A Chautauquan For Life

CHAUTAUQUA – Chautauqua Institution’s director of the department of religion, the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell will host a welcome ceremony for her successor, the Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin, today at the Amphitheater.

During last year’s final morning worship service in the Amphitheater, Chautauqua Institution president Thomas M. Becker announced that Campbell, now 81, had decided 2013 would be her final season as director of the department of religion.

According to Campbell, her last year with Chautauqua Institution was both busy and memorable. Although she is responsible for bringing in many of the speakers, Campbell has given six sermons, one each day this week.

“I always say, ‘This week is rich and full’ – and it has been that for sure,” Campbell said. “I’ve said to Tom Becker that this job is the best job I’ve ever had, and I don’t mean that lightly. It’s because I’ve had the privilege of being pastor to these people, and I’ve come to know them. I’ve married, buried and baptized them – I’ve come to know their hearts.”

One of her topics was, “Creating Chautauqua as a beloved community,” which was a favorite phrase of Martin Luther King’s, she said. One of the things she’ll always remember though, was a roast, which helped her relive her years at Chautauqua through humor.

“It was almost breathtaking, and so emotionally touching,” Campbell said. “People have come to me and told me stories about how something I have said or done has changed their lives, and that’s a very awesome feeling. In many ways Chautauqua is like a real community for the preacher or director of the department of religion – it’s almost like having a congregation.”

Throughout her summers at Chautauqua Institution Campbell spent a great deal of time at the Hall of Missions, where she lived. She also spent much of her time in the Hall of Philosophy, where most of the speaker series events Campbell was involved with occurred. And, held all of the services in the Amphitheater.

“Fourteen years is a fairly long length of time, and only as I began to look back did I see how much things changed,” Campbell said. “I feel as though one of the things that I helped to do here was to create an ecumenical community. When I first looked out at that congregation there must have been 30 different denominations, and my first thought was what prayers might I use? I realized that you can’t take any prayer book because you’ve got such a mix. So, I began to write prayers, and they just published a book of them called ‘Prayers of Chautauqua,’ and I think they’ve already sold 1,300 copies of the book. I had to create prayers that serve the community as a whole. I feel as if that marked my ministry, and is a history of who I’ve been here.”

Another aspect of her career which Campbell feels particularly proud of is her work with the gay and lesbian community. She’s watched the attitude toward the community change over the course of her 14 years at Chautauqua Institution, and was very moved by the reception Bishop Gene Robinson received during his speech at the Amphitheater.

“He is a marvelous preacher, and the great beauty of it was that nobody said we have a gay preacher, they said we have a good preacher,” Campbell said. “Not everyone is there, but many people have come to see that we can accept people for who they are and not want to change them. In many ways for me it has tones of resonance to my times in the civil rights movement, where we began to say, ‘These are all God’s people, and we have to stop making separations between people for reasons of sexual preference, male or female, background or color.’ And, I feel we’ve made a major amount of progress in all of those areas.”

Area residents interested in attending the final morning worship service in the Amphitheater today at 10:45 a.m. are welcome to attend, as it is open to the public. Following the service, Campbell and Franklin will make an appearance at a reception in the Athenaeum Hotel, which is also open to the public. The Chautauqua Institution staff will also have a chance to say goodbye during the holiday season as Campbell will complete her term in January.

Those wishing to contact Campbell, may email her at JCampbell@ciweb.org.


Campbell may be a beloved aspect of the Chautauquan experience, and anyone who attempts to fill the gap will surely have big shoes to fill, but according to Becker, Franklin has both his and Campbell’s seal of approval.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever be without Joan – she’s a Chautauquan down to her toes,” Becker said. “The good thing about this community is that people keep contributing, so in that sense I don’t expect us to be without her. Also, Robert continues much of that work. One of the things that is literally true at this institution is that we stand on the work of others. The fact that this has been going on for 139 seasons is not lost on me. I think Joan has uplifted us, and that’s where Robert begins.

“He’s a great scholar, one of the best theologians working in the country today, a terrific administrator, preacher and writes very well – He’s a fundamentally decent man,” Becker continued. “He has a world view as well, which is expressed in different ways than Joan’s. It’s more scholarly, and if you put Joan’s activism with Robert’s scholarship they bring a certain balance to one-another. There will be some shift, I’m sure, in terms of the nuances of how the job is executed, but honestly, it’s going to be that same sort of aggressive sense of continuing to open up what it is were doing, find more expression and greater levels of impact. … Robert isn’t a stranger, he’s been a part of this community for a long time. … Robert gives us a new beginning in a way that’s utterly respectful of what’s gone before him.”

Although Campbell didn’t make the final decision on who would inherit her legacy, it was her preference that Franklin would take on the challenge. Similar to Campbell’s precedent-setting tenure as the first female senior staff member, Franklin will be the first African-American to serve as Chautauqua Institution’s director of the department of religion, as well as be the first African-American to be a senior staff member in the history of Chautauqua Institution.

“He comes as more than that, he comes extremely well-equipped for the job,” Campbell said. “Part of what’s important here is that you have the responsibility of bringing in speakers, and he’s going to have some speakers that are different than the experiences that I’ve had.”

Franklin has been involved with Chautauqua’s religious programming since 2001, and has served as a lecturer, chaplain, theologian-in-residence, adviser to the Abrahamic program and a member of the board of trustees. He served as president emeritus from 2007-12 and was a distinguished professor of social ethics at Morehouse College. The college was also his alma mater, which he graduated from in 1975 with a degree in political science and religion. He was ordained in the Church of God in Christ in 1975. For more information about Franklin, visit www.ciweb.org/robert-franklin.

“He certainly was my choice, and I feel very proud of the fact that Robert is coming,” Campbell said. “He has a distinguished career, and a passion for the things that I care about – so I’m thrilled that he is coming.”

According to Becker, he has known Campbell for quite a long time. When Campbell was being considered for the position at Chautauqua Institution 14 years ago, Becker was vice president for development, and was involved in the search process. He was a strong advocate for her candidacy, he said.

“I saw in her probably the best chance we had to move from where we were on a trajectory of real growth of an expressive, inclusive theology that would break down some barriers and really allow us to take an international look at things,” Becker said. “She has such remarkable skills to bring people to the table – she’s magnetic that way. So, I was delighted when she took the job.”

When Becker was named president, he and Campbell established an even firmer partnership, he continued. And, feels as if they have done wonderful work together.

“I’m a gigantic fan of her, both individually, and in the way in which she’s brought this institution to a really satisfying level of expressiveness on religion, spirituality and at a level of humanity that I think is quite extraordinary,” Becker said. “One of her most powerful qualities, I think, is that there is an inner joy in her. Her eyes sparkle, and she’s got this constant smile on her face – none of that is about being ignorant of the facts of life. She’s dealt with some very hard things in her life.

“… Her presumption about the human condition is that people are good,” Becker continued. “And, you have to throw a lot of evidence at her to the contrary before she would give up on you. There really is a natural pastoral role in her that’s really good. … She has a lovely sense of humor, and she listens with such a compassionate heart. She can give you really stark challenging feedback, but she does it in a way which you really want to try to understand what she’s saying and make it work. She’s a truly amazing person.”

Even Campbell’s children, whom she raised with their father Paul Campbell, turned out to be trailblazers in their own right. Her daughter, Jane L. Campbell, served as the first female mayor of Cleveland from 2002-06. Campbell also has a son who is a geriatric medical doctor in a Cleveland Metro hospital and a son in education for International Baccalaureate.

“I’m very proud of them,” Campbell said. “I even had the privilege of marrying my grandson last year. To be a minister and to marry your own grandchild is extremely wonderful.”


After she retires, Campbell will return to Cleveland to a senior community where she runs a speaker series. She also plans on staying involved with the city of Cleveland to be helpful where she can, she said.

“I will return to the community, where I have lots of friends and lots of activities,” Campbell said.

In regard to her retirement, people often ask Campbell whether there is something wrong with her that is forcing her into leaving, but she’s very healthy, she said, and is looking forward to having some free time.

Campbell’s career has given her opportunity to see a lot of the world, which she feels gifted about, especially considering she has a fascination with the struggles of Africa and the Middle East.

“I also want to do some traveling,” Campbell said. “I’ve traveled many different places – much of 17 different African countries and most of the Middle East – but I’ve always kept a list of the countries that I want to go back to when I had time. The situation has changed in some of the countries that I want to go back to, such as Syria and Egypt. There is marvelous history in Syria, and I’m sad about what’s happening there. I also loved Egypt, and spent a lot of time there. Hopefully it will resolve itself, and there will be progress. I’ll continue to do work like that.”

But, there is much more that she’d still like to see in places that aren’t struggling as well, such as Paris, London and the Caribbean. Campbell has always been a fan of the theater, and has plans to see about 10 plays in two weeks in London.


A Youngstown, Ohio, native, Campbell spent several summers of her youth at Chautauqua Institution with her parents and grandparents.

“I was growing up during the second world war, and there was gas rationing, so you couldn’t go very far from home – but Chautauqua was fairly close to Youngstown,” Campbell said. “We came for about eight years, and then I came with my grandmother a couple of times. But, then I didn’t come back to Chautauqua until about 1984 when I was with the World Council of Churches and I came to preach. When I came back I said, ‘This is a wonderful place, I don’t know why I have forgotten about it.’ At that time I began to rent a house to bring my kids and grandchildren – Chautauqua really has become a good family place.”

Even after retirement, Campbell said she plans on staying involved at Chautauqua Institution. On aspect of her work at Chautauqua that she feels compelled to complete is the creation of a Martin Luther King house.

“Robert Franklin has asked me to be helpful in a couple of areas, and one is to keep doing some work on the building of a Martin Luther King house,” Campbell said.


A University of Michigan graduate who studied education and speech, Campbell has found her early education to be particularly helpful throughout the course of her life, she said.

“I was a speech major, and that of course has managed to be extremely helpful,” Campbell said. “At that point I didn’t realize I might become a preacher, but the main gift of preaching is speaking. My other training was in early childhood education, and the fact that I was mother of three children and now eight grandchildren, that training also came in very handy. It also came in handy for grown-ups who act like children.”

After college, Campbell moved to Cleveland with her former husband, Paul, who had a job at a major law firm. She spent the next 15 years acting as a wife and mother to her three children. In 1979, Campbell decided to move to New York City to take a job at the National Council of Churches.

“I said when I went that I would only stay three years because I didn’t want to live in New York City – I stayed 20,” Campbell said. “I ended up working for the World Council of Churches in the United States Office of the World Council.”

Part of Campbell’s responsibilities with the World Council required her to spend quite a bit of time in Geneva, Switzerland, where the office of the World Council was located.

“That experience was what got me involved in South Africa, where I met Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and began to become very involved in the whole struggle for South Africa,” Campbell said. “But, the change in my life really came when I was in Cleveland, and I worked with Martin Luther King. Especially when he was working to get Carl B. Stokes elected, who became the first African-American mayor of a major city in the country.

“Those were really life-changing incidents, because I had no idea how controversial it was going to be and how negative people were going to be about you,” Campbell continued. “In some ways, getting involved in African-American issues and issues of racism, also impacts the white person because there is a lot of prejudice – even against those who are working on the issues. … It was probably a good thing, because as you encounter that you began to see what it feels like to have people be prejudice against you, not only for what you believe, but for who you are. … I was privileged to be involved in some of the main issues of our time, it was tough, but also enormously rewarding.”

For more information, call 357-6274 or visit www.ciweb.org.