Adult Education

The Gotto Lectures

The best-selling author, musician and screenwriter James McBride will deliver the fifth-annual Anita and Antonio Gotto Lecture on Nov. 3.

The event will be presented to a live audience in the Sanctuary. Reserve your seats now.

James McBride is an acclaimed novelist, memoirist and journalist. His seven books include The Good Lord Bird (2013), a historical novel about the abolitionist John Brown, which received the National Book Award. The Color of Water (1996), his account of growing up in an African American family in Brooklyn led by his white Jewish mother, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded McBride the National Humanities Medal “for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America.”

McBride’s most recent novel, Deacon King Kong (2020), a tale of crime lords and church folks in 1960s Brooklyn, received the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction last year.

“James McBride’s bold descriptions of race in America are flavored with a deep appreciation for church,” says Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston. “Last year, my book group unanimously declared Deacon King Kong the best book we had ever read together. It is honest, challenging and hopeful. Having spoken with McBride about coming to Fifth Avenue, I expect the same from his lecture.”

For the second consecutive year, the Gotto lecture is co-hosted by Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. The congregations will sponsor reading groups, composed of members from both churches, to meet and discuss Deacon King Kong in advance of McBride’s lecture. Information about how to join a reading group will be announced in September.

Deacon King Kong is an invitation to reflect on the complexity of New York City life and the ways in which race, faith and economics collide,” says the Rev. Patrick O’Connor, pastor and head of staff at First Church. “A story filled with joy and pain, McBride’s book offers a prism to examine African American, Latinx and Black immigrant culture. It also provides a lens to reflect on love, loyalty, judgment and grace – themes which are at the heart of our faith story.”

In addition to his literary achievements, McBride is a noted musician and composer. He has toured as a saxophonist sideman with jazz legend Jimmy Scott and written songs for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Pura Fé and other artists. He lives in Brooklyn, where he is active in a congregation in Red Hook. He is currently a distinguished writer in residence at New York University.

“Mr. McBride told me he only does two events like this a year,” Scott says. “But he particularly likes speaking at churches. When I told him about our plans to read Deacon King Kong together, he said, ‘It is a powerful thing to see two congregations, one from Manhattan and one from Queens, engage topics that matter and work together to change the world.’”

Previous Gotto Lectures

The Rev. Canon Esau McCaulley, PhD
In 2021, The Rev. Canon Esau McCaulley, PhD delivered our fourth-annual Gotto lecture: Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy: The Prophetic Witness of the Black Church. A theologian, author and priest, Rev. McCaulley is renowned for his research and writing on Pauline theology, African American Biblical interpretation and articulating a Christian theology of justice in the public square. His most recent book, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, argues that the Bible rightly understood a decidedly Black perspective and speaks a message of hope to African Americans in the United States. Replay this lecture.

Emma Green
In 2020, Emma Green, then a religion and politics writer for The Atlantic, delivered our third-annual Gotto lecture: Red, Fight, and Blue: How Religious America Became So Divided. Green, now a staff writer for The New Yorker, has spent nearly a decade covering religious communities at moments of tension and change. Her reports include a series on the aftermath of a shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, Christians living in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, who have reached a demographic crisis after decades of relentless violence and political persecution, and the diaspora communities of Chaldean Catholics who have settled in cities like Detroit. These stories, she says, share a common goal: they invite readers to think deeply and differently about faith and community, and to be better neighbors and citizens as a result. Replay this lecture.

David Brooks
The New York Times columnist and best-selling author David Brooks headlined the 2019 Gotto Lecture Series. In addition to his work as a columnist and commentator, Brooks is the author of four books, including The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (2019). He is also an executive director of the Aspen Institute, where he leads Weave: The Social Fabric Project. His lecture was entitled, “Sacred Bonds: How to Weave Americans Back Together.” Replay this lecture.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt
Our inaugural speaker was the moral psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Jonathan Haidt. Dr. Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is the author of three books—The Happiness Hypothesis (2006), The Righteous Mind: How Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) and The Coddling of the American Mind (with Greg Lukianoff, 2018). His lecture—“How Three Terrible Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, and How Ancient Wisdom Can Lead to a Brighter Future”—built on the message of these books.

About the Gotto Lecture Series

The Anita and Antonio Gotto Lecture Series offers compelling talks and presentations by renowned theologians and preachers, writers and scholars, across a range of faith traditions and academic disciplines. Inaugurated in October 2018, the Gotto Lecture Series is made possible through a generous contribution from Anita and Antonio Gotto, longtime members of the congregation. 

Anita and Antonio Gotto are natives of Nashville, Tennessee, where they attended Vanderbilt University. They lived in Houston for 25 years, where they raised their family. Tony Gotto was chair of internal medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. Anita, a former teacher, served on a number of community boards. The Gottos moved to New York in 1997, when Tony became the dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. They joined Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1998, where Tony has served on the Board of Trustees and Anita on the Session.

The Gotto Lecture Series builds on the success of Fifth Avenue’s visiting authors program, created by Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston in 2010. This program has featured such acclaimed writers as James Carroll, Thomas Long, Marilynne Robinson, Barbara Brown Taylor and Christian Wiman.