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Desmond Tutu Center to raise new generation of peacemakers, reconcilers


Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town opens new center at General Theological Seminary.

The Desmond Tutu Center, officially opened September 9 by the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Laureate for whom the center was named, begins a new chapter in the mission of General Theological Seminary (GTS), the Episcopal Church’s oldest theological institution.

“This center is hoping to nurture those who are going to be instruments of peace and reconciliation,” Tutu told more than 300 guests -- including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and actor Sam Waterston -- at the gala opening of the new educational conference center on the GTS campus in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

“We are all meant to dream dreams and see visions and this center is a sign of that dream we all have for a healed world,” Jefferts Schori said.

Repurposed from three of the seminary’s 19th century buildings by architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle, the center has been fully remodeled, utilizing the latest in communications technology.

With full conference facilities and 60 guest rooms, the center will be available to church groups, educational institutions and other non-profit organizations “at way below market price,” said the Very Rev. Ward Ewing, GTS’ dean.

Construction has also begun on what is perhaps the largest geothermal project in the Northeast -- converting the school’s heating-cooling system, now powered by fossil fuel, to a new energy-efficient geothermal system.

The center, Tutu said, will also focus on matters of interfaith relations, Christian spirituality and lifelong learning. “We need holy people,” he said. “We need people who have a still center; who are tools of serenity and have ripples of peace … reaching out to a world that is desperately hungry.”

While cutting the ribbon, two dozen white doves were released into the blue sky as a symbol of the peace-driven ministry the center represents. “This center is an offering for ministry to God, the church and the world,” Tutu said.

Preliminary conversations about the center, which began in 1999, concluded that GTS needed a facility that would enable more flexible education, Ewing said. The center was authorized in May 2003 and construction began in September 2005.

The new center would not have been possible without the backing of many donors, Ewing said, acknowledging support from Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Proctor Fund in Cincinnati, Ohio; the Porter family; and the GTS classes of 2005-2009 that raised more than $110,000.

Waterston, serving as honorary chairman of GTS’ capital campaign, has been instrumental in raising funds for the new $27 million center.

“Our hope is that the Desmond Tutu Center will become a place where people of all kinds come to learn how they can become part of the solution to the conflicts that divide us every day,” said Waterston, an Episcopalian who is known for his role as Executive A.D.A. Jack McCoy in the television drama “Law and Order.”

In introducing Tutu, Ewing said of the center: “We decided we wanted to name it for the one person who more than anyone else exemplifies deep spirituality and an intransient stand for justice in his own life.”

“At first glance Desmond Tutu’s work looks like that of a crazy idealist,” Waterston said. "Predicting the end of apartheid looked like lunacy in 1975 and proposing that enemies in the long race war can reconcile peacefully around telling the truth seemed like folly before 1995, until the outcomes began to come in.

“If this was the work of a crazy idealist then we need lots more of them, and that’s precisely what the Tutu Center is intended to do -- encourage them to come forward and provide them with a place to build up their rescuing work.”

Following the ribbon-cutting, the first annual Ubuntu Award Banquet was held in the newly renovated Hoffman Refectory. “The dinner celebrated both the completion of the Seminary’s most successful fundraising campaign and the creation of the Ubuntu Award which, beginning in 2008, will bestow a significant monetary prize on an individual whose life work furthers the causes of peace and justice,” a GTS news release said.

The Tutu Center’s inaugural conference, “Reconciliation at the Roundtable,” runs September 10-12. Keynote speakers include Tutu, Jefferts Schori and Professor Christopher Marshall of Victoria Wellington University in New Zealand.

An international roster of experts will join members of the GTS faculty in offering participants a choice of nearly 20 workshops during the three-day event.


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