June 9, 2020
The United Lutheran Seminary Board of Trustees has named Rev.Dr. R. Guy Erwin, fourth bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as its next president. Dr. Erwin will also hold the title of Ministerium of Pennsylvania Chair and Professor of Reformation Studies. His appointment is effective August 1, 2020. Bishop Erwin succeeds interim president, the Rev. Dr. Angela Zimmann.
“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. Our society, indeed, our world is facing incredibly challenging issues. I have no doubt that he will inspire and help shape a new generation of seminarians to lead the church in bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on those challenges.”
Bishop Erwin is the ELCA’s first gay, partnered bishop and 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, he is the first Native bishop in the ELCA. 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. 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.
“Though I am sad to leave my work as bishop, which I have dearly loved,” Bishop Erwin said, “as a life-long educator I rejoice in the chance to work with ULS’s 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."
During the Reformation anniversary year in 2017, Bishop Erwin was in high demand as a teacher and speaker and gave 30 lectures and presentations in the United States and Germany in addition to his normal duties as bishop. Through the Lutheran World Federation and his work with the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, Bishop Erwin maintains an extensive set of international connections, particularly in Germany and the Nordic countries.
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.
“Bishop Erwin’s coming to ULS just as we are beginning to wrestle with shaping our life around the seminary’s mission statement, means that the seminary will be blessed by hearing his unique voice as it discerns how to best prepare the people who will lead the church in the future,” said Rev. Dr. Boehringer.
In 2000, after teaching church history and historical theology at the Yale Divinity School 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 Trustees of 1517 Media, the publishing house of the ELCA. Bishop Erwin and Mr. Flynn currently live in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Bishop Erwin has not yet announced where he and Mr. Flynn will reside.
“I join with Rev. Dr. Boehringer in warmly welcoming Bishop Erwin to the ULS community, and look forward to serving in ministry together,” said Rev. Dr. Angela Zimmann, who has served as interim president since December 1, 2019 and will return to her position as Vice President of Institutional Advancement at ULS. “With Bishop Erwin’s leadership, by the grace of God, United Lutheran Seminary is well-positioned and re-energized for moving forward into a faithful future."
More information will be forthcoming on Bishop Erwin's arrival at ULS.
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