Rev. Adriene Thorne Voted Eighth Senior Minister of The Riverside Church

July 17, 2022
Brian Simpson | email | 917.656.7377

The Reverend Adriene Thorne Voted Eighth Senior Minister
of The Riverside Church in the City of New York

Morningside Heights, NY – The Reverend Adriene Thorne, leader of The First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, has been voted in by the Congregation of Riverside Church as the eighth senior minister in the church’s history. Rev. Thorne is the first African American woman to serve as senior minister. She will begin her post on October 1.

“I am grateful to God for the blessed opportunity to bring my gifts to the Riverside Church and to join with the faithful servants there who are tirelessly nurturing God’s fresh vision of the Beloved Community,” said Rev. Thorne.  “In this tumultuous chapter in our nation’s story, I am excited to lead an engaged community of faith that has the grace and fortitude to repair the harm visited upon God’s planet and people.”

“I welcome and celebrate Riverside’s enthusiastic call to the Rev. Adriene Thorne to become its eighth Senior Minister,” said Rev. Michael Livingston, who has served as interim senior minister since 2019.  “Rev. Thorne brings a genuine pastoral presence and prophetic voice to Riverside.  Her creative passion for music, art, and dance deepen her broad experience as she begins this work.  What a wonderful marriage of pastor and people this will be!”

Rev. Thorne was chosen from a nationwide field of candidates by a specially appointed eleven-member lay Senior Minister Search Committee, assisted by Riverside’s two denominational affiliations, the United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches USA.  The search committee reviewed the candidacies of dozens of individuals over the course of the last eighteen months.

Before being named as Riverside’s senior minister, Rev. Thorne served The First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn since 2016. Beginning in 2008 she spent eight years at Middle Collegiate Church in a variety of ministerial roles, concluding her service there as Executive Minister. With neighborhood partners, she co-founded the award-winning Brooklyn Heights Community Fridge in 2021 which won the Nextdoor Love Your Neighborhood Award, was featured at the Nextdoor initial public offering at the New York Stock Exchange, and highlighted in Real Simple magazine. Adriene completed post-graduate studies in pastoral care and counseling at The Blanton-Peale Institute and is a certified life coach and disaster chaplain. Adriene received her Master of Divinity degree from The Pacific School of Religion where she earned the Koinonia Award, the school’s highest honor given to those who strengthened the seminary through outstanding contributions of spirit, insight, and intellect.

About The Riverside Church

Located in Morningside Heights on the Upper West Side, The Riverside Church in the City of New York is one of the leading voices of Progressive Christianity, influential on America’s religious and political landscapes for more than 90 years. Built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and currently led by interim senior minister Rev. Michael Livingston, the interracial, interdenominational, and international church has long been a forum for important civic and spiritual leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, President Clinton, the Dalai Lama, and countless others. Visit or find us on social media to learn more about our rich history and the latest news and events.


Watch: Get to Know Rev. Thorne Video Series

View Rev. Thorne’s Information Packet (PDF)

More about the Senior Minister Search

July 17 Sermon:
We Are God’s Great Hope

by Rev. Adriene Thorne

John 17:1-11
1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and [prayed], “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 

Good morning, church. I wonder if you would hum with me, please, before I begin this morning’s sermon. Humming, in community, helps to settle our bodies, helps to harmonize our collective body. So, if you would…take a deep breath and on the exhale…hum. That was gorgeous. Let’s pray, church: God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour your power. Crown your ancient Church’s story, bring its bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss your kingdom’s goal…give us eyes to see and ears to hear, O God, that which you have prepared for your people since before the dawn of time. Move in our bodies this morning, and move this collective body a bit closer to the goal of your kingdom. This is our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We are… God’s great hope. We climb inside John’s gospel this morning with a view towards the world as it might be, the world as it should be, the world that the gospel writer thought possible because the people had encountered the risen Christ. Now you may be thinking, if we, this generation, this political administration, this church…if we are God’s great hope, surely the Divine has made a dreadful mistake. One need not go too far back in time to gather proof of this mistake; one need only reflect on the tragedies of the past several months – tragedies so profoundly seared into our psyches as to still be smoking hot. One word, maybe two are enough to remind us of the hot messes God’s great “hope” have made of God’s precious creation. Words like, Uvalde; climate crisis; Buffalo, NY; trans kids, Ukraine, Roe vs. Wade; Syria; Jayland Walker…how are we God’s great hope? We, who willingly and capriciously shake our heads at the news of climate disaster while climbing solo into our fossil fuel burning vehicles. We, in this country, who blithely consume nearly a quarter of the earth’s energy while making up only 5% of the earth’ population. We, who demand that people carry pregnancies to term and then allow children to be shot in school once they get here. What was God thinking…putting holy hope in us?

Well…God knew precisely what God was about, and I think that’s why this morning’s reading is a prayer. Not a private, off in my prayer closet kind of prayer. Uh, uh…this is a gathered around the table, word of encouragement, with my people, kind of prayer and Jesus is leading it. Imagine you are there with him. He’s with his people. They’ve just broken bread and Jesus has a little time to try to communicate — the assignment.  I imagine Jesus is a little emotional because he knows that soon he will be arrested and his time is short. Scholars call the lengthy address before this prayer the farewell discourse and there is a lot of powerful teaching in there. But imagine you are at the table with your people, people like those gathered in this sanctuary; those gathered online; people like your family and friends, your coworkers and neighbors. Imagine you are at the table and you know that your time is up, but the work isn’t finished. Important work. Life giving work. You’re with your people…bellies full, brains even fuller and time is running out. You too… might start praying. The gospel writer says that, “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and [prayed].” Jesus, in the presence of his people, paints a picture of what he expects from their life when his human life is over. And what you have to understand about the gospel of John is that this evangelist is fixated on LIFE. Jesus prays that the people will be one because in oneness… there is life, church. Together around the table, there is life. “And this is eternal life,” Jesus prays, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” To know is to be in relationship. To be in relationship is to be one. Jesus expects those who follow him to move God’s story forward from a place of relationship and oneness. What does that look like for the great Riverside Church at this moment in its history and in our nation’s history?

If John’s gospel is single-minded about life – how we get it, how we lose it, how we get found by it, then understanding Jesus, is understanding that which gives life. And the giving of life is a messy and intimate proposition – ask God at creation kneeling in the mud, ask Mary in the manger laboring to get that baby born, ask Jesus, bloody on the cross, giving his life for our life. The giving of life, the becoming flesh, it’s messy, church. But we aren’t afraid of messy, at the Riverside Church are we?! I hope not!

When God kneels down, as James Weldon Johnson wrote in his poem Creation, when God kneels down in the dust, toiling over a lump of clay until God shapes it in the holy image, God’s hands get dirty. When God blows the breath of life and the human one is nose-to-nose with God, mouth to mouth with the divine, the intimacy of breathing that holy breath puts meat on bones, and it is in that relationship, in the familiarity of knowing, in the oneness, that the ha-adam, the human one, becomes a living soul. Getting born, becoming flesh, becoming known, becoming one…takes dirt and breath and Cornel West said it happens between blood and’s messy! It takes an all up in your space, skin-to-skin contact. It is in messy intimacy with God, and I would say with God’s people gathered round the table for prayer…that we become… that we become…living souls. Flesh is in the mess. Life is in the mess. The church can’t run from the messiness of life – not inside these walls and not out there in the world, either. Trust that life will be messy church… and believe that we can handle it from a place of oneness.

And here’s the thing, none of us can pull off God’s great hope by ourselves. I can’t do it alone and neither can you. People keep asking me, how do you plan to heal the church? When you gonna fix the divide? How soon will you calm the storm? The truth is, I can’t. Not by myself. We can only carry the power of what Jesus entrusts to those at the table, if we do it together. Jesus is too big and his charge too important for any one of us to do it alone. This is an all-hands-on deck moment, church. Are you paying attention to what’s going on in the world right now? In families right now? Amongst the community right here? This hope for the world as it might be, the world as it should be, the world that is possible because the world has encountered the risen Christ…this hope happens where the people are one…The challenge is…we love lone rangers… This country, which lifts up individualism…this country counts on us believing the lie that we do what we do alone. We do not. We do not. God’s great hope is much too big for any one individual.

But, I feel you… to speak of oneness in a Covid world, in a divided world, in a divided church…that feels like a pair of too tight shoes – oneness in this moment…pinches…and still Jesus bets we can do it— the imperfect humans around the table.

When I was performing, folks didn’t always like each other…but… when we went on stage, the director, the producer, and the audience expected us to get it together…Riverside is a church on stage. And like great artists, there are a lot of people expecting us to get it together, needing perhaps for us to get it together, hoping for us to rise above the tangled world of backstage conflict and ensure that God’s show, God’s story, our piece of it anyway, goes on. We have to work together to get it together. And this is Jesus’s prayer: that we will be one, that we will not run from the dirty messy stuff of life.

The world is longing for a church that will touch the messy parts of creation, the parts that no one else will touch. The world is longing for a church that will help it understand life when the forces of death dare us to believe that life is even possible. We are to bring the light that shines in dark places, we are to be the foot washing fanatics, we are to embody an intimacy that doesn’t turn away from the untidiness of life – the Jayland Walkers of life, the massacred elementary school children of life, the thousands of species on the endangered list of life, our own church folk hurting and hoping. The world is longing for one day when the church is healed and whole, this church…healed and whole who can remind the world beginning right here on Riverside Drive, that we are all God’s great hope.

So much is tearing at the fabric of creation, but we can catch one another’s tears, we can knit together what has frayed, we can repair what is broken.

Beautiful people, you stand in a long line of spiritual ancestors who’ve gone before you, and today is a handoff of sorts church. Jesus is once again praying for us, inviting us to life – life together. Inviting us to tap into our biggest hopes, our highest ideals, our greatest imaginings of oneness in the household of God. One day, Jesus believes this will happen. I believe that one day is today. We’re going to a share a video with you now – it’s a glimpse of the world as it could be. 3000 people from Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions and many counties came together for a few hours one day and worked together to make one beautiful creation. Let’s watch and listen for what God’s spirit is saying to the church…

May they be in relationship, Jesus prays. May they pull together, he pleads. Jesus gives us each other and gives us to each other. May they be one.

John did not have a high opinion of the world, but he had big hopes and high ideals for what a community of faith could be together. The striking reality of our every day life is that the physical Jesus has left the world and left the world to us. We must live as if we are God’s great hope, church, because in fact, we are. One day has to be today. To God be the glory. Amen.