Written by Anthony Moujaes
One of the most compelling reasons why the Rev. Martin B. Copenhaver felt called to lead a seminary was what he sees as a challenging time in theological education. Impatient with the "narrative of decline" in the church, Copenhaver, a United Church of Christ minister, will lead Andover Newton Theological School as president, dedicated to the seminary's mission and future in, and beyond, the denomination.
"Yes, this is a challenging time for faith communities and, yes, in many settings there are fewer people and fewer dollars," said Copenhaver. "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 will become ANTS's next president June 1, 2014. Andover Newton Theological School is located in Newton Centre, Mass., and is one of the UCC's six related seminaries. He succeeds outgoing president Nick Carter, who has served Andover Newton for 10 years. Carter will retire at the end of the current school year.
"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," Copenhaver said. "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."
A resident of Boston for the last 20 years, Copenhaver preached at General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif., and is a member of the UCC's Stillspeaking Writers' Group that contributes devotionals and resources for worship. He also serves as editor at large for Christian Century magazine.
Ordained in the UCC in 1980, Copenhaver has been senior pastor of Wellesley Congregational (Village) Church in Wellesley, Mass. – the largest congregation in the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC – since 1994. 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.
Copenhaver has written or co-written six books and contributed to 14 others, while 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 has recently given speeches or presentations at 11 different theological schools throughout the country.
Andover Newton trustees sought a leader to sustain the institution's commitment as a progressive Christian seminary on the forefront of theological education, while also re-imagining what that commitment means 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 the Rev. Judy Swahnberg, chair of the board of trustees. "In Martin Copenhaver we have found a multidimensional leader who will honor our proud past and lean confidently into our promising future."
The 13-person presidential search committee considered candidates from a qualified and diverse pool of applicants. Andover Newton said nearly one in three candidates were UCC-affiliated, more than one-third were from Baptist denominations, and others were from the Unitarian Universalists (UUA) and United Methodists. More than half the applicants were ordained, and two were sitting presidents at other seminaries.
In the end, the committee selected Copenhaver, who considers the school his adopted seminary.
"For me, there is nothing quite so energizing as the conviction that one's gifts can be used in an important cause, and that is what I experience when I think about taking on the role of president of Andover Newton," he said. "I will bring all of my gifts, experience, faith, and dedication to the task. It will be an honor to do so."
Andover Newton Theological School, founded in 1807, is the first graduate school of any kind in America, and was recognized by Faith3 as one of 14 Seminaries That Change The World for 2014. Faith3 is an initiative that identifies churches that are supportive of young adults.
Read Copenhaver's message as upcoming president on the Andover Newton website.