Almost a decade ago, Intersections International was invited by the Mayor’s office in Memphis, TN to write and produce a play that would address the issue of community/police relations. In light of the recent tragedy that resulted in the killing of Tyre Nichols in that same city, Bob sat down with two of the principals in that project–Chuk Obasi who wrote and directed the play and Fred Johnson who wrote and directed the music to see how things have changed…and how they have remained the same.
Celebrating 50 years of ordination (1972-2022), Rev. Bob Chase was featured in his town’s quarterly newsletter, 10964. The article appears below.
Reverend Robert J. Chase: A Life Well Lived
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Reverend Robert Chase’s ministry. Throughout the past half century, he has been an author, playwright and award-winning video producer/director with more than 100 productions to his credit.
Bright, thoughtful and deeply committed, Bob is hard to miss at 6’8.’’ He grew up in Levittown and went to college at Duke where he played basketball, transferring to the University of Pennsylvania his sophomore year. “I continued playing ball for a year but, realizing that I wasn’t that good and that everyone was as tall as me, I quit it my junior year.”
Bob became a deacon while in college where he felt called to go to seminary. “I organized three coffee house ministries in Doylestown, PA, Croton, NY and Wayne, NJ where I became committed to working with youth. I was at Penn when Martin Luther King was assassinated; his death solidified my journey towards progressive politics which is foundational to my philosophy and theology.” He completed New Brunswick Theological Seminary while working full-time and having his first child.
Bob was a McGovern delegate to the Democratic Convention in 1972. While in seminary, Bob co-founded Willowbrook Ministries, an interfaith storefront in Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ. “We used educational, organizational counseling and interactive techniques as a new way to address troubling issues in the expanding suburbs during the late 20th century.” One technique was “improvisational theatre,” working with troubled youths to help them attain self-esteem. They produced three musical comedies, which toured the NY metropolitan region, ending in off-Broadway runs.
Bob served as youth minister at the Packanack Community Church in Wayne, then became the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck in 1975, which at the time had no ethnic majority. His first book, Diggs, published in 1980, focuses on the murder of a family in his parish.
After serving in Teaneck for eight years, Bob left congregational ministry to form Creative Connections in Media, a full-service communications company. “I visited mission fields all over the world from South Africa to Barrow, Alaska. It expanded my worldview exponentially.” His company grew to a million-dollar business. However, deeply committed to quality and going the extra mile without compensation, the business failed in 1996. He then became the interim pastor at the Palisades Presbyterian Church. “The church had a reputation for intellectual spirituality and a commitment to LGBTQ justice. It was the right place for me. I was going through a divorce at the time and met Blythe Anderson there. We married in 1999 and, upon my retirement eighteen years later, moved into her Palisades home.”
“I became director of communications for the United Church of Christ, one of my company’s largest clients, known for its progressive social justice. I transferred my ordination from the Presbyterian Church to the UCC because of the Formula of Agreement. This document allows clergy from four denominations – The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ – to honor the credentials of one another’s denominations. I could serve in any of those denominations without changing my ordained status.”
While at UCC in the early 2000’s, Bob’s office developed the UCC’s identity campaign, “God Is Still Speaking.” “It is something for which I am truly proud. The comma became its symbol and, to this day, UCC churches countrywide are adorned with banners and posters that include commas and phrases. It is based on the quote from Gracey Allen: Never place a period where God has placed a comma. We embodied that notion into the phrase: ‘God is still speaking.’ The idea that God is still revealing divine truth is a pillar in my theology. In 2007, for UCC’s 50th anniversary, we hosted an all-day event in Hartford called ‘Synod in the City,’ with sixty workshops, lectures, presentations and plays. Billed as From Bill Moyers to Bubblemania, about 10,000 attended. Barack Obama, early in his Presidential run, was a keynote speaker.”
Bob left the UCC to be Founding Director of Intersections International, a global, social justice initiative of the Collegiate Church of NY. “*The Formula of Agreement served me well because the Collegiate Church was part of the Reformed Church in America, which denied LGBTQ equality. I wouldn’t have assumed the position if I would have had to switch my ordained status, but because of the Formula of Agreement, I could remain in the UCC and still answer a call in the RCA (and the Palisades Presbyterian Church 15 years later).”
Intersections mandate was to bring people together across lines of difference, working in four primary areas – healing the rift between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, bridging the military/civilian divide, seeking justice for LGBTQ folks in the church and using the arts as an instrument of social transformation. “I spent a lot of time in central Asia – Kazakhstan and Pakistan. Though Intersections no longer exists, several programs we started there continue, now under the auspices of different organizations.”
Since his 2017 retirement, his book Beyond the Comma was published. He became a U.N. Center Fellow at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy, continuing his Pakistan work, teaching students about misconceptions of Pakistanis. A play he wrote years ago, Let Me Fluff Your Pillow, had its NYC debut. Bob joined the staff of 10964 and is also writing a weekly blog that offers commentary on today’s political and social realities. For the past three years, he has been working on an original musical that will hopefully be performed in early 2023. Retirement, really?
Recently (November, 2022), Bob was interviewed for Seton Hall University’s Diplomatic Envoy about the role of interfaith dialogue and cooperation in international relations. The article appears below.
Interview with Reverend Robert Chase on his Work in Fostering Interfaith Dialogues
Recently the Diplomatic Envoy had the opportunity to interview Reverend Robert Chase, a Fellow at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations Center for UN and Global Governance Studies. The interview focused on his work in fostering interfaith dialogues and his views on the role of religion in the United States 2020 presidential election.
Reverend Chase is a career professional in the clergy. He has spent most of his life working on social justice as an ordained minister for the United Church of Christ, and continues to do so. He is the founding director of Intersections International, a global initiative of the Collegiate Church of New York with the mandate to “bring people together across lines of difference.” As a member of the U.S.-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium (UPIC), an initiative of Intersections International, Reverend Chase spent years building relationships between the people of Pakistan and the United States. When he first started visiting Pakistan, Reverend Chase observed how religion was a cause of suspicion among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. “We had to convince them that we were not there to convert them and that we were there to hear their stories and find points of commonality.” Building that trust proved to be difficult work. After a decade of dialogues and building relationships, UPIC was finally invited to visit the conservative madrassa community in Pakistan in 2018.
The first step in building this relationship, Reverend Chase explained, was listening to people and letting them know that you want to hear their stories, which lays the groundwork for building trust. One experience Revered Chase recalled was when UPIC engaged with a group of mostly young Pakistani women. “The Pakistani women who are in our country are believed to be oppressed. These women were very engaged, inquisitive, and curious, which was very delightful to see, and they shattered the stereotypes that we had.”
The second step is being authentic in who you are. During one of his first trips to Pakistan, Reverend Chase was invited to speak to an assembly of elders at the University of Management and Technology. During their conversation, somebody said, “I’m glad that Christians and Muslims are meeting because we know that all the problems in the world are caused by Jews.” Reverend Chase strongly opposed the statement and affirmed that has not been his experience. The person who made the comment later apologized to the host, and the University of Management and Technology eventually became a sponsor. Speaking on this, Reverend Chase stated that, “those are moments of potential growth.”
From his years of work, Reverend Chase has made the observation that people’s religious convictions are often at the core of their identity, making it difficult for people to navigate existing differences. Giving an example, Reverend Chase stated, “If someone says that they truly believe their views and their way is the only way, it is very hard to attack them on any rational, logical basis. It is important for people concerned about global peace to cut through that, to figure out how we can work together in light of that.” Having engaged with people of different faiths, Reverend Chase explained that for many people, their faith influences many of their decisions. However, he stressed the importance of exercising caution when it comes to religion.
“People of faith need to be careful and attentive to not use their religion to justify any private political agenda. It is very easy to do that, and we need to be careful that it does not become a form of idolatry. True religion should not be believed blindly to the extent that you harm other people. It should be a starting point for a dialogue about what is really important. I feel that we did that with UPIC.”
In regards to his views on how religion has shaped the U.S. 2020 presidential election, Reverend Chase stated that he believes there is a lot of fake news surrounding religion, which makes it even more important not to let one’s political views be shaped solely by religion. “In addition to having one hand on the Bible, we need to have one hand on today’s newspaper and be really attentive to not use religion to advance a private agenda.”
Before the election results came out, Reverend Chase stated in his weekly blog that whatever the outcome is, “we must commit ourselves to intentionally expanding our efforts to listen to one another and to understand each other. [This is an important effort to] move forward to end the pandemic, improve the economy, address systemic racism, fight climate change, and build up our credibility on the world stage.”
In December (2022), Bob was featured in a two-part podcast series along with United Methodist pastor, the Rev. James Todd, on the SWAN podcast (Spiritual/Wellness/Artistic/Nature) hosted by Chris Singleheart. In keeping with the Advent season, personal stories of wonder and anticipation were shared. You can hear these podcasts here.
Upon completing his book, Beyond the Comma, Rev. Robert (“Bob”) Chase embarked upon a book tour, leading dozens of events in a variety of settings and assisting audiences in creating their own courageous conversations. In this introductory video, Bob outlines his unique credentials in facilitating dialogue across lines of difference.
Bob has also appeared on numerous radio and television programs. He is frequently invited to facilitate dialogues, lead workshops and lecture on interfaith cooperation, cross-cultural dialogue, bridging divides and developing communication strategies.
Here are a few samples of Bob’s media appearances. To contact Bob about appearing on your program click here.