understanding always is as a part of a global community and diaspora.

I believe that culture: folk, fine and popular has the power to facilitate that. I also believe that community organizing can too. That is why so often my work is concentrated on community gatherings and events in public spaces like museums, parks, galleries and other “public” spaces.

The most important thing to me is the truth and the opportunity for all humans to live without fear of being hurt or murdered. My interests are with the most threatened communities African American women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I also have interests in redlining, gentrification, abuse, immigration rights and sexual trafficking – how people are destabilized and made outsiders in different spaces.

Epps: How do the people and things that you believe are important manifest themselves in your work?

Williams: It manifests itself in my work as a multimedia artist (my website is and volunteer by working to provide opportunities for people to learn about historical counter narratives to oppression, and also by sharing opportunities to create and be a part of community.

Epps: Can we define your art? Or is it undefinable?

Williams: I am labeled as an artist. However, I am better defined as a spirit worker, meaning I use artwork and writing as opportunities for reflection and discussion about spirituality, identity, innovation and community. My practice includes creating events, discussions, lectures, workshops sculpture, photography and installation. I use African American women’s narratives as a lens to understand and engage the world.

The way I work towards building a sense of ownership and freedom is by: 1) Presenting liberatory and historically referenced narratives in my art work; 2) Having a dynamic, and organic art practice (aligning my spirit with my work) 2) Working with groups and using my vision to place innovation and community building at the center such as my volunteer work with Newark Gay Pride and arts initiatives in Newark.

Epps: How does the idea of place/community influence your passion?

Williams: Place is important, public places and private places – mainly because it is the measurement of how people feel that they can maneuver in this world, where they may walk and build that is a barometer to assess the level of freedom they experience.

Epps: Who is Dr. Betty Shabazz to you? How has she influenced you?

Williams: Dr. Betty Shabazz was a social and cultural worker with a relentless spirit and bold actions. Her work has always influenced me in that she challenges us to think of how we can take radical action and make bold moves even within an institutional context – whether it was by being a member of NOI or as an administrator and at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Though it is a challenging road to work within existing institutions that so often possess classist (exploitative of poor people) and sexist/misogynistic values – she continued to translate those difficult opportunities in to acts of change.

Epps: Which other people have influenced your desire to shape history?

Williams: Oh my, so many! My mother who has always allowed me to think and grow independently and without the constraints of doing things just to be safe. Friends like our family friend Sylvia and my uncle Charles who told the most fantastic stories to me as a child and really engendered my need to tell and share stories. Artists, like Ntozake Shange and Alice Walker who continue to use art, spirituality and community interactions to create new imaginative spaces of the world. To community organizers like Ella Baker and Joo-Hyun Kang when she was at the Audre Lorde Project who both impressed the need to cultivate and support each individual so that they have a tailored relationship with organizations.

Epps: Where do you hope your work will take us?

Williams: I hope my work continues to excite people who engage it and foster dialogue whether it is through creating objects, events/experiences and/or fostering community. I hope that it will take us all to a space of affirming our unique imaginations, boldest thoughts and responsive actions about what it means to be a part of local, national and global communities.

Epps: Thank you! 

See more from Noelle Lorraine Williams below: