Mercer Commons’ Symposium to Focus on Character

The Sixth Annual Building the Beloved Community Symposium, sponsored by Mercer Commons, will be held Feb. 2 and 3 in Macon. This year’s event is built on the theme, “The Content of Their Character.” The Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells, dean of the chapel at Duke University and research professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School, will deliver two addresses at the two-day event.

The events will also include a breakfast for participants and Bibb County school principals, said Dr. John M. Dunaway, the symposium founder and director of Mercer Commons. The speaker for that event is Dr. Anthony J. Harris, professor of educational leadership in Mercer’s Tift College of Education. Dr. Harris will speak to the group about service.

“The theme for this year is taken from Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, where he states that his dream is of a day when his children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” Dr. Dunaway said. “The youth in our own city are facing serious problems such as gang-related violence, drugs, teen pregnancy and low academic achievement. The content of their character will be a key component to building the Beloved Community in Macon, and our churches and schools must take a leading role in meeting those challenges. Accordingly, we’re inviting Bibb County’s public school principals to join our pastors and religious leaders for this year’s breakfast and explore how they can better collaborate in this cause.”

Before training for ordination, Dr. Wells was a community worker in inner-city Liverpool, England, and from 1991-2005 he served in parish ministry in the Church of England. While in Norwich, he helped to establish the first organization in the east of England devoted to community-led urban regeneration. He also established a nonprofit organization offering disadvantaged children opportunities to discover wonder and joy through creative play.

Dr. Wells is also the author and editor of a number of books on Christian ethics, including two forthcoming textbooks, Introducing Christian Ethics, co-authored with Ben Quash, and Christian Ethics: An Introductory Reader.

The events of Feb. 2 will be held at Mercer’s University Center in the Presidents Dining Room. The evening begins with a banquet at 6:30 p.m., followed at 7:30 with a speech by Dr. Wells, titled “Being Beloved in Nazareth: A Nazareth Manifesto,” and focusing on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

On Feb. 3, the symposium will move to Centenary Methodist Church on College Street, beginning with the breakfast address at 8:30 a.m. by Dr. Harris. That event will be followed at 10 a.m. by Dr. Wells’ second address, “Being Beloved in Nazareth: Two Questions,” focusing on the story of Cain and Abel. At 11, participants will break into smaller groups to discuss issues in Macon and ways to advance the theme, and at noon, the symposium will conclude with a lunch with reports from the small groups and a final response to those reports from Dr. Wells.

For more information, or to register for the symposium, contact Judy Jones at (478) 301-2078, or All events are free, but registration by Jan. 29 is required.

Dr. Dunaway founded the symposium in 2004 to find a way to help the church demonstrate unity through collaboration across denominational and racial boundaries. The symposium also works to foster follow-up activities between black and white churches, through such activities as: sister-church relationships, pulpit exchanges, partnerships in community development and service and the formation of action groups for specific issues.

One such event will be a showing of the movie “Pip and Zastrow: An American Friendship,” at the Douglass Theatre on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. The event will include a discussion following the film with one of the film’s subjects, Zastrow Simms, and the film’s director, Karin Hayes. The movie is a documentary chronicling a friendship between two men that crossed racial lines long before the civil rights movement began. Mercer Commons is co-sponsoring the event.

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