"This great cloud of witnesses:" reflections from Alumni Board President, Jeffrey Oak

Jeffrey Oak ’85 M.Div., ’96 Ph.D.
President, YDS Alumni Board

Editor's Note: Jeffrey Oak ’85 M.Div., ’96 Ph.D. is president of the YDS Alumni Board. Beginning this month, we have invited him to periodically share some of his reflections about the alumni of YDS. 

“When you come back to this place, you realize the hold it continues to have on you.”

OakThese words from a Yale Divinity School alumna who was on campus for Convocation and Reunions last October have stayed with me because I too experience the “hold” of YDS whenever I come back to the gracious place designed by John Delano and Sons in the 1930s, and named Sterling Divinity Quadrangle.

Yes, for many there is something about YDS that continues to hold us.

Maybe it’s a piece of music, a reading from scripture, an inspirational lecture or sermon we heard in Marquand that takes hold in our memory when we sit in that chapel. Maybe it’s an earlier chapter in the narrative of our own lives that is brought back when we find our class picture in the hallway.  

Maybe, as we stroll across the Quad, it’s the people we associate with YDS, teachers, colleagues and friends, whether still walking this earth or not, who continue to “hold”—and even embrace—us across time and space. Perhaps this is something like what Paul had in mind when he referred to a “great cloud of witnesses” in his letter to the Hebrews.

One of the great privileges of serving as president of the YDS Alumni Board was introducing this cloud of witnesses who gathered for the 2012 Convocation and Reunions to our new Dean, Gregory Sterling.

During convocation I shared with Dean Sterling that the graduates of YDS labor in a variety of vineyards, and exercise a diversity of gifts:

  • We serve religious communities and schools of every size, complexion, geography and tradition.
  • We provide leadership in international relief agencies, local community groups, public policy institutes, non-profit organizations, businesses and Congress.
  • You’ll find us in classrooms, hospital rooms, choir rooms and board rooms.
  • In a variety of settings we advocate for those whom the world forgets and ignores and discards: children in the dawn of life, older persons in the twilight of life, and those marginalized in the shadows of life.
  • We point to a vision of doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, at a time when society is captivated by the narratives of power, self-interest and celebrity.

In short, the 8,000 living alumni of YDS continue the 300 years long tradition of “Publick employment in Church and Civil State.” A great cloud of witnesses, indeed.

I hope you will make a point to visit YDS sometime soon, and allow yourself to consider your own cloud of witnesses. And perhaps you, too, will realize the hold it continues to have on you.

Date Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013 - 5:22pm