For Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley, choosing Episcopal as one of only 10 speaking engagements for the year was an easy decision. The 2022 Theologian-in-Residence is an associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, and serves as the Theologian-in-Residence at Progressive Baptist Church, a historically Black congregation in Chicago. A husband and father of four, he also is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. His writings have appeared in other respected publications, including The Atlantic, Washington Post, and Christianity Today.
With only a few travel commitments each year, McCaulley carefully researches each institution to safeguard his teaching and his time. “I check if the ethos of the school feels like it is inquisitive,” McCaulley said. “I ask myself: Do my passion and gifts fit with the institution’s inquisitiveness, and can what I say help them move forward?” After carefully reviewing the website, McCaulley said he felt confident the values of EHS aligned with his lectures, and he made The High School his first visit of 2023.
During his four days at Episcopal, McCaulley lectured in theology classes, preached a sermon during the annual MLK Vespers, taught a workshop for the School’s seventh annual MLK Symposium, and attended a dinner with students.
“My biggest takeaway from Rev. McCaulley was the emphasis he placed on loving the humanity of a person even if their actions are not the most admirable or loving,” Ava Foulk ’23, head of the Vestry, said. “He encouraged all of us through his sermon to change the world and actively pursue justice.”
McCaulley spent his week at The High School celebrating the life and legacy of one of his idols, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the annual MLK Symposium. Organized by the Office of Community & Equity (OCE), and the McCain-Ravenel Center (MRC), the symposium occurs every January on Martin Luther King Jr., Day and aims to bring together a variety of voices and perspectives to foster greater awareness of the role Dr. King played in the lives of all Americans. This year’s theme was Courage and the Beloved Community.
McCaulley applauded the efforts of the OCE, MRC, and all involved for doing “a good job of succinctly introducing the key teachings of King, which isn’t very easy. They avoided what I call the ‘Santa clausification’ of Dr. King, where he’s just this guy who says disconnected things about love and justice.”
One of McCaulley’s biggest takeaways from his visit was the caliber of Episcopal students. “They are earnest,” he told us. “They are comfortable expressing their opinions, and they’re more reflective than your average teenager.” Typically, McCaulley attends engagements in university settings, but was proud to make EHS his first high school visit. “When I’m invited to do high school youth events, I've always said ‘no’ because I felt like I didn't know how to talk in a way that teenagers would understand,” he said. “However, I’ve just spoken to the students here like I would speak to my college students. They’ve been able to engage at that level.”
McCaulley is already an author of three books: Sharing in the Son’s Inheritance, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, and Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit. Expected in September 2023, his new book, How Far to the Promised Land, details his journey of becoming a pastor and practicing ministry, while simultaneously explaining the struggles of growing up with an absent father and single mother. In this memoir, he also highlights the way to the promised land is not a trip from poverty to success, but the journey to finding beauty in the darkest places. He has confidence in Episcopal students to grasp this lesson from both his symposium workshop, “The Beloved Community: A Christian Perspective,” and his Vespers homily.
“I hope that the students were challenged by me to genuinely examine the teachings of Martin Luther King and how his own faith rarely led him to the most comfortable and easy path,” McCaulley stated. “He wasn’t perfect, but he didn't just think the right things, he embodied his beliefs in his actions, and that’s something everyone can do.”