In a ceremony that combined the solemnity of evensong with exuberant preaching and hymns that called alternately for formal brass accompaniment and old-fashioned hand-clapping, Ward B. Ewing was installed on October 21 as the 12th dean of General Theological Seminary in New York City.
"I love it," the new dean said of the service. "I want to open up" the Anglican formality often seen in services in the austere campus chapel "without disturbing what we already have." He added that he felt that Episcopalians were ready now "as they never have been" to hear a more open message in a more open style.
In the installation service that openness was represented by the Rev. Michael Curry, rector of St. James' Church in Baltimore, who quoted sources ranging from the Bible to Duke Ellington to an elderly aunt to show that there is true strength in love. Ewing, who graduated from the seminary in 1967 at the top of his class, has been on the job since April, familiarizing himself again with the campus, which fills one city block in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. He has also been listening.
"I give high priority to getting accurate information on the existing situation," he said in a recent interview. This, combined with the experience gathered from 30 years in parish ministry, has helped him focus on what he sees as the challenges lying ahead. "Certainly an important challenge is our development effort," he said. "With a dozen or more 19th century building to care for, the need to upgrade many of our facilities with modern technological amenities, and the constant responsibility to keep residential theological education affordable, a strong development initiative needs to be in place."
He added he is even more concerned with how the seminary will respond to changing opportunities in the church, such as "total ministry" and the deployment of priests ordained to serve in specific settings. The seminary has recently formed task forces to study these areas as well as how to deliver theological education to students who live far away from the campus and students from ethnic and racial communities that are not currently well represented at General. He is also working to expand the reach of the seminary's academic programs, realizing that General is and should remain a major "supplier" of parish priests.
The work has allowed him to merge two major interests: congregational renewal and teaching. Born into a family of educators in Tennessee, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and went on to excel at General. Shortly after graduation he married his wife, Jenny, with whom he now has three grown children.
His first assignment as a deacon was at Calvary Church in downtown Memphis during the 1968 garbage workers' strike and the turbulent times surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death there. He later served in an urban congregation in Jacksonville, Florida, and in St. Peter's in the Valley in Louisville, Kentucky, then a mission congregation in a working-class neighborhood of the city. While he was there the congregation grew and developed some successful outreach programs to help the community. The church, no longer a mission, is thriving.
In 1985 Ewing was made rector of Trinity Church in Buffalo, New York. Before leaving there early this year, he presided over a dramatic growth in church attendance and participation in programs, both of which led to a doubling of pledges that strengthened the church's budget. In a talk earlier this year with prospective seminary students, he declared, "If I have a vision for GTS, it is an embodiment of the dream Jesus called 'the kingdom of God.' Our faith is about God's dream for the world and General Seminary needs to be a place where we get a taste of that kingdom."