The Board of Trustees of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary today named Rev. Dr. Dean K. Thompson as its eighth president. Thompson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Charleston, West Virginia, a 1,600-member congregation he has served since 1995.
Of the many applicants and candidates we reviewed, Dean Thompson most admirably fulfills the qualifications of our Presidential Profile,” said Robert Reed, MD, a member of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee. The committee began its search more than 18 months ago, following the resignation of John M. Mulder.
“Dean Thompson shares a Christian commitment that is exemplified by the context of his life and the way he directs his church in Charleston. He brings to the leadership of Louisville Seminary a wealth of pastoral and theological experience, serving churches from Pasadena, California, to Austin, Texas, to West Virginia and three seminaries. He has worked beside many of the outstanding people in the theological community and Presbyterian Church over the past two decades,” said Reed.
Born in Ironton, Ohio, in 1943, Thompson grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, and graduated from Marshall University with a degree in history. He earned the Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, where he also received a Masters of Theology in church history and the Doctor of Philosophy in American religious studies and intellectual history beginning with the period of the Industrial Revolution.
An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Thompson’s first call was to Montgomery Presbyterian Church (1973-1979) in Montgomery, West Virginia. As pastor he led the church in an outreach ministry in rent-supplemented housing that developed into two housing complexes, of which one is for older and disabled persons. Then for five years, he was pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Texas, Austin’s oldest Presbyterian congregation that helped found Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary at the turn of the 20th century. While pastor there, he was president of Metro Ministries of Austin and became the co-founder of Reformed Round Table at MO-Ranch.
From 1984 to 1995, Thompson served as pastor of Pasadena Presbyterian Church in California, a congregation with historical commitments to community outreach, including the first Meals on Wheels program in the state of California. During his ten-year ministry in Pasadena, Thompson served on several committees of the San Gabriel Presbytery, the board of directors of the Coalition for a Nonviolent City, and as the Protestant host of “Faithways,” an ecumenical, Los Angeles-based television program on ethical issues.
Thompson returned to West Virginia to become pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Charleston, where he has ministered since 1995. As pastor of the congregation, he continued his ministry of community outreach and service. First Presbyterian Church of Charleston has built five Habitat Houses and their ecumenical hunger ministry feeds more than 21,000 families annually.
The Charleston church also has historical ties to Louisville Seminary. Eleven students from the congregation have studied at the Seminary, and all have graduated into ministerial service; this represents the largest contingency of students from one congregation outside Louisville, Kentucky. Ten Louisville Seminary alums have served on the church’s staff.
During three decades of pastoral leadership, Thompson has also served three Presbyterian theological seminaries: as a member of the Board of Trustees and adjunct faculty at San Francisco Theological Seminary and Union-PSCE Theological Seminary in Virginia and as an instructor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. His experience, knowledge, and leadership in theological education is further enhanced by his service on the Task Force for Curriculum Review at San Francisco Theological Seminary, as a representative on the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and as a participant on three major Lilly Endowment Consultations on the Pastor as Theologian in the Congregation.
Thompson has published more than 30 articles and reviews and presented lectures, seminars, and addresses on subjects such as leadership; history; theology; ministry and theological education; mission and ecumenism; worship and preaching; and justice and mercy. He is the co-author of Go Therefore: 150 Years of Presbyterians in Global Mission (Presbyterian Publishing House, 1987) and Virginia Presbyterians in American Life: Hanover Presbytery (1755-1980) and co-editor of Essays on the History of the Household of Faith in Honor of James Hutchinson Smylie.
“The faculty representatives on the search committee are enthusiastic in our support of Dr. Thompson as our new president,” said Professor of Pastoral Theology Nancy J. Ramsay who served on the committee with colleague Dr. Scott Williamson, professor of theological ethics. “He brings a career-long involvement in theological education that will make it easy for him to step into our ongoing work knowledgeably and skillfully. His passion for theological education is contagious. His vision for the role of theological education is a good fit with the trajectory of our current institutional conversations.”
At the recommendation of the faculty body, Thompson was appointed as an officer of instruction and professor of ministry.
“Dr. Thompson is particularly well suited for our emerging emphases in racial and cultural diversity because addressing these concerns has been integral to his pastoral leadership for more than 30 years. Dean Thompson has also demonstrated a commitment to the full involvement of women in church and society throughout his ministry,” Ramsay continued.
Many on the presidential search committee, which also included members of the Board of Trustees and alum, student, and employee representatives, suggested that Thompson “has spent thirty years preparing to be a seminary president. His time has come.”
In accepting the call to serve as the Seminary’s president, beginning June 28, 2004, Thompson will lead the only Presbyterian seminary that was supported by both the northern and southern Presbyterian Churches prior to Reunion in 1983. Founded in 1853, in Danville, Kentucky, Louisville Seminary pioneered the field education movement more than 50 years ago, integrating practical experience with academic and theological study. Today the field education program is a number one reason why many of its 200 students choose to enroll at Louisville Seminary. Of the Seminary’s 2,100 living graduates, a remarkable 66% are in active ministry, 21% are retired, and 13% are students or in an inactive ministry period. Thompson’s pastoral experiences are well suited for the ministry-focused institution.
Twenty-one faculty members, including three African American professors, with credentials from some of the world’s leading theological institutions and universities, provide instruction and guidance that integrates theological discipline with the practice of ministry.
The new president will also lead an institution that is credited with one of the top seminary-based Marriage and Family Therapy Programs in the nation. Accredited by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, more than 80 students have graduated from the program, which was established in 1993.
Louisville Seminary is committed to theological education in the Reformed tradition, and in the past 25 years has established official covenants with the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal Churches, that recognize the institution for the training of their ministers. Sixteen percent of the 2003-04 student body represents various minority racial/ethnic groups, and Louisville Seminary students represent 22 different denominations or faith traditions.
Thompson is married to Rebecca Azile McDaniel, a gifted musician and conductor who specializes in choral work with children and youth and is the founding director of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. She teaches elementary music and is a director with the Appalachian Children’s Chorus. They have a son, Nathan, production director for National Public Radio in Los Angeles, California, and a daughter, Genevieve Apelian, a teacher of high school English and drama, who lives in Irvine, California.