General Theological Seminary awards three honorary degrees

May 21, 2009

The General Theological Seminary in New York City awarded three honorary doctorate degrees May 20 during its 187th commencement ceremony.

The honorary degree recipients were Dr. Diana Butler Bass, noted author and speaker; Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa; and Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Francisco Lobelle received the seminary's Clement Clarke Moore Medal.

Bass is a keen observer and advocate for progressive Christianity. Among her six books, Strength for the Journey is considered an essential account of the contemporary Episcopal Church. She holds an earned doctorate from Duke University and is a member of the Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. For many years Bass wrote a weekly syndicated column on religion for the New York Times and she received major funding from the Lilly Endowment for a study of mainline Protestant churches. In March 2009, she published a history of Christian spirituality and social justice. Her wide-ranging interests also include pastoral theology, church history and congregational development. Her doctoral thesis was published as Standing Against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in the Nineteenth Century.

Makgoba became Archbishop of Cape Town in December of 2007, and is ex officio leader of the 24 dioceses of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The youngest bishop ever to be elected to his new position, he had been a Proctor Scholar at the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Makgoba has said that he intends to invoke the old African tradition of indaba on which the reconciliation procedures of South Africa were based. Beaten and left for dead during the final throes of the apartheid struggles, he and others who suffered were able to take a long view: "One was able to still laugh, because we knew that the struggle was a much bigger issue than our personal losses." As Ian Douglas, EDS's Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity has stated, "He's a deeply, deeply loving and caring person. He's really the right person -- not only for the church in Southern Africa and South Africa, but really for the whole Anglican Communion. Thabo can lead us in our steps down the road of healing."

Jefferts Schori, previously bishop of Nevada, is the 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. She is chief pastor and primate to the Episcopal Church's 2.2 million members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses, joining leaders of the other 38 Anglican provinces in consultation for global good and reconciliation. Jefferts Schori was elected at the 75th General Convention on June 18, 2006 and invested at Washington National Cathedral on November 4, 2006.

Lobelle is owner of a food establishment near the Seminary, Frank's Deli. Frankie, as he has been known to generations of GTS students, has been an integral member of the GTS community for 30 years, a cheerful friend and a second grandfather to the small children of the students. Since he opened his business in 1978, more than 1,500 students have known him. Of the faculty and staff now at GTS, only a few have been associated with the school longer.

The General Theological Seminary, founded in 1817, prepares women and men for both ordained and lay ministries through a wide variety of degree and certificate programs. Its historic campus in the heart of New York City is also home to the Desmond Tutu Center, a modern, full-service conference facility. The seminary conferred its first honorary degree in 1885.