2019 BJC Fellows

BJC welcomed the fifth class of BJC Fellows in 2019, introducing 10 young professionals to Colonial Williamsburg and providing a historical, legal and theological view of religious liberty.

The BJC Fellows Program equips young leaders for a lifetime of religious liberty advocacy. Hear more about it from the 2019 participants below, and see photos on Facebook or by searching “#BJCFellows” on various social media platforms.  For more, visit

We were not a homogeneous group; we were not an echo chamber.

Taylor Bell / Birmingham, Alabama

We were not all white, were not all Christian, and we didn’t vote the same way. We were a diverse group of individuals who came together to engage, support and challenge each other in a deeper engagement of religious liberty. 


I was reminded that religious life in America began with the “othering” of people who didn’t adopt their Colony’s established religion.

Keisha Patrick / Washington, D.C.

In Colonial Virginia, Baptists were the others. Baptists preachers faced beatings and imprisonment for exercising their faith instead of the Christian denomination that Virginia’s Colonial government had chosen.

As a high-schooler, I often tried to stand up against what I saw as inappropriate encroachments of the church into my public school.
Sarah Henry / Arlington, Virginia

I cannot imagine the confidence it would have given me (and the greater impact it would have had) to have a Christian ally stand next to me, asking for faith freedom for all.

Not only were we Baptist, we were Episcopal, Church of God in Christ (COGIC), Muslim and nonreligious. I am glad that we were a diverse crowd.

Brittany Graves / Cedar Park, Texas

There’s nothing worse than having conversations with people that are the same kind of different as you. We each brought varying perspectives that carried our dialogues and gave each of us new insights.

How can we fight for progress and change, if we aren’t also knowledgeable and making strides with the courts and Congress? BJC is doing the hands-on work to effectively support religious liberty. It is inspirational to see and encourages me to make moves in my hometown, especially among people and groups that remain voiceless and marginalized.

As I learn to advocate for religious liberty in new ways, the BJC Fellows Program gave me language to equip me for years to come. Not to mention, now I have a number of resources that will help on my journey.

I reflected upon questions, observations and issues with a cohort of nine other young professionals, as we attempted to craft a coherent narrative of religious liberty that all religious and non-religious traditions may make sense of.
Sarah Dannemiller / Abilene, Texas
I was immediately impressed with the poise, competency and courage in which BJC approached these questions. I find simple and pat answers to be quite frustrating, especially when it comes to questions of great import. I found a kindred spirit within BJC. This refusal to accept the issue as black and white or a matter of conservative and liberal agendas was quickly addressed within Amanda Tyler’s opening statements. I knew that I was going to enter into an uncomfortable space that would stretch my understanding of religious liberty, of the people around me, and of my own personal relation to it all. Yet, as the week progressed and as an intimacy was fostered between the BJC Fellows, I felt my confidence grow. This was a confidence not only in my ability to contribute a constructive voice to issues relating to religious liberty, but in others to do the same.
I greatly benefited from the explicitly theological explanations of religious liberty that were taught from a Baptist perspective.
Kyle Nicholas / Charlottesville, Virginia

Not being a Baptist myself, it was an excellent opportunity to live into others’ narratives and explore pathways for ecumenical conversations around a shared value (religious liberty) that several of us held for different reasons. What stuck out to me was the revolutionary nature of the early Baptist commitment to religious liberty. For them, religious liberty was not merely a compromise between a homogeneous Christianity on the one hand, and a secular or deist population on the other. Rather, they held this value against other Christians from the belief that no creed, backed up by government force, should be forced upon an unwilling conscience. So the sheer radicality of their contribution to religious liberty impressed me, and it is a strikingly relevant and contemporary formulation in many ways. I was also impressed by the history and legal advocacy of BJC, and I’m glad the seminars went into depth on these points.

I believe collaborative programs like this help us communicate with one another more fluidly.
Eftakhar Alam / Alexandria, Virginia
Getting to know others’ faith perspectives not only gets you to become more connected with that individual, but it helps break down obstacles and create genuine relationship. As a young leader in the American Muslim community, I believe the friendships and knowledge will be beneficial to take back to the community — to help them connect to new friendships and to get to know new people and understandings. I hope to be a better advocate for people outside of faith and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in uplifting everyone.
On our walking tour of Colonial Williamsburg, we began with some classic Baptist stories by the Rev. Nathan Taylor (executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society), alongside reminders by Dr. Corey Walker (professor at the University of Richmond) to de-construct the classic stories to include those who were there, but left out of the narrative.
Chris Crowley / Richmond, Virginia
A small placard at the jail mentions that the choir director down the street at Bruton Parish Church also served the town as its jailer. Immediately this inspired a laugh for me, also a bi-vocational church music director, that the jailer/musician probably had an easier time convincing his choir members to come to rehearsal. More importantly it prompted a brief but meaningful exchange with Dr. Walker, a former prison chaplain, about the paradox of being both called to serve a God who sets captives free and a warden who ensures their captivity.
Throughout our week in Colonial Williamsburg, we kept returning to the idea that religious liberty and racial equality are inextricably linked.
Molly Shepard / Dallas, Texas

At the very beginning of our nation, as our Founders argued over the meaning and practice of religious liberty for themselves, they simultaneously denied any freedom or dignity to the African slaves they were importing.

By tying the concept of racial justice to the idea of religious liberty, I now feel like I have the power and the obligation to pick up this torch. I cannot stand by and watch my religion be twisted into a weapon to alienate anyone who doesn’t look or believe like me.

BJC invests in their Fellows personally. It was also made clear to us that, as Fellows, our relationship with BJC is not a one-time event.
Jillian Hankamer / Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

As Associate General Counsel Jennifer Hawks said, to be a Fellow is to be part of a family who supports each other long after the “program” is over. But perhaps my biggest takeaway from Williamsburg is the necessity of BJC’s work. BJC exists and works every day on that thin line between what it means to be faithful followers of Christ and ensuring that all Americans are free to worship or not worship as they choose. BJC invests in their Fellows by making us advocates, and I am incredibly grateful to be part of this family.

Apply to be a BJC Fellow!
There is no religious requirement for the program; those with six years or less experience in their profession are eligible.