Grounded in Tradition

February 22, 2017
Jeremy Battle
HDS alumnus and denominational counselor Rev. Jeremy Battle

On a Thursday in early January, the Rev. Jeremy Battle, MDiv ’13, had all the concerns of any other Baptist pastor: planning music for Sunday's service, juggling various appointments, and responding to urgent news within the community. (In this case, a bank robbery a few blocks from his church in Cambridge’s Central Square.) 

He once imagined that being a pastor was going to involve a lot of time studying the scriptures and working on sermons. “That’s like five minutes a week!” he says with a laugh. Then there are baby dedications, funerals, accounts payable, volunteers to manage, and Bible studies to plan. 

Still, the administrative realities of being a modern-day pastor haven’t dampened his passion. In fact, the work he’s doing as senior pastor of Western Avenue Baptist Church is so rewarding that the Alabama-bred preacher has stayed in Cambridge rather than return to a warmer climate as he initially planned. 

Since 2014, Battle has also served as a denominational counselor to Baptist students at HDS. He is also a field education supervisor for student interns at Western Avenue Baptist Church. The nuanced relationship between theory and practice explains why he is so committed to getting students up from their desks and into church communities.

“The biggest thing I share with our students is that they will do their best when they are locating their education on the ground, in the denomination, and in society,” Battle says. 

As an HDS alumnus, Battle speaks with both authority and experience. His involvement in field education when he was a student changed the shape of his career. He first came to Harvard intending to pursue bi-vocational ministry—working a “day job” in government and ministering behind the pulpit, as his father and grandfather had done.

Of course, that's not how things turned out. He quickly began connecting with Baptist leaders at Harvard, like Charles G. Adams and Harvey Cox. In his first year, he took a field education position at Western Avenue Baptist Church. He did well and enjoyed the work. Then his mentor, the Rev. Jonathan Wilkins, left for another position in Chicago. Battle, at that point a second-year student, agreed to help Western Avenue with occasional preaching and worship. Soon after, he was asked to become interim pastor, before the church then chose him to continue full-time. During his brief tenure, he has led the church through renovations, a capital campaign, and increasing membership.

Though not all Baptist students will share that career trajectory, Battle is intent on connecting them with congregations around the Boston area that match their theological leanings. The Baptist denomination is a braid with many strands, as he reminds students. (He himself debated whether to pursue ministry in the Baptist church or in the Church of God in Christ.)

Battle also challenges students to know the distinctive positions of the church, and rattles off the mnemonic device BAPTIST: Biblical authority; Autonomy of the local church; Priesthood of all believers; Two ordinances: believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper; Individual soul liberty; Saved church membership; Two offices: pastor and deacon; and Separation of church and state.

"People ask: ‘Do Baptists really go to Harvard?’ " Battle jokes. "But I encourage my students to place their studies on the ground so that they are also students of the church. And when they come out of HDS, they are not simply the best scholars, but the best exegetes. They're not simply the best thinkers, but the best preachers you can find."

—by Amanda Rice