In a ceremony featuring both formal speeches and prayers, Gregory Sterling was officially appointed dean of the Divinity School Tuesday afternoon.
Approximately 150 people gathered to witness the event, which took place in Marquand Chapel in the Divinity School Quadrangle and included a worship service and a speech by University President Richard Levin. During the hour-long ceremony, Sterling gave a keynote address entitled “The Mystery of God: Imagining the Church of the 21st century,” in which he spoke about the importance of adjustment in the face of growing religious change while preserving the Divinity School’s, and one’s own, religious identity. During his speech, Sterling said he hopes to maintain the quality of the Divinity School’s education in traditional areas of theology while also adapting the school to the modern religious climate.
“We do not and cannot live in an isolated corner of the world,” Sterling said. “Thinking globally and interreligiously are not options — they are required for living in the 21st century.”
Sterling said in his address that Christianity in North America is in a state of decline, adding that as the number of Christians in the northern hemisphere is decreasing, Christianity in Latin America and Africa is growing. He added that it would be irresponsible for the Divinity School and the religious community at large to fail to respond to these demographic trends in Christianity.
Sterling said it is important for the religious and secular facets of society to interact given the shifting roles of Christianity in the 21st century.
Though Sterling said he wants to pioneer new efforts in the Divinity School — such as a University-wide initiative on faith and peace and hour-long leadership courses taught by prominent individuals with theological backgrounds — he added that he aims to preserve the Divinity School’s educational heritage.
“The Yale Divinity School has for many years offered outstanding training in classical theological disciplines,” he said. “I pledge to continue that tradition.”
Levin said Sterling has the University’s full support as he encourages the study of all religions during his term as a Divinity School dean.
Three audience members interviewed said they appreciated the concision of the hour-long ceremony and its discussion of Christianity’s place in modern society.
Marilyn Kendrix DIV ’13 said she was pleased that the ceremony’s message stressed the need to listen to the word of God at a school that is a part of a secular university.
Eddie Kjelshus, a former reverend at the Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, said the service was “short, prompt and well written.” He said he thinks Sterling rightly addressed the church’s need to balance between adjusting to an increasingly modern society and preserving the study of old religious texts.
“The service was concise but right on target,” said Barb Gillette, a singer in Marquand Chapel’s choir. “It was kept simple and that was the beauty of it.”
Sterling took office in August 2012 after serving as the dean of graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame.