Personal Narrative

Richard Davenport

 My family came to northern Sonoma County, about 80 miles north of San Francisco near the small town of Cloverdale, at the start of the 1880s. My great, great grandfather – Armand DeHay – founded there the seventh and last utopian community that was part of the French Icarian Movement…the largest non-religious utopian movement in United States history).

Prior to this, my French ancestors had been exiled by Napoleon III to the Isle of Jersey off the coast of France. Armand’s father-in-law’s brother, my great, great, great, great uncle, was a close friend of Victor Hugo (they are pictured together on the wall of Hugo’s Paris home). Hugo also spent some time with the family in exile (where he began his master work Les Miserables). Ettiene Cabet, the founder of the Icarian Movement, like Hugo, had deep respect for the radical life ethics and community models suggested by Jesus.

Social Ethics and Spiritual Practices

However, the Icarians were deeply humanistic in how they pursued these noble aspirations of conduct, and they separated the outcomes and derivatives Jesus practiced from the rich spiritual life he invited us to share. The Icarian experiment did not prove a sustainable community model…it struggled in how to deal with human failings and had no ultimately effective means of sustaining the vision in the midst of all that challenged it.

In my journey I have heard the family stories and also been moved by the prophetic visions of community in biblical prophecy (the wolf laying down with the lamb, swords beat into plowshares). However, in my view, the successful realization of such a vision must be grounded in deep spiritual practices that define, sustain, and bring to realization such a vision.

Such a vision must also apply to all humanity, even those we presently see as our enemies – politically, economically, theologically, or internationally. The promise God made to Abraham – father to the traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – was that the Covenant of living more fully into the divine design would result in all humanity being blessed…not just one group, tribe, or like-minded constituency.

Boston University

My approach as to how to serve this larger vision was further impacted by attending Boston University’s School of Theology, There I was exposed to its rich tradition of social ethics and its legacy as the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. had earned his doctorate. Dr. King’s example became another clarifying witness about the imperative of gaining a larger view of who must be included and what all was necessary for peace, justice, and the beloved community to be realized. Essential to pursuing that imperative was the crucial need for the Bible, Jesus-patterned living, and deep communion with God to sustain one’s efforts in the struggle.

After Dr. King’s assassination efforts to pursue a beautiful vision — without the spiritual ground his voice provided — often made for either compromises in the vision or the method or both. I feel that the Icarian Movement experienced that same lack of sustenance and spiritual power to further its social vision.

Graduating Boston University with a Master of Divinity degree, I was also grateful for having attended Andover Newton Theological School for about half my course work. I later pursued doctoral studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary while serving two decades on three continents as a chaplain in the United States Air Force. I felt called to embrace a lot of diversity in how people experienced the Divine and how the Spirit touched them, though to me the centrality of Christ as revealed in Scripture and manifest through authentic community was most important.

Air Force Chaplaincy

As one often considering “big” ideas, I really worked hard to be one who could see them realized in practical ways. The last two generals for whom I worked were very generous in recognizing this focus to my work for their troops. They summed up my career with the following descriptions:

Stellar performer…worked miracles…most productive chaplain in the command…sets the pace…a visionary who can get the job done and win friends in the process.

As I mentioned, building community – often from diverse elements – was a mainstay of my chaplaincy. A book on the 20th century military chaplaincy devoted a chapter to my journey entitled “Focus on Community.” Here are a couple of excerpts:

His religious embrace included those who were of other faiths or of no faith. He shaped community from various elements of what might appear to be a diverse spectrum of humanity…

Davenport worked to help one community understand another by finding common ground. His career illustrates a well thought out Christian construct for living in community…His vision and its implementation changed the culture and the way individuals and groups related one to another. He practiced community building from a Christian basis wherever he was and continued to do so after leaving military service

Learn more about my experience as an Air Force Chaplain.

College Dean of Students

I took early retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel to become Dean of Students at my college alma mater. Working with an extraordinary woman as co-dean, a number of radical and initially unpopular steps were taken to renew spiritual foundations and strengthen the quality of community on campus. When I left the Dean’s work six years later the College generously credited my tenure as having turned the student community around and having greatly improved the spiritual and moral climate. The radical steps were firmly established and have continued in the years since.

Learn more about my experience as Dean.

Launching A Portfolio Career

Upon leaving the Dean’s position in 2002, I:

  • developed further my work as an inspirational speaker
  • expanded my consultation with individuals and groups about their spiritual journey, and in particular how to approach dissonance between their religious traditions and their own spiritual experiences
  • enlarged my work nationally in marriage education weekends and relationship coaching
  • designed and taught for a number of years a high school curriculum on the Bible, Christian history, pop culture, and spiritual life at an independent high school
  • launched an entrepreneurial endeavor organizing Bible and spiritual life conferences through a ministry I founded called Higher Ground. Higher Ground sponsored 57 conferences in 35 cities over several years.

Conference Director

This early version of the portfolio type career I continue to pursue today, of exploring a number of educational ministries, led me in 2004 to assume leadership of a long-established national Bible conference each June on the Asilomar Conference Grounds overlooking Monterey Bay on the central California coast. With a partner, the conference was purchased and immediately transformed into a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization entitled Bible Study Seminars (BSS).

In my first year as Executive Director, I initiated a long-term commitment for BSS develop a Foundation Stones curriculum for Bible study outside our conferences and that would be easily used with gathered friends. Numerous volumes written by a wide variety of our speaking and teaching faculty have found use across the country and in such far-flung settings as a U.S. Army Patriot Missile unit in southern Turkey. We continue to produce new volumes on different books of the Bible, explore innovative digital delivery systems for our curriculum in addition to our print editions, and seek more effective ways of introducing the Bible to contemporary audiences.

Since 2004, we have also greatly expanded the number and academic qualifications of our Bible speakers – many of whom had already spoken at my Higher Ground conferences. This “community” of speaker/authors has continued to expand the breadth and diversity of our witness beyond any single individual. The conference model has also expanded to include a Midwest conference, regional seminars on both coasts and in-between, and a host of contemporary outreach celebration conferences called Thrives.

The name of the overall ministry BSS provides was changed in late 2013 to reflect our growing emphasis on adding “applied side” approaches to help people practice more consistently and profoundly the Bible narrative they had been studying. This broadening has been in addition to not in place of our traditional focus on Scripture. We express our enlarged mission as helping people understand the written word, and better follow the living Word. The new name of the ministry of BSS is Bible and Spiritual Life community (BSL) which came online in December of 2013. Box (to learn more about my work as a Non-Profit Executive Director click here)

Corporate Chaplain

In 2013 I accepted an offer to define and fill a new position as a corporate chaplain for a growing energy efficiency and green company in Dallas called US2 — I commute to Dallas quarterly for this work. Learn more about my work as a corporate chaplain. (ADD LINK)

Local Ministries

In Saint Louis, my home base, I remain involved in the launch of a new pioneering church fellowship which is very actively engaged in

  • reconciling racial divisions in St. Louis
  • helping youth in the community and building alliances with others in doing so
  • building bridges between different faith traditions and supporting the Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis
  • providing food and practical assistance to those in need
  • exploring contemporary worship and inclusive church congregations

Emergence Christianity and the CANA Initiative

In recent years, a new conversation with the Emergence Christian community has enriched my journey, and contributed to the development of the unique spiritual community that I mentioned that I was a part of in Saint Louis, my home base.

Emergence Christianity (EC) is asking thoughtful questions and demonstrating a bold willingness to think anew about traditional doctrines and patterns of faith community. In doing so EC is helping Christianity preserve the essence of its Jesus-patterned heritage while being open to the work of the Spirit today in interpreting and applying that heritage for “the healing of the nations.” (Rev 22:2).

Such thoughtful, generous, and loving dispositions and sensibilities square well with my own core values. A new national coalition has formed to more effectively allow EC voices and values to enter the national conversation on spirituality and religion, . I am one of the “initiators” in this coalition.

Bridge Making and Community Building

Balancing my time between Saint Louis, Los Angeles, and Dallas, I continue the bridge making and community building that have marked my calling and ministry…seeking and finding to create experiences, services, relationships, and communities that honor God, follow Christ through Jesus-patterned lives, and invite the saturation of the Holy Spirit to renew a witness to what the Spirit is saying to us today.

My wife, Jerri, and I were married in 1976 and have three daughters and one son. Jerri teaches high school English as well as developmental reading. She is also an avid creator of jewelry and fiber arts. Jerri is also an active scrapbooker, choir member, and guitar student, and my dancing, movie-watching, and church building partner.

The Davenport Family Through The Years

Dick and his wife Jerri at the outdoor Sunday service at Cedars Camps on a Celebrate Marriage! weekend
Dick and his wife Jerri at the outdoor Sunday service at Cedars Camps on a Celebrate Marriage! weekend

Outside the organizational settings of Higher Ground and Bible Study Seminars, but very related to the same values and spirit, Dick and his wife, Jerri, are deeply involved in the development of a new expression of an Emergence Christian community called Next Generation Fellowship in St. Louis, MO.

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