July 15, 2020 – Following an extensive search, education-focused executive recruiter Academic Search has assisted the United Lutheran Seminary (ULS) in the placement of Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin as its next president. His appointment is effective Aug. 1. Bishop Erwin succeeds interim president, the Rev. Dr. Angela Zimmann.
Bishop Erwin, the fourth bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), is the first openly gay male to serve in that office in the churches of the Lutheran World Federation. As an enrolled member of the Osage Nation, on whose reservation he was born in Oklahoma, Bishop Erwin is also the first Native bishop in the ELCA.
“I am so very grateful that the Holy Spirit has brought us to this moment,” said Rev. Dr. Peter Boehringer, chair of the ULS board of trustees. “With Bishop Erwin’s deep commitment to Luther’s theology of the cross, and his long history of working for justice, I believe he will lead the way in lifting up before our students and our church a greater sense of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ empowers us to be servant leaders in the world.”
The Threshold of Change
In the ELCA Conference of Bishops, he serves on the executive committee and as Region 2 liaison bishop to the ELCA Church Council, and as chair of the bishops’ theological and ethical concerns committee.
From 2000 until his election as synod bishop in 2013, Bishop Erwin held the Gerhard and Olga J. Belgum Chair in Lutheran Confessional Theology at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA. At Cal Lutheran he taught in the religion and history departments, served as faculty chair for two years, and directed the university’s Segerhammar Center for Faith and Culture.
Bishop Erwin said: “Though I am sad to leave my work as bishop, which I have dearly loved, as a life-long educator I rejoice in the chance to work with ULS’ remarkable faculty in carrying out the seminary’s mission to prepare its students for public ministry and principled engagement in the world. As a historian, I honor what our two predecessor seminaries have meant to the church, and the legacy with which we have been entrusted. At the same time, we stand on the threshold of tremendous changes in theological education, in the life of the church, and in our society, and I embrace the opportunity that this provides for ULS to be a leader in new ways.”
Bishop Erwin holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from Yale University. He also received a Fulbright grant for two years of study at the University of Tübingen in Germany, and an IREX grant for a year at the University of Leipzig. His doctoral dissertation was on the late medieval roots of Luther’s theology of the cross, and his subsequent scholarly work has focused on the religious culture of Lutheranism, particularly its worship and piety, with a special interest in the visual arts and architecture.
Higher Education Recruiters
In 2000, after teaching church history and historical theology at the Yale Divinity School (YDS) for six years, Bishop Erwin moved to Southern California with his husband, Robert T. Flynn, a West Virginia native and YDS alumnus, who has worked in scholarly publishing at Yale University Press, Columbia University Press and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, in addition to serving two terms on the board of 1517 Media, the publishing house of the ELCA.
For over three decades, Academic Search has been a leader in designing and implementing search processes for leaders of colleges and universities across the country. The firm has completed hundreds of executive searches for higher education institutions and related organizations, for roles ranging from presidents to provosts to deans. Academic Search is the only search firm in the nation with a formal relationship to a premier leadership development program. As the subsidiary of the American Academic Leadership Institute (AALI), the firm provides substantial financial support to a number of leadership identification, development and support programs across all sectors of public and private higher education. The firm is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Jay Lemons has served as president of Academic Search in 2017, after serving for 25 years as a college president in both public and private higher education. A recognized leader in the academy, he has been particularly devoted to supporting leadership talent by working with new college presidents on the faculty of the new presidents’ programs of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges and through the professional development programs for aspiring leaders of the American Academic Leadership Institute (AALI). Dr. Lemons was president of Susquehanna University from 2001 to 2017, and prior to that served as chancellor of the University of Virginia’s (UVA) College at Wise, UVA’s public liberal arts college in southwestern Virginia.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media