By Gloria Taylor
PAUL NICHOLS (August 12, 1939-May 27, 1990) was an efficacious preacher, teacher, and community activist. He served as Dean and Associate Professor of Christian Education at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University. He was also a member of the executive committee of the Association of Theological Schools in the U. S. and Canada (ATS), president of the American Baptist Association of Seminary Administrators and chairman of the Eastern Commission on Ministry. He was the first African American to become Executive Director of National Ministries for American Baptist Churches USA. Nichols preached and lectured throughout the U. S. and in several foreign countries.
On Saturday, August 12, 1939, a nine pound 12 ounce boy was born in a house on Oak Street in Bowling Green, Kentucky. His parents, George Nichols, Sr. and Macy Earl Hurd Nichols agreed upon the name Paul for their fifth and last child. He grew up in a house, which his father built with his own hands at 803 Oak Street one block from his birthplace. Paul attended elementary school, junior, and senior high schools in Bowling Green, graduating from high school in May of 1957. He was active in his neighborhood church, the New Bethel Baptist Church. There he was baptized at the age of ten in October of 1949. He attended Sunday school regularly and became its superintendent by the time he was a senior in high school. Early signs of leadership were evidenced by the fact that Paul organized the boys of his church into a Royal Ambassadors Group and the youth of the church into a junior choir, with which he sang for several years. He was strongly influenced by his pastor, the late Reverend John Wesley Jones (B. Nichols, 1985).
Another early influence in Paul's life was the Reverend John Edward Jones, Sr., a prominent pastor in Bowling Green and father of Paul's closest friend. Dr. Jones had graduated from Virginia Union University and he urged Paul to enter that fine school, which he did. Paul matriculated at Virginia Union University in September of 1957. He returned to Bowling Green during the Christmas break that year and preached his initial sermon December 22, 1957, at New Bethel Church. He was granted a license to the Gospel ministry and nine months later was ordained by the same church (September 12, 1958). His ordination was based on a call to the Second Mt. Calvary Baptist Church of Bowling Green, Virginia (Caroline County), which he served for less than two years (B. Nichols, 1985).
Paul Nichols became assistant pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Richmond under the pastorate of the late Reverend Andrew David Smith on February 1, 1959. Sixteen months later he was named pastor of the congregation with the retirement of Reverend Smith on June 1, 1960 (B. Nichols, 1985).
Nichols continued his education and graduated from Virginia Union University in June of 1961 with a bachelor's degree in sociology. He immediately entered the School of Theology at Virginia Union University and obtained from there the Master of Divinity degree in May of 1964. Six months later he married the former Brenda Coles Dabney of Richmond, Virginia. The informal wedding took place at Good Shepherd on December 26, 1964, with the Reverend Miles J. Jones officiating (B. Nichols, 1985).
The couple lived in the parsonage at 1500 North 30th Street, which the congregation had built in early 1963. In July of 1977, the family moved into their own home on Moss Side Avenue. Paul and Brenda Nichols were blessed with four healthy and beautiful children - Colita Nichols Fairfax (Anthony), Kimberly Nichols McKissick (Rudolph Jr.), Camilla Dawn, and Paul Brandon DuBois. Paul felt that his ministry had been enhanced by the love of a devoted wife, who was a partner in the worship life of the congregation through her ministry of music. His children likewise, were a source of sheer joy as he was privileged to participate in their experiences as growing persons (B. Nichols, 1985).
Paul had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. In 1965 he took additional clinical training at Medical College of Virginia Hospital, and in 1967 received a master's degree in Christian education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. Crowning his formal academic pursuit was the awarding of the doctorate in 1976 by the American University of Washington, D. C., through a joint program with Wesley Theological Seminary (B. Nichols, 1985).
Paul's father, George Nichols Sr. died in December of 1971. His mother, Macy Earl Nichols, died in July 1979. His brothers, George Nichols, Jr. and the Reverend Zachariah Nichols live in Bowling Green, Kentucky with their families. His sister, Mrs. Dorothy Mae Sellers lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her family. His brother, Silas, died July 8, 1984 (B. Nichols, 1985).
Paul was a campus minister and teacher at Virginia Union University, 1968-1969, a lecturer at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, 1972-1974, and associate professor of Christian education at The School of Theology at Virginia Union University (STVU). In August of 1974, Dr. Nichols was appointed interim dean at the School of Theology by then president, Dr. Allix B. James. This was a part-time position. In January of 1976, Dr. Nichols assumed the full-time position of dean of STVU. At the same time he was named senior pastor of Good Shepherd, a part-time position. He resigned as dean on June 30, 1982, and returned to his beloved Good Shepherd Church as full-time pastor (B. Nichols, 1985).
The year 1982 also marked the move of the Good Shepherd congregation into an ultra-modern, spacious and beautiful new church building, across the intersection from the old church building. At that time, the facility was the most costly building ever erected by a black congregation in the City of Richmond. The congregation experienced spiritual growth, numerical growth, financial growth, and an ever expanding ministry to its membership, the larger community, and the world (B. Nichols, 1985).
Nichols was a servant of his community. Wherever he was, he was tapped for leadership. While serving as dean at STVU, he was named to the Executive Committee of the Association of Theological Schools in the U. S. and Canada (ATS). He became President of the American Baptist Association of Seminary Administrators and chairman of the Eastern Commission on Ministry. In that latter responsibility he was a member of the National Commission on the Ministry of the American Baptist Churches. He served as vice president of the National Minister's Council of the American Baptist Churches, USA. He also served on the planning committee for World Youth Congress of the Baptist World alliance and was a member of the World Youth Committee. His peers elected him as president of the Richmond Area Clergy Association (1974-75), as co-convener of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Dialogue group, vice president of the Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care (1984-85), president of the Richmond chaplaincy Service, vice president of the Baptist Ministers' Conference of Richmond and vicinity (1968-69), president of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (1985-87) and chairman of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (1983-85).
Other boards and organizations Paul served on are: St. Joseph's Villa Housing Corporation (Secretary 1988-89); The Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, American Baptist Churches, USA; The Board of Educational Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA; Member, The General Board, American Baptist Churches, USA; Executive committee, National Ministers Council, ABC (USA Vice President 1983-87); Richmond Committee of Black Clergy; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Life Member); National Association of Housing and Development Officials; Virginia Association of Housing and Community Development Officials; Committee on Christian Unity, American Baptist Churches; Steering Committee, Youth Ministry and Theological Schools Project Lilly Endowment and Union Theological Seminary; Board of Trustees, Presbyterian School of Christian Education; Advocate for Recruitment into Ministry, Commission on the Ministry, American Baptist Churches, USA; Chairman, Discipleship Resources Planning Team, ABC,USA 1988; Long Range Strategic and Financial Planning Committee, City of Richmond; Commission on Educational Strategy and Planning, Assoc. of Theological Schools; Interim Eucharistic Fellowship of Richmond; Society for the Study of Black Religion; Founding Committee, Richmond Urban Institute; Board of Directors, Richmond Area Mental Health Association (1966-67); Board of Control, Richmond Area Safety Council; Special Education Advisory Committee, Richmond Public Schools; Citizen's Panel on School Assignment, Richmond Public Schools; Mayor's Committee to Select New City Manager (1978); Church Hill Area Model Neighborhood Program Board; Mayor's Committee to Study Matters Pertinent to the Elderly (1975); Program Committees to Plan Baptist World Congresses held in Manila, the Philippines and Buenos Aires, Argentina and 1978 and 1984; Committee on Underrepresented Constituencies, ATS; Eastern Commission on the Ministry, ABC, USA, chairman (1981-83); Advisory Committee, Program of Patient Counseling, Medical College of VA, VCU; Delegate to the Baptist World Alliance, Stockholm, Sweden and Los Angeles, CA; General Board of Baptist General Convention; Church Hill Area Revitalization Team (CHART); Board of Professional Counselors (by appointment of Governor of Virginia); American Association of State Counseling Boards; and Executive Committee, The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (B. Nichols, 1985; Who's Who among Black Americans, 2nd - 9th eds.).
Paul received a letter, dated November 30, 1983, from Paul Trible, the United States Senator from Virginia, thanking him for sharing his support for the establishment of a national holiday to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (B. Nichols, 1985).
On October 2, 1989, Paul became the Executive Director of the American Baptist Churches' Board of National Ministries. He was named head of the domestic missionary agency of the 1.6 million-member American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. As executive director of the denomination's Board of National Ministries, Nichols was the highest-ranking black official in the church [within ABC USA] (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1989). As head of the program, Dr. Nichols supervised more than 200 employees and missionaries. He began work at the headquarter of National Ministries in Valley Forge, Pa., but only served a short time before his untimely death on May 27, 1990 (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1990).
Nichols has been included in several biographies, including: Who's Who in Religion, Dictionary of International Biography, Who's Who Among Black Americans, Outstanding Personalities of the South, and Notable Americans. The writings of Dr. Nichols have appeared in such publications as The Journal for Theological Education, The Richmond News-Leader, The Richmond Journal of Oral History, The Baptist Leader, and the book, Changing patterns of religious education (B. Nichols, 1985).
His tenacity toward helping the church see Christian Education as the foundation of ministry throughout the church was demonstrated in his many roles of leadership. He was the fulcrum of a pragmatic approach to a Christian education curriculum for adolescents in the Black church that reflected the black experience. Nichols was considered a man beyond his time not only because of his passion for Christian education and his concern for culturally sensitive Christian education materials for Black youth, but also because of his staunch support of women in the ministry. Also, in serving his community, Paul kept a watchful eye and was an outspoken voice for the voiceless on the abuse of power in city politics. He gave guidance to, provided opportunities for training and field work, and ordained women as well as men in the ministry. Paul Nichols was a teacher of teachers, a leader of leaders, a man of great faith and God's dedicated servant.
Contributions to Christian Education
Paul Nichols used his experience as an educator, pastor, preacher/lecturer, and administrator to (as he states in an article in The American Baptist) "proclaim the Gospel in new and effective ways that are relevant to this time" and to respond to human needs that change from one decade to another." The praxis of Christian education flowed from his leadership abilities as an educator, pastor, and administrator to the community at large. Through Christian education, he influenced the academic and ecclesiastical environment to take theology from the pulpit to the pew to the community.
Because of his assiduous leadership during his deanship at STVU, the school experienced unprecedented growth, both in numbers of students and varieties of program offering. Paul was a gifted and passionate teacher. He could marry theology and contemporary issues viewed from the Black perspective that would have an everlasting impact on his students, empowering them with the knowledge and importance of instituting Christian education in the church.
The amalgamation of his vision and leadership, and his concern for education and for preparing leaders in the Christian church preceded his participation as one of the architects of the Education for Leadership in the Black Church (presently known as Evans-Smith Leadership Training Institute) and Non Traditional Hours (NTH) programs at The School of Theology at VUU. The purpose of the Evans-Smith Leadership Training Institute is to assist African American churches in Virginia in their efforts to supply informed and trained local leaders for various church ministries. According to Dr. John Kinney, this program was designed to provide an introduction of theological education for people not having previous college education. It started at one site - School of Theology at Virginia Union University - providing four classes. Since it's beginning, it has grown to thirteen sites across Virginia providing a full scope of classes (personal phone conversation, May 27, 2005).
The NTH program was designed to provide for interested individuals an opportunity to pursue a Master of Divinity degree at other than regular hours - during the weekends - Friday evening (6:30 to 10:30 p.m.) and Saturday morning (8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). Kinney also noted that the program has grown from offering two classes â€“ Biblical studies and homiletics to over sixty graduate classes. The NTH program is a critical aspect of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology (personal phone conversation, May 27, 2005).
Paul's dissertation reflected his ongoing passion for Christian education curriculum materials that would address the spiritual, cultural, and social needs of Black youth. It illuminated and challenged the culturally circumscribed Christian education curriculum material to engender sensitivity of the black experience. The dissertation was titled "The Extent to which Christian education Curriculum Materials, which were used with Adolescents in Black Baptist Churches of Richmond, Virginia, between 1969 and 1973, reflect the black experience?" He addressed four sub problems. First, what is the black experience in American as perceived and expressed by selected writers and scholars? Second, to what extent does stated objectives of Christian education for adolescents facilitate concern for the unique experience of adolescents? Third, to what extent have curriculum materials, which were used with adolescents in churches selected for this study, between 1969 and 1973, referred to the black experience, i.e., black persons, their writings, music, or poetry, as well as their negative experience because of their color? Fourth, how did Black adolescents and their teachers, who were involved in Christian education in the Sunday schools of the selected churches, between 1969 and 1973, perceive the curriculum materials used as relating to the black experience (Nichols, 1976)?
His summary of findings included first, the experience of black people in America has been largely a negative experience, due to the treatment accorded them because of their color. Which has been shown in several ways: (a) in slavery, which came to be based upon color, and in Jim Crow laws, which were established to enforce the separation of the races (b) in the attitude of public education toward blacks, and in the treatment of blacks in textbooks used in public schools (c) in the acquiescence of the white church to racism and in the interpretation given to the Christian faith, which supported the myth of white supremacy. Second, the objectives on which Christian education curriculum materials are built have paid special attention to the needs of adolescents. They do facilitate that same kind of special attention for minority adolescents or for any group of persons with special needs and concerns. In short, the objectives of Christian education facilitate knowing oneself and the meaning of one's human experience, which for black adolescents includes the black experience. Third, curriculum materials, which were used with adolescents in black Baptist churches in Richmond, Virginia, between 1969 and 1973, have not contained frequent references to the black experience, to say nothing of the relevance of those references. Fourth, a sample of black adolescents and a sample of teachers of adolescents in black Baptist churches of Richmond, Virginia, revealed that 72 percent of the adolescents and 85 percent of the teachers perceived the curriculum materials to have been inadequate in terms of the frequency with which they contained references to the black experience (Nichols, 1976).
Paul concludes "that the issue is not whether or not any conscious effort is being made by Christian educators to perpetuate the myth of racism. The issue now is whether they will vigorously seek to reverse the effects of that myth. If this is to be done, then Christian education must have at its disposal materials, which consciously and frequently deal with the black experience. This must happen with respect to Christian education for and with black persons. It would happen with great benefit with respect to Christian education for white Christians as well" (Nichols, 1976).
From his analysis, Paul proposed several recommendations. First, he recommends that a definitive study be made of the impact of Christian education on the self-image of the black adolescent. Such a study would seek to discover the extent to which what happens in a Sunday school class has any impact upon the black adolescent's self-understanding as a black person. Second he recommends that a study be made of the quality of references to the black experience. Third he recommends that a study similar to this one be repeated, making sure that a larger sample of teenagers is used. Fourth he recommends a study of curriculum material of the present in comparison to say, 10 years ago. This might suggest a more stable trend than the 5 year period of this study. Finally, he recommends that developers and publishers create curriculum materials that address and reflect the black experience. Even though the focus of his dissertation was the black youth, including the black experience in Christian educational curriculum material would be beneficial to other cultures as well (Nichols, 1976).
Nichols firm belief in the need for culturally specific curriculum resources is reiterated in his later article, "Blacks and the religious education movement" (Nichols, 1984). Nichols highlighted three issues that he believed were crucial for Christian education that is relevant to black people. These were: (1) the extent to which black persons are assisted in developing an appropriate self-image through the use of education curriculum material; (2) the matter of symbolism in Christian education for blacks and (3) the theology which informs Christian education, saying it should be relevant to the experience of the learner, thus black liberation theology was a logical choice, even though, he admitted, it might not be adequate to cover all areas of a well-rounded curriculum of Christian education.
Nichols stressed the need for Christian education "to provide self-authentication to black Christians, just as it is expected to do for others." He noted that this specialty does not mean better than or inferior to others. Rather it speaks of particularity, a difference born of the unique experience through which blacks have passed. Said Nichols, "this will happen only when Christian education for blacks takes blacks seriously into account" (Taylor, 1984).
His pragmatic approach toward helping the church see Christian education as the foundation of ministry throughout the church was demonstrated in his many roles of leadership as well as educating and nurturing his congregation toward transforming lives throughout the community. Through education and the teaching ministry, he created ministries and resources for ministry to assist the church to proclaim the Gospel and minister to those in need.
Nichols believed strongly in the teaching ministry of well-trained laypersons; therefore, every Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., he led all the church school teachers in Bible study in preparation for the Sunday morning church school lesson. According to Nichols, "The teaching ministry of the church undergirds every other aspect of its ministry. Worship takes on meaning and reasonableness because of the ministry of teaching." Because God has been so good to us, we should respond to his goodness. Not only are the members encouraged and taught to be good stewards of their money, but they were also admonished to give of their time and talents to the furthering of the mission of the church. Nichols often humorously says "We (the church) shall not go back to Egypt" meaning that the church members will continue to tithe and give extra rather than resort to fund-raising activities to finance the church and its mission (B. Nichols, 1985).
He felt that an important part of a pastor's ministry is counseling and listening to the hurt, pain, frustration and confusion of the congregation. He helped them to look to God for help and sustaining power in the time of crisis. Pastor Nichols was often being heard saying, "We struggle together to make sense of our faith." All facets of a Christian's life should be impacted by the "Christian walk." He encouraged the members to take the name of Jesus with them in their everyday lives. He fervently admonished Christians to let their lights shine across the factory bench, on the schoolyard, in the bowling alley and in the teachers' lounge (B. Nichols, 1985).
Nichols was acutely aware of the importance of the family to the very fabric of our way of life; therefore, he initiated the annual observance of May as Family Month throughout the church. During this month, sermons are preached that taught on different aspects of the family life and various activities and programs are planned to bring family members together to worship, learn and play. Each organization of the church plans programs and activities centered on the family. The calendar for Family Month included the following: Family Worship Day, Family Night Dinner, Children's Day and Dedication of Infants, Dinner for Senior Citizens, Senior Citizens Day and Family Field Day. The family month activities not only brought families together in Christian love and activity, but they also rejuvenate the spirit of togetherness of the church family allowing members to get to know each other and new members in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere (B. Nichols, 1985).
Ever aware of and concerned about human need and suffering, Nichols initiated as well as endorsed out-reach ministries soon after becoming pastor. All of these ministries were available to any member of the community who wanted to take part. Under his leadership generous contributions are made to numerous organizations that work for human uplift (B. Nichols, 1985).
Among the earliest out-reach ministries were the boy and girl scouts organization of exposing fine character, leadership and survival skills to the Youth in the church and community and the Senior center which provided a wide range of activities for senior citizens ranging from prayer and Bible study to field trips and arts and crafts. His altruistic commitment to the community was reflected in the ever growing out-reach ministries which included the emergency relief fund, soup kitchen, food shelf, clothes closet, and ministering to the incarcerated (B. Nichols, 1985).
Nichols was also instrumental in having a branch of Virginia Institute Pastoral Care, which provided counseling for those with emotional problems or stressful situations, housed in the Good Shepherd Community Center (B. Nichols, 1985).
Family, colleagues and friends, including Reginald Green, Rudolph McKissick Jr., Walter Parrish, and Mary Young readily acknowledge his significant influence on their life and his pragmatic approach to Christian education.
Rev. Rudolph McKissick Jr. states that Dr. Paul Nichols was one of the most renowned, respected and reverenced Christian Educators of our time. The genius of Dr. Nichols was that he could not be categorized by or confined into one area or discipline of Christian education. He was not an educator for the Black church, but was an educator whose ideals and philosophies concerning education were used and are usable in any genre of church life as well as any race or denominational affiliation. Not only did Dr. Nichols take seriously the pedagogical obligation of the church, but also Dr. Nichols had a concern for the way one thought about God and the Kingdom as it related to your every day faith. Dr. Nichols believed that it was not just the job of an educator to deposit knowledge into the heads of people but that it was an equal task to make sure persons understood rightly the activity of God as it related to human affairs. For him theology and its praxis was education. You were not educated simply because you knew more. In the mind of Dr. Nichols you had become "educated" when you could articulate your understanding of the faith and then apply it to your life and model it in your community and in the church. The greatest example of this was not the students that he taught but the people that he pastured. Dr. Nichols took a church that was not filled predominantly with persons of higher educational experience and taught them how to think their way through their faith. He turned the Good Shepherd Baptist Church into a model church filled with persons who could teach the faith as well as articulate the faith. To me, that was his legacy and his genius. (personal letter, May 31, 2005)
Rev. Reginald Green states that Nichols' ability to preach was tremendous and he was a great speaker. He had the ability to inspire those who listened and to teach those he instructed with clarity. He also taught students how to take the theory of ministry from the academic environment to practical use in the community. He had a holistic approach to ministry in that he modeled Jesus' team approach to a pilgrimage of faith. He gathered people together, taught them, worked with them, and used their flaws to transform the world (personal phone conversation, May 11, 2005).
Dr. Walter Parrish states that Paul Nichols was a unique and larger than life person. His passionate zeal for made him ahead of his time in helping the church see as a maypole where all ministries in the church should not be regulated to compartmentalization. Everything was Christian education, not just teaching it but also living it out. Christian education was empowering because it becomes an integral part of your lifestyle and relationships with others. He was a gentle scholar, humanitarian, teacher and preacher par excellent. Students left his classes like an 'ink blotter' that would absorb everything so that the richness of his teachings could be exposed in order to carry on his legacy. He was history in action. His colleagues still cherish his legacy and spirit (personal phone conversation, May 11, 2005).
Rev. Mary Young says that during her field education assignment with Nichols, she was exposed to every single aspect of the church's ministry and participated in funerals and administration of the Communion long before ordination. He made me feel that I could do anything. Dr. Nichols modeled for me the essence of "excellence in ministry". So much of what I know about ministry and how I conduct myself as a ministry practitioner is due to my experiences with him as a father in the ministry. As a father would nurture a child, he nurtured me in my growth and development as a preacher, teacher and leader. I continue to be blessed by the legacy that Paul Nichols, my father in ministry, left behind (personal letter, May 20, 2005).
Fifty years is a short life by today's standards, but in that short span of time Paul Nichols was able to make an indelible impact on the church, his community, and the world at large through his passion and dedication of Christian education. In his short life, he demonstrated how Christian education was not only the foundation of ministry throughout the church, but how Christian education can be used as a vehicle to transform lives, strengthen faith, and encourage leadership in the church as well as the community.
Persons influenced by Paul Nichols
Jerome C. Ross, PH.D., Associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew
In considering seminaries, I first met Dr. Paul Nichols, then dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union University (STVU), who impressed me with a practical policy/standard about STVU: there are no covenant statements; students are free to pursue what they believe. This academic freedom in the pursuit of spirituality was a determining factor in my decision to attend STVU. During my first year at STVU (1975-1976), Paul Nichols taught me Introduction to Christian Education (Spring 1976) and Urban Term (January 1976). Most outstanding about Paul Nichols is his unapologetic self-affirmationâ€”he was "black" and proud. He did not compromise who he was! This feature of his person is the most outstanding impression that he made upon STVU. Paul Nichols was instrumental in molding the very character/personality of STVU.
The freedom to study and believe and self-affirmation were reinforced in my life by Paul Nichols and have materialized in my own pilgrimage. I was encouraged by Paul Nichols to pursue education as ministry. I held some intentions (while in seminary) of being a Director of Christian Education, but my life-long thirst to understand the Bible resumed priority and took over. Paul Nichols contributed significantly to that decision. The long-range effect of Paul Nichols' impact is my doctoral study in Hebrew Bible and my return to STVU as professor, thus filling a need, a gap, a vacancy of blacks in Biblical Studies. Under the influence of Nichols, my passion to understand the Bible beyond the 'color glasses' of the newly-emerging Black Theology movement, was primed. Indeed, the tenacity that Paul Nichols demonstrated in education became my own; I studied over an extensive period of time being self-motivated to achieve my degree, to learn at a higher level, and to pursue standards of excellence that are embraced by others yet set by God. At a deep level I embody at least a portion of Paul Nichols' spirit!
Rudolph W. McKissick, Senior Pastor, Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Jacksonville, Florida
As one begins to think about Dr. Paul Nichols and the lessons of Christian Education that he taught to us at Virginia Union School of Theology, there are several ways in which his teachings have been implemented in my pastoral ministry.
If one knew Dr. Nichols you knew that he took very seriously the impact that improper contextual and cultural bias concerning the bible had on us as a people. He was very intentional in showing us the negative theological implications of things as small as words in a hymn. One perfect example was in the hymn "Nothing But The Blood of Jesus". There is a line in the chorus that says "oh precious is the flow that makes me white as snow". Dr. Nichols would emphasize that the word "white" had long been used to describe the aspiration that every one ought to have in all things, while "black" was always used to describe and characterize anything that had been negative. The concept according to Dr. Nichols was not to be "white" but to be "pure". In my church this has become a part of my teaching when it comes to music. Words that do not convey the proper theological desire, but are in fact oppressive in nature are changed to more accurate words to describe the proper theological concept being put forth. If a song says "man" or "men" but is not gender specific in its concept, we change it to "people" or "persons" to convey proper theological thought. This implementation in my ministry was a result of Dr. Nichols' teaching.
Another aspect of his teaching was making sure that all educational material taught the church was sound theologically, and in particular in line with liberation theology. His favorite book concerning education from a liberation theology perspective was entitled Pedagogy of the oppressed, by Paulo Freire. In my church it has become required reading for anyone who desires to teach in any capacity in the church. To that end teacher training has also been implemented. It was the belief of Dr. Nichols that teachers need constant training and guiding in proper biblical interpretation and application.
It was in Christian Education class where I was first introduced to the theology of inclusion as opposed to the cultural theology I had been raised on in the church. Dr. Nichols constantly taught that liberation theology means that there can be nothing oppressive within the church, from literature to ministry. Anything that was "off limits" was counter-liberation. This forced me to counter the cultural theologies within my church and teach a message and theology of inclusion. To that end, we now have women in ministry, women on the diaconate, and women on the full time pastoral staff.
- Nichols, P. (1984). Blacks and the religious education movement. In Marvin J. Taylor, (Ed.), Changing patterns of religious education (pp. 181-191). Nashville: Abingdon Press.
- Nichols, P. (1976). The extent to which Christian education curriculum materials, which were used with adolescents in black Baptist churches of Richmond, Virginia, between 1969 and 1973, reflect the black experience. Dissertation Abstracts International, 37, 07A. (Xerox University Microfilm 1054).
- Taylor, G. C. (1995). Empowering laity for effective ministry: An analytical study of the influence of black theology on a leadership education program. Doctoral dissertation, Presbyterian School of Christian Education, 1995. Dissertation Abstracts International, 56, 05A.
- Briggs, Ed. (1989, June 29). Nichols to assume church post. Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. C-7.
- Jones, R. (1990). Encouraging Life in Christ. Message written in the 1989 American Baptist Annual Report.
- Meeting the challenges of a new day: National ministries' new executive, Paul Nichols, articulates his outlook for mission in the 1990s. (n.d.). The American Baptist, p. 32.
- Good Shepherd settles in multi-purpose facility. (1982, August 28). The Richmond Afro-American, p. 8.
- Available at the William Smith Morton Library, Richmond, VA.
- Nichols, P. (Author and speaker). (1975, March 26). Lord, is it I? [Cassette N622 1]. Sermons recorded at the Church of the Holy Comforter, Richmond, VA.
- Nichols, P. (1976, September 8). Strangers or friends: A challenge to the Richmond Theological Center [Cassette# N622 2]. Address recorded at the opening convocation of the Richmond Theological Center, Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA.
- Nichols, P. (1977, March 30). Enlargement and anticipation [Cassette N622 3]. Installation address for the 7th dean of the School of Theology, Virginia Union University, Richmond, VA.
- Nichols, P. (1977, August 14). Empowered for Ministry [Cassette N622 4]. Address recorded at the National Student Conference, Southern Baptist Convention, Glorieta, N.M.
- Nichols, P. (1978, May 15-20). Creation: Creating our future in youth ministry [Cassette C911 1-8]. Recorded at a conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin.
- Nichols, P. (1979, July 10). Implications of liberation theology for the practice of ministry [Cassette N622 5]. Lecture recorded at the Baptist Pastors School, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA.
- Nichols, P. (1988, November 16). Good news and a night visitor [Cassette N622 6]. Recorded at the 39th annual John Malcus Ellison Convocation sponsored by the School of Theology of Virginia Union University, Richmond, VA.
Sources About Paul Nichols
- Nichols, B. (1985). Twenty-fifth anniversary of Dr. Paul Nichols, Pastor. Presented at Good Shepherd Baptist Church at the anniversary celebration of Dr. Paul Nichols, Richmond, VA.
- Dr. Paul Nichols, church leader, dies. (1990, May 28). Richmond Times-Dispatch, p. B-2.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (2nd ed.). (1978). 1977-1978, Northbrook, IL., p. 671.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (3rd ed.). (1981). 1980-1981. Northbrook, IL.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (4th ed.). (1985). 1985. Lake Forest, IL: Educational Communications, p. 631.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (5th ed.). (1988). 1988. Lake Forest, IL: Educational Communications, p. 521.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (6th ed.). (1990). 1990/1991. Detroit: Gale Research, p. 951.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (7th ed.). (1992). 1992/1993. Detroit: Gale Research, p. 1059.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (8th ed.). (1994). 1994/1995. Detroit: Gale Research, p. 1100.
- Who's Who Among Black Americans. (9th ed.). (1996). 1996/1997. Detroit: Gale Research, p. 1728.
- Who's Who in Religion. (First edition). (1975). 1975-1976. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, p. 411.
- Who's Who in Religion. (2nd ed.). (1977). 1977. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, p. 480.
Excerpts from Publications
Taylor, G. C. (1995). Empowering laity for effective ministry: An analytical study of the influence of black theology on a leadership education program (Doctoral dissertation, Presbyterian School of Christian Education, 1995). Dissertation Abstracts International, 56, 05A.
Almost simultaneous with the request of the local pastors group, plans were being made by the seminary administration and faculty to "bring the school into the community" and develop latent leadership in black congregations from the pulpit to the pew. (p. 3)
It follows that the theology which informs Christian education should be relevant to the experience of the learner. For black Christians this makes black liberation theology a logical choice. He went on to acknowledge, however, that as a developing theology, liberation theology might be inadequate to cover all areas of a well-rounded curriculum of Christian education. (p. 7)
Nichols, P. (1976, September 8). Strangers or friends: A challenge to the Richmond Theological Center [Cassette N622 2]. Address recorded at the opening convocation of the Richmond Theological Center, Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA.
I don't need to know what God my brother serves in order to acknowledge our common humanity. We should allow dialogue to flow between us - that serious address and response between two or more persons in which the being and truth of each is confronted by the being and truth of the other.
Nichols, P. (1979, July 10). Implications of liberation theology for the practice of ministry [Cassette N622 5]. Lecture recorded at the Baptist Pastors School, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA.
There is a cry abroad in the land which is as pervasive as the vast stretches of human habitation and as variegated as the socio-political diversity of the human family. It is heard in every part of the globe. It is spoken in every language known to man. It is even choreographed in the unspoken agony of human suffering. It is impatient in its urgency, and unrelenting in its determination. It is the cry for freedom. It is the cry of liberation-liberation from oppression, hopelessness and from denial. The cry is heartfelt and it is uttered in varying degrees of intensity. Liberation theology is an effort to respond to that cry.
Nichols, P. (1977, August 14). Empowered for ministry [Cassette N622 4]. Address recorded at the National Student Conference, Southern Baptist Convention, Glorieta, N.M.
Let us not spiritualize too quickly. Let us not spiritualize the Bible in order to release ourselves from the obligation of getting involved in the marketplace. For the work of the Christian cannot be done in the sanctuary. For the work of the Christian cannot be done behind the stained glass windows of the church. The work of the Christian has to be done in the marketplace. And we must not spiritualize the conditions of men and say it doesn't matter much what your physical condition is, the only thing that matters is your spiritual condition, I reject that.
Jones, R. (1990). Encouraging life in Christ. Message written in the 1989 American Baptist Annual Report.
National Ministries has come to a fresh understanding of what we are about. Working in partnership with regions and local churches, we are called to face the future as American Baptists â€“ ecclesiastically founded and intentionally mission oriented. (p. 1)
Meeting the challenges of a new day: National ministries' new executive, Paul Nichols, articulates his outlook for mission in the 1990s. (n.d.). The American Baptist.
I can't imagine planning for the future of American Baptist mission without an increase emphasis on our youth. I would like to see creative mission education aimed at young people. Let's use today's technology in passing on the vision for mission. (p. 32)
Nichols, P. (1976). The extent to which Christian education curriculum materials, which were used with adolescents in black Baptist churches of Richmond, Virginia, between 1969 and 1973, reflect the black experience. . Dissertation Abstracts International, 37, 07A. (Xerox University Microfilm 1054).
Nichols, P. (1984). Blacks and the religious education movement. In Marvin J. Taylor, (Ed.), Changing patterns of religious education. (pp. 181-191). . Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Taylor, G. C. (1995). Empowering laity for effective ministry: An analytical study of the influence of black theology on a leadership education program (Doctoral dissertation, Presbyterian School of Christian Education, 1995). Dissertation Abstracts International, 56, 05A.
Gloria C. Taylor, Ed.D., is the Assistant Professor of Christian education and the Director of Continuing Education at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. She received her doctor of education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education.