Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice Kicks off with 'Working Together' Inaugural Event

Our April 10th reception featured guest of honor Barbara Wendland, who provided the gift to found the Vanderbilt Divinity School’s newest program. 

More than 100 people gathered Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at Vanderbilt Divinity School for its newest program’s inaugural event, “Working Together,” for the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice.

The Wendland-Cook Program seeks to investigate, educate, and organize individuals from all walks of life on issues of economic and ecological justice in conversation with other forms of oppression—racial, ethnic, gender, sexual and political.  

“When we say justice, what we’re really talking about is building the community,” remarked Joerg Rieger, Founding Director of Wendland-Cook Program and Distinguished Professor of Theology and Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair of Wesleyan Studies, at the event. “Justice is more than a lot of things that we often connect with this term. It is building relationships, it’s getting involved, it’s transforming the status quo…. We’re not a new program that’s trying to do something completely different,” Rieger continued, “but we’re in so many ways working together with everybody.” 

Guest of honor Barbara Cook Wendland, from Temple, Texas, gave remarks about her passion for progressive Christianity and her husband’s and family’s legacy to “invest in people, not buildings,” which led to the foundational gift needed to fund this program.

“I’m delighted to be part of what the church does in other ways including programs like this one,” Wendland said. “It’s an honor for me to be part of it…. The people really responsible for this gift being possible to begin with are my parents Joe and Louise Cook…. The other person that I’m indebted to for making this possible is my husband, Erroll Wendland, who died not quite a year ago…. Certainly, if he had been here today he would have been just as happy as I am.”

 Marcus Trammell, Associate Director of Wendland-Cook Program, welcomed colleagues representative of various industries and disciplines gathered at the event to speak, including:

  • Emilie Townes (via video), Dean of the Divinity School, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society

  • Melissa Snarr, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Ethics and Society

  • Stacey Floyd-Thomas, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Ethics and Society Associate Professor of Ethics and Society

  • Benny Overton, Co-Founder of the Southeast Center for Cooperative Development

  • And Vonda McDaniel, President, Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee

In addition to representatives from the various schools and departments within Vanderbilt University, leaders from faith, politics, business, and labor union communities were present. “I think this is the way forward,” Rieger said. “And it’s happening here.”

Students Latasha Mitchell, Jocelyn Boulware, and Angela Dillon performed reflective readings throughout the evening’s program, and Eric Holness and Lauryn Peacock ended the reception with the song “Promised Land/We Work for Justice Now.”

In his closing remarks, Trammell reminded attendees that “tonight we celebrate this gift, this program, this opportunity, but tomorrow we get up and go back to work, and we’re going to do it together.”

View photographs from the evening’s events here!