“We identified the right leader at the right time officially into our circle”
April 2023 – Drew Theological School officially welcomed the Rev. Dr. Edwin David Aponte as the 14th Dean of the Theological School during a Service of Installation.
The service concluded a two-day celebration. “Draw the Circle Wide: a Panel Discussion on Racial Justice and Restorative Work” took place the preceding evening.
The celebration theme, “Draw the Circle Wide,” is also the Theological School’s unofficial motto.
The celebratory service was filled with song, scripture—read in Spanish, Shona, and Korean—and words of welcome from the Drew community and beyond, including Provost Jessica Lakin, Bishop John Schol, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, former Dean Maxine Beach, Associate Dean Tanya Linn Bennett, Associate Dean Robert Seesengood, Professor of Church Music Mark Miller, Dean Ryan Hinrichs, and Dean of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio Valerie Bridgeman.
While the service was filled with talks of the promise for the future, the audience held evidence of Aponte’s journey that led him to Drew—from family, former colleagues, and classmates, to Aponte’s mentor at the age of 15, artist Roe Halper. “In many ways, I am here because of her,” said Aponte. “She invited us to see the world in newer and broader ways. I learned about social justice from Roe.”
Lakin remembered her discussions with Aponte during the search process. “Dean Aponte’s definition of hope is both uplifting and powerful,” she said. “With hope, people have the strength to confront the vexing complicated questions in life. Importantly, we are called to do so in ways that value humanity, embody respect for others, and make space for a diversity of thoughts, approaches, and opinions while making clear that there are some values that absolutely cannot be compromised.”
“We identified the right leader at the right time officially into our circle.”
Schol shared a history of the Theological School, which has had an unwavering commitment to education and inclusiveness, noting that since 2000, all Theological School deans have been women or people of color. “The Theological School has made a significant difference in the life of the church of all denominations across the world.”
“We welcome you and give thanks that you come with what Daniel Drew saw more than 100 years ago—possibility of what we all could become,” said Schol. “Dean Aponte brings that original spirit of possibility and spirit of wisdom and knowledge and the practice of theology.”
“This place is rooted in such good stuff and the future is unbelievable,” said Beach. “Scholarship at Drew has never been about writing a book, it’s about changing the world. The roots of this place coincide so wonderfully with our new leader. Sometimes the right person shows up at the right time, for a time such as this.”
Aponte addressed the future of religion during his speech, “What Now,” citing that as many as three in ten adults in the U.S. are religiously unaffiliated. “We live in a world of many negative narratives,” he said. “Despite doom, gloom, and decline, religion is still a big deal in the world. Things are changing. The question is, do we want to recognize the nature of that change?”
“What does it mean for us to do what is good? To love in a way that God loves humanity? And how can we fold that into Drew Theological School? At Drew, we press further beyond, doing justice in the fullest way possible with love, kindness, and mercy.”
Aponte was then bestowed with gifts during the conferring of the symbols of investiture from the Theological Alumni Council, Theological School Students Associations, the Graduate Division of Religion Student Association, and faculty and staff of the Theological School.