GTS's Dean Ewing announces retirement plans

December 10, 2009

The Very Rev. Ward Burleson Ewing, dean and president of the General Theological Seminary (GTS), has told the school he plans to retire.

According to a news release from the New York City-based seminary, Ewing recently asked the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees to begin the search for his successor at the 192-year-old institution, the oldest seminary of the Episcopal Church.

Ewing, 67, said in a Dec. 9 letter to the seminary community that he expected to continue in his post until successor is hired "and an appropriate transition accomplished."

A search committee will be chaired by GTS trustee Michael Gilligan.

"This has truly been a team effort; there are so many who have contributed to the health of this seminary," Ewing said of his 11 years at General. "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!"

In explaining his plans, Ewing, 67, cited three recent developments that he said were milestones in the seminary's effort to achieve financial stability.

In August GTS successfully refinanced all of its debt. Last month, it 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 income from those rentals "are a critical component for future operating expenses and debt service," the release said.

And the school recently received what the release called two major gifts from Polly Keller Winter (widow of Arkansas Bishop Christoph Keller) and their son, the Rev. Canon Christoph Keller III, together with a sizable grant from the William Wood Foundation, will enable General to complete a new library and to fund a new professorship in Christian education.

Ewing had told the seminary community in July 2008 that "decisive action" was needed to face the school's "major financial and programmatic challenges," adding that "the immediate future of General Seminary is not imperiled." Ewing's announcement was set in the context of all Episcopal and other mainline seminaries, which have faced rising costs and stagnant or declining enrollments for the past 30 years while higher education costs have accelerated.

Board of Trustees Chairman the Rev. Canon Denis M. O'Pray said in the Dec. 10 release that Ewing has overseen the comprehensive restoration and refurbishing of the 18 historic buildings on the seminary's Manhattan campus, the improvement of the school's information technology, the creation of the Tutu Center and an innovative geothermal energy initiative, one of the largest in the Northeast. The work cost a total of $60 million, according to the release.

Annual giving and major gifts to GTS have risen markedly during Ewing's tenure, the release said, and he led the development of new program offerings, particularly for lay persons.

Ewing came to GTS in April of 1998 after 31 years as a pastor. He is also an author and teacher, and a much sought-after speaker and conference leader. Since 2004 he has served as a Class A (non-alcoholic) trustee for Alcoholics Anonymous. He also serves as convener of the Council of Deans of all the Episcopal seminaries.

His wife, Jenny Ewing, has had a longtime ministry at GTS as proprietor of the General Store, the outlet for items bearing the seminary's logo.