NAAL 2020 Annual Meeting: Notable Moments and a First in Atlanta

Worshipers during the Opening Rite on Thursday evening, January 2nd. Gennifer Brooks (front left) prepares to give the Vice-Presidential Address.

The North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL) held its Annual Meeting on January 2nd – 5th at the Sheraton Downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The event served as the climax of my year’s service as President.

The fundamental purpose of the Annual Meeting is for members and visitors to work in some twenty-one seminars for substantial portions of two full days. Some of the seminars reach back four decades to the founding years of the Academy (e.g., Liturgical Theology, Environment and Art, Issues in Medieval Liturgy), while others are newer experiments or short-term projects (e.g., Liturgy and Comparative Theology, Seminar on the Way: Liturgical Perspectives on the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue).

This year the executive committee and I decided to revive the occasional custom whereby we as an Academy together make an outing to a local site of particular interest and relevance to our mission, work, and fellowship together. In light of our Academy’s recent efforts to discuss and advance Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (the title of a new standing committee), we considered our location this year in Atlanta to be fortuitous. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and, within its boundaries, Our Lady of Lourdes (the “Mother Church of African-American Catholicism in Atlanta”) were situated just a couple minutes’ bus ride from our hotel.

A majority of the Annual Meeting participants shook off recurring late-morning rain showers to tour such sites of the MLK Jr. Park as Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the extensive exhibits in the Visitors Center and Freedom Hall, and the tomb of Dr. and Mrs. King. Noontime worship was offered in the Black Roman Catholic tradition at Our Lady of Lourdes, followed by box lunches in the parish hall. Members joined some of the Academy leadership in distributing hundreds of box lunches to people on the streets in the neighborhood.

Robert Daly, S.J., a senior member and former, long-time convener of the Eucharistic Prayer seminar, visiting the tomb of Dr. and Mrs. King

The official worship at the NAAL Annual Meeting (inter-religious in character) is comprised of an Opening Rite, which includes remembrance of recently deceased members (this year numbering six). A Book of the Dead, along with candles lighted during the worship service, remains prominent in the main meeting space throughout the ensuing couple days. The other official worship takes the form of an extensive sung Table Prayer at the Concluding Banquet.

The Annual Meeting typically includes two or three other occasions of worship offered by particular religious bodies among the membership. In addition to the Midday Prayer on Friday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, United Methodists led Morning Prayer on Saturday (left), while Jewish members conducted a Havdalah service later that day, after sundown.

A Highlight of the Annual Meeting is the Concluding Banquet, at which the Academy bestows on one of its outstanding members the Berakah Award. This year’s honoree, Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS, delivered the customary response to the Award.

On the dais with Joyce Ann Zimmerman is Lisa Weaver (Columbia Theological Seminary), who introduced Joyce’s lecture.

The Banquet closed with my passing the gavel and leadership to Gennifer Brooks, Styberg Professor of Preaching at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, who became the first black scholar to assume the presidency of NAAL.

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