Week Nine Letter From the President

Chautauqua is often compared to a masterful weaving, a vibrant cloth of many colors that in its entirety is beautiful to behold. But the true beauty of a woven work of art is not the finished product, but the many threads of which it is composed. In those threads one finds the secret to any tapestry: Its strength lies in each individual strand that links to another, demonstrating that the complete form is simply a reflection of all that contribute to it. 

I really like this metaphor of the tapestry. We’ve used it recently in talking about our strategic plan, and we also have literal forms of it. The backdrop of our beloved Hall of Philosophy, that rainbow-striped fabric was woven long ago by hundreds of Chautauquans who threw the shuttle to create it. Every year that I look at it, I think about the hands and good souls who were a part of the whole. In light of recent events, I have been thinking even more about just how strong and caring this community is, and how grateful I am for it. 

So it seems only fitting — and eerily prescient — that we close our 2022 Summer Assembly season with the theme “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture and Faith,” curated in partnership with our friends from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 

There is no one story, no single author of our identity, or single tradition that defines us. A great blending of cultures and peoples has made and shaped America, like a tapestry with its many hues, textures and layers woven together. In Week Nine, we welcome a diverse lineup of multi-disciplinary folk artists, including The Avett Brothers, for morning and evening Amphitheater programs. Together, we’ll trace the threads of the American tapestry in search of the origins, evolution and impact of our country’s music and culture. 

As always, our speaker lineup is breathtaking, and includes Rhiannon Giddens, Grammy and MacArthur “genius” award winner; Chris Thile, also a MacArthur “genius” and a Grammy Award-winning mandolinist and singer-songwriter; Scott Avett, founding member of The Avett Brothers; Raina Douris, host of NPR’s “World Café;” and Benjamin Hunter, artistic director of Northwest Folklife, musician, educator, creative/cultural advocate and producer. Truly, these artists and thinkers and educators will aid us in understanding our own story and share words of how to tighten the strands when they seem to become undone. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we explore “Faith and the Tapestry of the Future.” Despite the separation of church and state, Americans have often turned to diverse religious, spiritual and ethical traditions for inspiration and illumination about the meanings and possibilities of the collective life of this nation. In 2026, the United States will celebrate its 250th anniversary. As this auspicious moment approaches, it provides an occasion to glance backward at what American has been. It also offers an inspiring opportunity to gaze forward — to imagine what America might be. I’m so grateful to be in creative partnership with the Smithsonian to welcome influential leaders from America’s diverse traditions to muse on what the United States might become if it governed itself not by mean-spirited partisan politics, but rather by morally centered principles and practices. 

My dear friend Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America, begins our exploration on Monday; followed by Tuesday’s lecture with Yolanda Pierce, dean of Howard University School of Divinity and author of In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith, and the Stories We Inherit; and Laura Limonic, author of Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States on Wednesday; Lama Rod Owens, authorized Iama from the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism on Thursday; and concluding with Friday’s Robert P. Jones lecture, founder and president of Public Religion Research Institute. Wow! 

These esteemed faith and thought leaders are complemented by the season’s final chaplain in residence Bishop Yvette Flunder, presiding bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a multi-denominational coalition of more than 100 primarily African American Christian leaders and laity, preaching a gospel of radical inclusion. That seems so apt for our tapestry metaphor, doesn’t it? 

My hats off to my colleges in our Performing and Visual Arts Office, who have lined up five straight days of sensational Amphitheater entertainment: Punch Brothers, Rhiannon Giddens with our own Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Emmylou Harris and Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Beach Boys and The Temptations and Chita Rivera. 

You may also see a familiar face, and we are eager to re-introduce you to a new one. Bishop Gene Robinson, our recently retired senior pastor and vice president of religion, returns to Chautauqua for a more formal farewell than we could provide last year. I’ll be in conversation with Bishop Gene on Monday in the Hall of Philosophy about his time at Chautauqua, and then we will unveil his official portrait in the Hall of Missions (each head of religion has a portrait in that facility of hospitality). We also will have a chance to introduce our community to the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, who will assume the role of our senior pastor in September. 

Both of these men are remarkable pastors and religious leaders, but I want to close out my message to you this week with a word of profound gratitude for the Rev. Natalie Hanson, who has served as our interim senior pastor this summer. Natalie got so much more than she bargained for when she accepted my call to serve Chautauqua this summer. She has been far more than a presence at our worship services. She has truly, and in so many instances, been the emotional glue that helped hold Chautauqua together through these very trying times. From a quiet hug to beautiful services of reclaiming our spaces from violence, Natalie truly put on the stole of servant leadership. I don’t have enough words of gratitude for all she’s done, but I do know I feel abundantly blessed that she answered that call in the spring, asking if she would serve. Our entire community is far, far richer for it, and I will forever be proud to call her my friend. 

Well, dear Chautauquans, I fear I have shared far too many “strands” for the tapestry that is this column. It will be with mixed emotions that I hope to see many of you for the closing Sacred Song Service and Three Taps of the Gavel on Aug. 28. Until then, we have one more tremendous week together. May we each choose to “throw the shuttle” on this important part of our summer tapestry.

Welcome to Week Nine, Chautauqua.

Tags : From the President
Michael E. Hill

The author Michael E. Hill