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
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.
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: http://www.bethany-newark.org/