In August 2018, we (Viola Abbitt, Esq., Rev. Diana Davies, Prof. Michael Hogue, Kay Montgomery, Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, Rev. William Sinkford, and Ted Yang) were honored to be appointed by the Board of Trustees of the Meadville Lombard Theological School to serve on the Search Team for the next President. We brought diverse expertise and life experiences and a deep affection for the school and for Unitarian Universalism to our endeavor.
In our first meetings we committed to a collaborative form of leadership and created a covenant to guide us in our work. Reflecting core Unitarian Universalist values, our covenant affirmed principles of transparency, confidentiality, accountability and equity. We pledged to keep Meadville Lombard’s many stakeholders as informed of the search process as our commitment to confidentiality would allow. We also appealed to their individual and collective wisdom by soliciting their input on desired attributes in a new President and the names of individuals who they believed we should consider as candidates.
After jointly creating the profile for the next President, the Search Team shared it on Meadville Lombard’s website, circulated it through stakeholder communities, and posted the job announcement through a wide variety of higher educational and professional and media outlets. As a result, we were pleased to receive applications from an impressive and diverse pool of candidates. We carefully considered the materials submitted by each of the applicants and selected three outstanding finalists for in-person interviews, which we conducted in Chicago during the week of March 4, 2019.
After meeting with each of the impressive finalists, and after careful deliberation, we are very pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Elias Ortega-Aponte as the candidate we will submit to the Board of Trustees to serve as the next President of Meadville Lombard Theological School. Dr. Ortega-Aponte is an innovative leader, a committed Unitarian Universalist, a celebrated educator, a social justice activist, an accomplished scholar, and an experienced community organizer. He is gifted with the skills, attributes, knowledge, experience, and vision needed to lead our school into the future.
Dr. Ortega-Aponte received his MDiv and PhD (Religion and Society, Magna Cum Laude) from Princeton Theological Seminary (2005, 2011). He also holds a BA in Communications Arts & Sciences and Philosophy and Religion from Calvin College. Since 2011, he has served as Associate Professor of Social Theory and Religious Ethics at Drew University Theological School. At Drew, he also serves as the Theological School Deans’ Council Chair, is a member of the Digital Humanities Advisory Committee and the Title IX Committee. He was the recipient of the Faculty Civic Engagement Award in 2017. His primary teaching and research areas are Sociology of Religion, Religious Ethics, Cultural Sociology, Social Movements, Critical Theory, Africana Studies, Latinx Cultural Studies. He also has competency in the areas of Science and Religion, Latin American/ Latino/a Philosophy, Decolonial/Post-Colonial Studies and Liberation Theologies. In addition to teaching at Drew, he has also taught at Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt Divinity School, The College of New Jersey and Mercer County Community College. In the American Academy of Religion, he has served on the Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the Profession, and on the steering committees for the Religion and Politics Unit and the Latina/o Religion, Culture and Society Unit.
In addition to his academic accomplishments, Dr. Ortega-Aponte is firmly grounded in his Unitarian Universalist identity and has assumed transformative and leadership roles within and beyond the movement. He currently serves as a member of the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change and the Religious Education Credentialing Committee. From 2015 to 2018, he was leadership staff for the UUA’s Growing Racial Justice initiative, and during that same period was Co-Chair of the UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey’s Dismantling Racism Group. He received a Unitarian Universalist Service Committee “Justice Builder Innovator” award in 2016. He is currently the Director of Children’s Ministries at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, NJ and is a member of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship where he contributes to religious education programming and worship life.
In addition to his work in Unitarian Universalist circles, Dr. Ortega-Aponte helped to start and run the Drew Freedom School Initiative, a social justice program that provides training in non-violent resistance and community organizing. He has been a volunteer and provided strategic planning and program support to the Student Outreach and Academic Reinforcement Program at Bethel AME in Morristown, NJ. He has been involved in the education programs at the Morristown and Morris County Organization for Hispanics’ Affairs. He has served on the Board of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Advisory Council to the Sila Maria Calderon Foundation, and has provided research support to the New Jersey Parent Caucus, a Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Advocacy Group.
Having studied and taught in theological schools, Dr. Ortega-Aponte is profoundly attuned to the blessings and the burdens of theological education. He has keen insights into student recruitment and retention, innovative ideas about fundraising, a strong commitment to global learning, and bold ideas about the purposes, content and forms of ministerial formation. As this brief introduction indicates, Dr. Ortega-Aponte’s leadership in academic, religious, and social justice settings, his deep concern for students, his innovative ideas about theological education, and his vision for the future of Meadville Lombard and Unitarian Universalism make him an ideal candidate to serve as the next President of Meadville Lombard Theological School.
We are truly grateful for the support you have given us throughout this process.
Meadville Lombard Presidential Search Team
[UPDATE] April 17, 2019
The Board of Trustees of Meadville Lombard Theological School is delighted to announce that at a specially called meeting on April 17th, Dr. Elias Ortega-Aponte was unanimously elected to serve as the next President of the seminary. Dr. Ortega's appointment was recommended to the Board by a unanimous vote of the Presidential Search Team.
Dr. Ortega-Aponte will assume Meadville Lombard’s presidency on July 8, 2019. In order to ensure a smooth leadership transition for the school, Dr. Lee Barker will remain available to Dr. Ortega-Aponte for orientation and counsel through August 31, 2019, when he completes his service to the school. Regarding Dr. Ortega-Aponte’s election, Dr. Barker said, “I could not be more excited for the future of Meadville Lombard. I have no doubt that the school will prosper and the learning will deepen under Dr. Ortega-Aponte’s leadership.”
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