10 December 2009

General Seminary Will Begin Search for 13th Dean and President


New York City –  The Very Rev. Ward Burleson Ewing, Twelfth Dean and President of the General Theological Seminary, has asked the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees to begin the search for his successor as leader of the 192-year-old institution, the oldest seminary of the Episcopal Church.  “I expect to continue until such time that a successor has been hired and an appropriate transition accomplished,” the Dean said in an open letter to the Seminary community sent on December 9 following the meeting with the Executive Committee.  A search committee for the Dean’s successor will be chaired by GTS trustee Dr. Michael Gilligan. A meeting is scheduled for January 8 at which plans will be finalized for the selection process.


In explaining the timing of his decision the Dean, aged 67, cited three recent developments that have had a very positive impact on the life of the school.  In August the Seminary successfully refinanced all of its debt. In November, after a long and difficult application period, the Seminary received the necessary approvals from the city to operate its Desmond Tutu Center as a hotel and to rent guest rooms to the public when they are not being used for Seminary conferences; the sizable revenues from this are a critical component for future operating expenses and debt service.  Lastly, receipt of two major gifts from Polly Keller Winter and her son, Christoph Keller, III, together with a sizable grant from the William Woods Foundation, will enable the Seminary to complete a new library and to fund a new professorship in Christian Education.  The Dean characterized the developments as important milestones in the Seminary achieving financial stability. These accomplishments are the capstone of an eleven year tenure with a long line of institutional advances.

“Ward Ewing’s deanship has been remarkable for the lasting contributions he has made to creating  a vibrant and strong General Seminary as it enters its third century,” said Board of Trustees Chairman the Rev.
Canon Denis M. O’Pray at the conclusion of the Executive Committee’s meeting.  O’Pray pointed out that, since assuming the leadership role in 1998, the Dean has overseen a comprehensive restoration and refurbishing of the eighteen historic buildings on the seminary’s Manhattan campus, the creation of a full-service conference facility with 60 guest rooms, and an innovative geothermal energy initiative, one of the largest in the Northeast.  Dean Ewing brought information technology to the campus, overseeing the creation of its first local area network, smart classrooms, digital phone system, and computerized registration and accounting systems. All totaled, $60 million were devoted to improving and preserving the Seminary’s landmarked campus.  Annual giving and major gifts to the Seminary rose remarkably during the Dean’s tenure and the development of new program offerings, particularly for lay persons, was high on his agenda and yielded impressive results.

Visionary Stewardship of an Historic Campus

“When Ward arrived in 1998 the shell of many of our buildings were in such disrepair that several might have soon become uninhabitable,” O’Pray explained.  Re-pointing the brick and new slate roofs of the properties cost nearly $20 million. Twelve of the buildings received complete interior re-modeling. Three dormitories entered the 21st century with full scale makeovers. The school’s beloved refectory, called one of the most beautiful spaces in Manhattan, had its barrel vault ceiling painstakingly restored.  The resulting savings in annual maintenance costs were enormous, plunging from over 40% of the operating budget in 1998 to less than 23% today.  After months of persistent searching yielded a fruitful partnership with a major developer, the Dean oversaw replacement of the Seminary’s aging Sherrill Hall on Ninth Avenue with a new building that houses a modern library as well as income-producing co-op apartments.  In 2005, the Dean developed a plan for three historic but under-utilized buildings on Tenth Avenue to become the Desmond Tutu Center, which includes 60 three-star guest rooms as well as state-of-the-art conference facilities. As energy costs for the Seminary’s block-wide campus began to soar, the Dean urged the Seminary to follow the path of environmental responsibility, resulting in a model geothermal heating and cooling system that now serves the Tutu Center and several dormitories and will eventually serve the entire campus.

Squarely Facing Economic Challenges

During an unprecedented downturn in the national economy, with its severe challenges to philanthropy, the Dean built a remarkably successful development team at the Seminary.  The Leaders for the Church capital campaign (2005-07) was the largest in the Seminary’s history, starting with a goal of $15 million and eventually raising over $19 million. General’s annual fund, about $300,000 at the beginning the Ewing tenure, climbed to annual figures over the $800,000 mark and finally concluded last year with the highest amount of giving every achieved, over $1 million. In the year 2009 alone, giving by GTS alumni/ae was doubled, making General a leader among Episcopal seminaries.  The Dean has personally secured many gifts from major donors including $1 million for a scholarship fund and $5 million for the new library.

Significant Program Advancements

Preservation of the Seminary’s campus and achieving financial stability, Dean Ewing realized, would be meaningless if there were not concurrent advancements in the Seminary’s program offerings and the contributions GTS was making to the wider Church. Early in his deanship a new mission statement was developed for GTS, one that unhesitatingly embraced the reality of change, identifying General as “an Episcopal institution called to educate and form leaders for the church in a changing world.” When that change involved an increased focus on lay ministry in the church, Dean Ewing responded with an expanded M.A. degree program and an increased effort to recruit part-time and commuter students, most of whom were called to ministry as lay persons. When the need for a place for short-term conferences as well as major symposia became clear, the Dean responded by initiating plans for the Tutu Center, which later drew international figures such as Desmond Tutu, John Danforth, Carol Moseley Braun, and E.J. Dionne and elicited national news coverage by PBS. When the brokenness of the world called the church to increased involvement in issues of justice and world peace, the Center for Peace and Reconciliation was created at the Tutu Center. In response to the needs of continuing education for alumni/ae, Dean Ewing’s leadership initiated the Center for Lifelong Learning for the nurture and growth of ordained persons at every stage in their ministry.  The Seminary’s centermost program, the education and formation of the church’s future clergy, continues as a major focus of the school.  The overall enrollment rose from over 100 at the beginning of the Dean’s tenure to a present headcount of over 200 students.  

Service to the City and the World

Early in Ward Ewing’s deanship,the life of New York City and the nation came to a standstill with the events of September 11, 2001.  Emails poured in from throughout the Anglican Communion from alumni/ae and friends of GTS worried about how the attack had affected the Seminary and whether any in the community had been hurt (they had not). Many students, staff, and faculty were already in the midst of doing their part to aid the recovery effort. General Seminary became the nerve center, clearing house, and depot for coordinating the dissemination of food and supplies donated by churches for workers at Ground Zero. The Dean himself made many of the trips back and forth in his red VW van. While the nightly homeless shelter at GTS and later the St. Martin’s Clothes Closet are student-run ministries, they were created in response to the Dean’s personal example of Christian service to the larger community. 

Dean Ewing came to GTS
in April of 1998
after thirty-one years as a pastor whose ministry was marked by a combination of scholarly pursuits and pastoral abilities. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Trinity College (1964) and first in his class at General Seminary (1967), Dean Ewing is a respected author and teacher, and a much sought-after speaker and conference leader.  Along with a number of articles, he has published two books: Job: A Vision of God (1976) and The Power of the Lamb: Revelation=s Theology of Liberation for You (1990). These achievements are complemented by a distinguished record of institutional service. Since 2004 he has served as a Class A (non-alcoholic) trustee for Alcoholics Anonymous and in May of 2008 was elected national Chair of the organization’s General Service Board.  He currently serves as Convener of the Council of Deans of all the Episcopal seminaries.  

In the small amount of free time his ministry affords, the Dean is a master woodworker and has created many pieces of beautiful furniture.  He and his wife Jenny Ewing, both natives of Tennessee, look forward to transitioning to a new life at the Ewing family homestead in a rural community known as Ten Mile.  Mrs. Ewing has had a longtime ministry at GTS as proprietor of the General Store, the outlet for attractive items bearing the Seminary’s logo. The couple has three grown children and three grandchildren.  “This has truly been a team effort; there are so many who have contributed to the health of this Seminary,” said the Dean.  “I give thanks to God that I have had the privilege of walking with so many others who are committed to the mission and health of this school.  And I am not done yet!”


Media Contact:
Bruce Parker
Executive Director of Communications
The General Theological Seminary
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