VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/22/13)—The board of trustees of Andover Newton Theological School, the oldest theological school and the first formal graduate institution in the United States, announced on Thursday the appointment of the Rev. Martin Copenhaver as the seminary’s next president. Copenhaver will assume the post on June 1, 2014, succeeding the Rev. Dr. Nick Carter, who has served as Andover Newton’s president for 10 years and plans to retire at the end of the current academic year.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1980, Copenhaver is currently senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational (Village) Church in Wellesley, Mass. He has served Village Church, which is the largest congregation in the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC, since 1994. During this time, he also has been active in theological education, serving as a trustee of Andover Newton for the past 10 years and as a member of the Board of Advisors of Yale Divinity School for the past eight years. A highly respected thought leader and prolific writer with a national reputation, Copenhaver also currently serves as editor at large for The Christian Century magazine.
Copenhaver has written or co-written six books and contributed to 14 others. More than 100 of his articles and sermons have been published in national periodicals. His latest book, This Odd and Wondrous Calling (co-written with the Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel), is about pastoral ministry and is widely used as a text in theological schools and beyond. He has taught courses in preaching, worship, and communication at Andover Newton, and in recent years he has given speeches or presentations at 11 different theological schools across the country.
According to the chair of Andover Newton’s board, the Rev. Judy Swahnberg, trustees were seeking in the school’s next president a proven leader eager to sustain Andover Newton’s historic commitment to being a progressive Christian seminary on the forefront of theological education while at the same time able to creatively re-imagine what that commitment means, and requires, in a rapidly changing context.
“We need a president who understands the critical importance of preparing faith leaders for a church and communities of faith that are evolving,” said Swahnberg. “We hoped our search would lead us to a leader who embraces the need for entrepreneurial thinking about Andover Newton’s mission, who will build bridges of understanding within and beyond our school community, and who is able to garner the resources necessary to ensure Andover Newton is one of the most fiscally healthy seminaries in America. In Martin Copenhaver we have found a multidimensional leader who will honor our proud past and lean confidently into our promising future.”
Copenhaver was chosen from a strong and diverse pool of applicants for the presidency. Nearly one third of the candidates identified as affiliated with United Church of Christ, more than one third were from Baptist denominations, several were Unitarian Universalists (UUA), and several were United Methodists. More than half the applicants were ordained, and two were sitting presidents at other seminaries. The search was led by a 13-person committee whose members included trustees, faculty and staff members, students and alumni. The search committee was chaired by the Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom, who is a trustee of Andover Newton and senior minister at First Parish of Brookline (UUA).
“Our nationwide search led us to three eminently qualified and distinguished finalists,” said Sherblom, “and after carefully considering the feedback from all the Andover Newton constituencies that had a chance to meet the finalists on campus, the search committee reached consensus and unanimously supported the recommendation that the board of trustees offer the position to Martin Copenhaver.” The trustees voted to approve the recommendation at a special meeting convened on campus yesterday afternoon.
“I fully recognize that this is a challenging time in theological education, and this is one compelling reason why I felt called to serve as Andover Newton’s president,” said Copenhaver.
In reflecting on the challenges confronting seminaries today, Copenhaver said, “I am impatient with the narrative of decline. Yes, this is a challenging time for faith communities and, yes, in many settings there are fewer people and fewer dollars. But is that to be the story of our time? No. God is doing a new thing and we need to catch up with what God is doing. That is my definition of discernment: Seeking to know what God is up to and what we are to do in response. This is definitely a time for deep discernment and bold action.”
Copenhaver believes he will bring to the presidency of Andover Newton a gift for identifying needs, seeing new and creative ways those needs might be met, then shaping and articulating the vision in ways that others are able to grasp and want to support. Then, he says, he will “marshal resources — human, spiritual, and financial — to fulfill our shared vision.”
Serving as senior pastor of large churches since the age of 27, Copenhaver is widely known as an exemplary leader, an entrepreneurial thinker, an extraordinary preacher, and an exceptional fundraiser. “I know well that fundraising is a key component of the president’s work, and gratefully I enjoy this work. I think of fundraising as a way to match people’s passions and aspirations with critical needs,” he said. In the last 10 years, Village Church has received five grants totaling $3.1 million from the Lilly Endowment, and in 2002-04, Copenhaver oversaw a capital campaign at Village Church that raised more money ($10.6 million) in a capital appeal than had ever been raised by any congregation in the history of the UCC.
Also under his leadership, the Village Church congregation has built a 17-year, multi-faceted partnership with the congregation of The Historic Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury and more recently a close partnership with Temple Beth Elohim, a Reform synagogue in Wellesley.
“Part of what excites me about Andover Newton is its commitment to multi-faith engagement,” said Copenhaver. “The school’s relationship with Hebrew College is unique and is a model for interfaith relationships. Andover Newton embodies a much-needed new paradigm in which the more we cherish our own religious traditions the more space we make for those not like us. We claim our identity as a Christian school in ways that equip and encourage us to have formative interfaith relationships. And we practice hospitality by welcoming people of all faiths and by being open to being transformed by our interactions with one another.”
Andover Newton is distinguished by its track record of innovation and collaboration, hands-on preparation for the ministry, and pioneering inter-faith initiatives. The school’s student body of 300 represents at least 35 denominations, with over 50 percent from the founding denominations (UCC and American Baptist) and nearly 16 percent UUA. The school is ecumenical in its life and ministry, and educates students from many areas of the country and world for ministries in multicultural and global settings.
“In the complex environment of our time, the church needs excellent pastors more than ever. That means that the church and individual congregations of many traditions need a strong Andover Newton,” said Copenhaver. “The challenges facing the school are considerable, as are its distinctive strengths, and I am exhilarated by the prospect of working with others to address these challenges and leverage the strengths in ways that are faithful, creative, and effective.”
Andover Newton Theological School, founded in 1807, is the first graduate school of any kind in America. Always an innovator in religious education, Andover Newton is internationally recognized as a leader in interfaith learning. Andover Newton has historical covenants with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ. It is also a member of the Boston Theological Institute (BTI), an association of theological schools and seminaries in the Greater Boston area, and shares some facilities and programs with Harvard University.
American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with over 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.