To have the most impact in the world, Evelyn Parker believes, Christians must be a visible sign of love and justice. Since 1996, that conviction has spurred her involvement with the World Council of Churches (WCC).
“Churches that identify as Christian need to be visible in the world, in going about the business of being Christ in a world that has hurts and failures and places of despair,” she said. “With the presence of Christ, we can change and transform those situations.”
Parker, an active member of Kirkwood Temple CME Church in Dallas, serves as a representative of the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) denomination to the WCC. Recently, she returned from a conference in Rome, “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration,” where WCC and Vatican representatives gathered to discuss relevant issues and craft a public statement. The highlight: a chance to shake the hand of Pope Francis.
That’s just the latest in Parker’s WCC work, which spans more than two decades and a variety of positions and responsibilities. She represented the denomination in the WCC’s Faith and Order Plenary Commission from 1996 to 2006. At the council’s 9th Assembly in 2006 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Parker was elected to membership in the Central Committee, the WCC’s main decision-making body between assemblies. That term included stints as secretary/reporter for the Nominations Committee and on the Planning Committee for the 10th Assembly, which took place in Busan, South Korea in 2013. In 2014, she was elected to the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).
“The Commission represents member churches in places around the world where the church bears witness to injustice and despair,” said Parker. That has included work in South Korea, where she assisted in conversations between the north and south Korean councils of churches as they struggled to deal with political issues that have divided the peninsula for almost 70 years.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to do this ecumenical work,” Parker said. “It’s the natural thing if you want to be Christ present in the world where people are suffering.”
Research focus: Parker’s academic research focuses on religious identity and spiritual formation in African American adolescents as well as adolescents in sociopolitical movements and their understanding of vocation. Her work centers on two projects. One, a long-term study, tracks the experiences of ten black/white mixed-race young women and the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality in their spirituality. Her most recent project focuses on teen dating violence. “It is a health crisis in the USA and in South Africa, so I’m doing a comparative study,” she said.
Favorite Bible verse: Philippians 4:13: “I can do things all things through him who strengthens me.” That’s just a current favorite, however; says Parker: “I rotate them. I use Bible verses like mantras.”
Book on her nightstand: Home by Toni Morrison.
Fantasy dinner party guests: Michelle and Barack Obama; Parker’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jerry L. Christian of Kirkwood Temple CME and his wife, Mrs. Doretha Christian; and two members of her church that Parker envisions as lively dinner conversationalists: Mrs. Gwen Hill, 86, and her daughter, Ms. Cecilia Criner. Parker says she’d round out the guest list with students from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, an institution that inspires her to teach creatively. “We’d all talk about whatever the Booker T. youth want to talk about,” Parker said. “So many legends have emerged from Booker T., and I’ve seen some amazing talent there. I know they’d have great ideas for dinner conversation.”
Favorite travel destination: Places that have beaches.
Signature dish: While she’s not much of a cook, Parker makes a mean Blueberry Delight. “It’s like a cobbler,” she says.
Evelyn L. Parker, Ph.D., is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Susanna Wesley Centennial Professor of Practical Theology at Perkins School of Theology.