A pulpit parable : crafting and communicating symbol-story for semiotic change.

Date of Award


Document Type



Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry


When you enter our church building from the busy thoroughfare of 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan, you are greeted with two symbols that communicate the core of our identity and theology at Calvary Baptist Church (CBC). First, the phrase emblazoned in gold-lettering above our doorway which says, "We Preach Christ Crucified, Risen, and Coming Again." Second, the ornate, 130-year-old pulpit that is centrally located in the sanctuary. These symbols begin to tell our story before you hear a word spoken. Yet, in our Protestant/Free Church/Evangelical tradition symbolic reflection for meaning and identity is not commonly thought of as a means to communicate our calling and beliefs. Ours is a word-based, not an image-based, tradition. However, the changing forms of communication in our post-Gutenberg world argue for the power of symbols and images to convey values and truth. This transmission of meaning through symbolic reflection is part of the field of study known as semiotics. Could our congregation build upon its rich theological heritage of proclaiming the story of Jesus by coupling this legacy with a rich and fresh symbolic reflection on the two defining symbols in our midst--the wording above our entryway and the literal pulpit? In order to answer this, we took a radical step. We took the pulpit outside the confines of our sanctuary and recorded it moving throughout NYC. Along the way, we collected testimonies from congregants proclaiming Christ through weakness, new life, and hope with the pulpit next to them. These videos were incorporated into a four-week sermon series in April 2013 that also interwove aspects of the Jesus story latent within the wording above our entryway and stories from CBC's past. These sermons, a fresh symbol-story for CBC, were evaluated by Control and Open Group participants. The quantitative and qualitative questions they answered looked for semiotic change and movement in relationship to the symbols in our midst and personal appropriation of their vocation as preachers. These results, as well as the unexpected emerging narratives, are included in this thesis.