By Toya Richards Hill and
Michelle E. Melton
The 2009 Distinguished Alum Awards were presented to George Carpenter (BD '56); Jane Larsen-Wigger (MDiv '83); and Nyambura Njoroge (MAR '85).
Dr. George Carpenter (BD ’56) believes one of the greatest skills he gained as a student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary more than 50 years ago was simply how to be a good pastor.
“The relationship between a pastor and the congregation … I learned a lot about that,” he said.
It was solid teaching that served him well over the years, and now he has come full circle as one of three recipients of Louisville Seminary’s 2009 Distinguished Alum Awards, presented March 17, at an oversubscribed luncheon in the Seminary’s Hundley Hall in historic Gardencourt estate.
“For 23 years Louisville Seminary has designated this annual season to recognize servants of Christ’s Church who have lived as faithful witnesses to the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ in the world through their various ministries. Throughout our 156-year history, Louisville Seminary has trained pastors, chaplains, teachers, counselors, and public leaders who are life-long learners and who assume personal responsibility for integrating classical theological knowledge with the skills and practices of ministry. Historically, and even now, we have challenged our students to live compassionate lives that are congruent with the Gospel, taking seriously the commission of Jesus to spread the good news of salvation, justice, love, and mercy,” said Louisville Seminary President Dean K. Thompson.
Since 1986, 93 individuals have been “gratefully signified, in faith, hope, and love, as our Distinguished Alums,” said Thompson
After graduating from Maryville College in Tennessee, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Carpenter attended Louisville Seminary from 1953 to 1956, earning the Bachelor of Divinity degree. He was ordained in May of 1956 and called as the organizing pastor of Briargate Presbyterian Church in Louisville that same year.
“My ministry plan was just to be a plain old pastor,” said Carpenter, who also holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va. Louisville Seminary gave me the tools to do that – and more, he said.
The Greensboro, N.C., resident especially credits the Seminary’s strong field education program and the faculty, who “knew exactly what they were talking about.”
“I learned the practical experience with the book knowledge and came away with a fine education,” Carpenter said.
The current pastor of the Briargate Church, Rev. John Gulden, attended the Seminary luncheon and paid tribute to Carpenter, saying, “There are people in our lives that lead us and teach us to be faithful, you, George, are one of them.”
Gulden said he was the new pastor of Briargate in 2005 at the time of the church’s 50th anniversary, when all the former pastors, including Carpenter, attended special anniversary events. Gulden recalled Carpenter’s advice to the congregation, “This is your pastor,” Carpenter said, pointing at Gulden; “listen to him.”
“It seems [the congregation] remembers you and somehow seeks to be, not more George-like, but more Christ-like,” Gulden said to Carpenter.
Following his ministry at Briargate, Carpenter served as senior pastor of Bardstown Road Presbyterian Church, also in Louisville, from 1963 to 1972. He also held positions as associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, N.C., from 1972 to 1976 and as senior pastor of Starmount Presbyterian Church in Greensboro for 14 years.
In 1990, Carpenter accepted the call as President of the Medical Benevolence Foundation, a partnership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which provides hope and healing to those most in need through more than 100 hospitals and clinics throughout the world. Carpenter retired in 1994. Since then, he has continued to minister in various interim pastor positions in the Greensboro area.
Carpenter’s service in the Church has included serving as a commissioner to several General Assembly meetings; as a representative with an international consultation with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana; and moderator of the Salem Presbytery Hunger Committee. He also served on the Louisville Seminary Alumni Board from 1983 to 1990, and was invited to be the Seminary’s first Alum-in-Residence in 1991.
Active in community service, Carpenter has provided leadership to Humana Hospital in Greensboro, the Greensboro Urban Ministry Board, the Homemaker Home Health Aid Board, and the Guilford County “Committee of Eleven.”
Carpenter, who is married to the former Carolyn Grall, whom he met at Louisville Seminary, said his advice to men and women in Seminary is simply to “be a pastor; get to know your people.”
Often, pastors act more like chief executive officers, but they have to have relationships that include visiting homes and connecting with the people, Carpenter said. “Be one of them, love them that way,” he said.
Learn more about Louisville Seminary's Distinguished Alums since 1986, or nominate an alum, on the Distinguished Alum webpage.