Remembering the Rev. Dr. G. Daniel Jones and his Contributions to Theological Education
The Rev. Dr. G. Daniel Jones talking about the UTI in 2010.
When the Rev. Dr. G. Daniel Jones decided more than 30 years ago to move on from a nine-year call in Portsmouth, Virginia, a neighboring Lutheran pastor advised him that “his” seminary was “just down the street” from the congregation Jones would be serving — Grace Baptist Church of Germantown, a congregation of the American Baptist Churches.
“Upon arriving in Philadelphia, I discovered the Krauth Memorial Library at the seminary and took out 10 to 12 books a week to do my sermon preparation,” Jones recalled during a 2010 interview at Grace Church. He added that he found the library’s immense theological collection a treasure. Those library visits began an enduring 33-year affiliation with the seminary that in turn made him a treasure to the school he came to love, all while shepherding a growing nearby parish. His Philadelphia journey included renewing a friendship with the Rev. Dr. Andrew Willis, co-founder of the Urban Theological Institute (UTI). The two men were student colleagues while matriculating at Virginia Union University.
Dr. Jones died May 27, 2015, seven months to the day after the death of his wife, Geraldine Saunders Jones, but the legacy of his many contributions to UTI and The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) lives on. (Professionally, Geraldine Saunders Jones served during her career as a manager for Action Aids of Philadelphia before she retired.)
Dr. Jones was a vigorous and tireless advocate for many causes, besides theological education, often expressing his thoughts and ideas in a soft-spoken way and with a gracious demeanor.
Jones, who always acknowledged UTI as a “significant part of the relevance of the seminary,” recalled in 2010 being among “the initial group” of community pastors invited to host events for the annual Preaching with Power initiative, which has for more than three decades invited noted African American pastors to preach in neighborhood congregations. The preaching services are followed by the guest preachers offering an informal “afterglow” conversation at the hosting church.
The first preacher at Grace Church for Preaching with Power was the legendary Samuel DeWitt Proctor, the noted civil rights activist who was a mentor to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I was hooked after that,” Jones said in the 2010 interview, and Grace Church has been a host site ever since.
Jones recalled numerous “aha moments” in reflecting on his many years of service to the seminary. One such moment was when he decided to become “a supportive neighboring pastor.” Another moment was when he became an adjunct professor at LTSP, teaching both Christian Education and Church Administration, the latter subject taught by him as the first professor to instruct in a newly inaugurated UTI certificate program at the school. His teaching experience, sometimes with a culturally diverse student audience, “broadened me and I think broadened the experience of the students as well.” He was known in the classroom for both his teaching acumen and for providing a pastoral presence for seminarians.
Yet another moment took place, he said, “when I began to see students I had taught graduate.” He fondly recalled the first time he was asked to preach during an LTSP chapel service, during which he was able to bring “an understanding of the Black Baptist tradition” to his sermon. Another highlight included serving on the search committee that brought in the Rev. Dr. Quintin Robertson, the current director of the UTI initiative. (Robertson is also serving as interim pastor at Grace, a post he has held since Jones’s 2013 retirement from Grace’s pulpit.)
Additional high points? He was gratified when the seminary created the Jeremiah A. Wright, Sr. Chair in African American Studies, named for his predecessor, who served Grace Church for 42 years. During a 2010 Preaching with Power evening at Grace, Jones prophesied that the Rev. Dr. Wayne Croft, Sr., who was in the audience at the time, would become the holder of the chair. And that prophecy came to pass when Croft joined the LTSP faculty a year later.
“When a prophet’s words come true, you know they are from God,” said the Rev. Dr. Philip Krey, seminary president at the time.
Jones’s contributions included serving seven years (2003-2010) as chair of the Urban Theological Institute Committee of Advisors (UTICA), of which he was a long-time member. He oversaw the committee during a transitional time. During his term, the Rev. Dr. Randolph Jones, UTI co-founder with Willis, died. When Jones turned leadership over to the Rev. Dr. William Moore in 2010, he went on to co-chair plans to celebrate UTI’s 30th anniversary. Jones was honored with the title “Chair Emeritus” of UTICA.
Of the UTI program, Jones said in 2010 that the initiative had “broken through the myth” that creating a program enabling students to study part time would be inferior to that of full-time study. “It was a basic change in concept,” he said. Most UTI students study while working in some capacity, or while serving as congregational pastors desiring to improve their credentials through a course of study at an accredited institution.
Of challenges to the modern church, Jones, who shepherded a growing congregation with some 40 ministries and the construction of a building addition, noted that, “The world is questioning the relevance of mainline denominations. Relevance has nothing to do with a church’s size. The church has relevance because Jesus Christ is relevant.” He called the church overall the largest and oldest intergenerational institution in society. “The church enables people to cope,” he said. “It increases personhood, character, and faith. The counseling it offers inspires hope.” Part of the church’s inspiration, he noted, is that through the grace of God persons continue to be called into ministry with the assistance of schools like LTSP.
After his graduation from Virginia Union, Jones went on to seminary. He studied at Andover Newton Theological School, and earned his doctorate from Howard University Divinity School. Virginia Union conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Divinity. In May 2011, LTSP likewise conferred on him an honorary doctorate, saying that he “received that honor gladly.”
Beyond his service to the seminary and congregation, examples of his service truly abound. Among them, in 1996 he was installed as Moderator of the oldest Baptist association in the U.S., the Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA). He has served as the national president of the 6,100-member Ministers Council of the American Baptist Churches, and was founding president of two local councils — ABC of the South and ABC of Metropolitan Philadelphia (PBA). He served as vice-president for the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia and was a past chair for the Education Committee of African American Interdenominational Ministries, formerly Black Clergy, Inc. He was a 33rd degree Mason, and served as Grand Chaplain of the Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. He contributed articles to many publications.
Pastor Jones is survived by a son, Bryant D. Jones, a graduate of Morehouse College, who also earned his MBA from Drexel University.
Reflections on the life and contributions of Pastor G. Daniel Jones
From the Rev. Dr. Andrew Willis, co-founder of UTI:
“When we were students at Virginia Union University, we often exchanged points of view on theology, but never lost respect for each other. We just held our ground on our own personal convictions. In Philadelphia, where we were reunited years later, he learned of UTI and became committed to its mission. He contributed much to UTI, and his ministry at Grace Baptist became a model for ministry. His dedication and commitment to the expansion of UTI have contributed so much to the ongoing success of the program. A friendship that started years ago has contributed much to the enrichment of a dream that came to fruition and is alive today at LTSP.”
From the Rev. Dr. William B. Moore, pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, Philadelphia, and current UTICA chair:
“Dan Jones was a unique person and a priceless gift to the Body of Christ. He had broad interests across many sectors of our city, state, region, and nation. His influence was felt among the clergy, political circles, and social life in every way. His impact on the UTI program was noteworthy. His leadership gave great value and impact to those who went through the program. It enabled them to serve effectively and efficiently in their places of ministry. I worked closely with him for 28 years, giving leadership to the City Wide Revival of Philadelphia and Vicinity. Dan has cast a large shadow and will be sorely missed.”
From the Rev. Dr. Quintin Robertson, UTI Director and Interim Pastor of Grace Church:
“Dr. Jones invited me to serve as toastmaster for his retirement banquet. I was overwhelmed that a distinguished father in the faith would invite me to serve in that way. Over the past 18 months, I have learned so much from Dr. Jones. Every sermon and eulogy I heard from him was like catching nuggets of gold. My heart is heavy with grief at this moment, but I am also filled with joyful gratitude that my life and ministry was blessed by the life and ministry of G. Daniel Jones.”
From the Rev. Dr. Philip D.W. Krey, recent past president of LTSP:
“The Rev. G. Daniel Jones was a long-standing and faithful friend to LTSP. He was the chair of UTICA when Dr. Randolph Jones died and led the program through a very challenging transition. His patience and pastoral attention to everyone’s concerns during that very anxious period was essential to the successful changes that were made. His theology and skill in raising money for the church and the seminary was spectacular. He was always proud that his beloved Grace Baptist Church inaugurated the annual Preaching with Power Series and always greeted the LTSP community attending those events with great warmth.”
From current LTSP president the Rev. Dr. David Lose:
“Pastor Jones exhibited a rare combination of strength and grace. He was a remarkably strong and faithful Christian leader, and at the same time always unfailingly gracious. When you were with him, you felt like you were in a presence of someone filled by the Holy Spirit. He was a tireless advocate of theological education and a vigorous supporter of UTI at LTSP. He helped to shape that program and left his salutary mark on the whole school.”
Read more about Dr. Jones