Conference historian named BU School of Theology 'Distinguished Alumna'

Rev. Patricia J. Thompson with her certificate as a Boston School of Theology Distinguished Alumna. She was honored with three others on Sept. 18, 2019. See more photos in the gallery at right.

September 20, 2019

Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH) honored four of its own at a celebration on Sept. 18, 2019.

The Rev. Patricia J. Thompson, retired, serving Wolcott (VT) UMC, was one of those being recognized as “Distinguished Alumni/ae.”

Also being honored were the Rev. Dr. William Alberts, the Right Reverend Ian T. Douglas, PhD; and in the category of emerging leader, Dr. Patrick B. Reyes. Read more about them

Prior to the dinner and awards presentation, the honorees took part in a panel discussion answering the question: What are the three greatest challenges facing us in the next decade?

Rev. Thompson categorized them as “spiritual, economic, and technological.” Here are excerpts from her responses on each of the challenges:

“Recent statistics show that less and less people are involved in any kind of spiritual community … Our God is a God of love, and when we live out our lives in love – as imperfect as that often is – we learn to put the needs of others before our own, to accept people are they are where they are, and to be more kind, compassionate, understanding and giving in our day-to-day behavior. … that is not an easy path to follow. … We all need help and encouragement, and sometimes, even some constructive criticism along the way … a spiritual community can provide us with the kind of support and encouragement we need to be our best selves.”

“Though we do not seem to have made a lot of progress combating poverty in this country [over the last 50 years], we have made great strides in increasing the gap between those at the bottom of the economic ladder and those at the top. And the larger that gap becomes, the harder it becomes for those at the top to understand the needs of those at the bottom.”

The cost of running for political office, Rev. Thompson said, means only the wealthy can afford to seek election and are open to pressure from “the pharmaceutical companies, the NRA, oil companies, or the many, many other special interest groups that then expect preferential treatment. Thus, the most vulnerable become even more vulnerable …”

“Ironically, the fact that we can communicate almost instantly with folks around the world, rather than drawing us closer together and making us a stronger, more caring society, has in many ways driven us farther apart – resulting in less face-to-face time with other human beings. … All of this tends to increase the focus that individuals have on themselves, leading us to become far less caring and compassionate about other people and their needs, and fueling the need many people seem to have to act out their negative feelings toward others in increasingly violent ways.”

During the awards presentation, Dr. Dana Robert, Truman Collins Professor of World Christianity and History of Mission at BUSTH, was asked to speak about Rev. Thompson, whom she called “a pioneer clergy woman.”

“As a pioneer clergy woman, she just served one small church after another in Maine and Vermont; that’s no easy task,” Robert said, adding that these were communities with great poverty and the challenge of long distances between people and services. “She really deserves our award just based on that.”

But it is Rev. Thompson’s work as what Dr. Robert called  “a people’s historian” that was the reason she was being recognized. Dr. Roberts defined “a people’s historian” as one who makes “history come alive in a real way that serves the church and the world.”

Robert spoke of Rev. Thompson’s dedication to telling the stories of people often left out of our written history, particularly women and people of color.

She credits Rev. Thompson, who serves as the Conference historian, with saving stained glass windows honoring the women who founded The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society (which would become the UMW) when the Tremont Street Church in Boston was turned into condominiums. Those windows now hang in the BUSTH Library.

Each of the honorees received a certificate and a medal.

Upon receiving her medal, Rev. Thompson said, “It’s something to be honored for doing something that you love – and that’s fun.”