Berkeley Div School searches for new president

Berkeley Divinity School is currently searching for a new president.
Berkeley Divinity School is currently searching for a new president. Photo by Jennifer Lu.

Up at Sterling Memorial Quadrangle, a job search is underway.

Berkeley Divinity School, Yale Divinity School’s Episcopal affiliate, is currently fielding candidates to replace outgoing President and Dean Reverend Joseph Britton. Britton — who first arrived at the school in 2003 — is currently the longest-serving president in the school’s history since it first merged with Yale Divinity School in 1971. This fall, he announced that he would leave his post at the end of the academic year.

“When [Britton] first entered his role, the relationship [between the schools] was strained somewhat,” said Greg Sterling, dean of Yale Divinity School. “I think Joe’s done a good job of helping to bridge that gap.”

In his time leading Berkeley Divinity School, Britton has faced the unique challenge of managing a denominational institution that is affiliated with another school, yet maintains its nominal independence.

Britton himself is an example of this balance. While serving as president of the school, he also served as the associate dean for Anglican studies and associate professor of pastoral theology.

In an interview with the News, Britton mentioned five initiatives during his tenure as his greatest points of pride. In New Haven, he promoted the Educational Leadership and Ministry Program and the Urban Ministry Program — programs that train students to be school chaplains and engage students with social services around New Haven, respectively. Internationally, Britton built an exchange program between the Berkeley Divinity School and a seminary in Cape Coast, Ghana, in addition to strengthening Yale’s ties with the Diocese of El Salvador and leading annual trips to Anglican holy sites in Canterbury and Coventry, U.K.

Reverend Steven Carlsen, the Berkeley Divinity School trustee heading the search committee to find a replacement, said that Britton’s departure was “not really” a surprise, as Britton has been in his role for an almost unprecedented length of time.

While Carlsen had no word on Britton’s potential replacement — the Oct. 31 application submission deadline remains far off — he did say that Berkeley has been “getting a lot of interest” from “really wonderful people” for the position’s first opening in 10 years. Shortly after Britton announced his departure, the school set up an email address to which potential candidates could send inquiries and applications.

Still, colleagues said they are not yet ready to say goodbye. According to Sterling, Britton’s legacy as president and associate dean — a position he held prior to assuming the presidency — was his ability to integrate the school into one of the world’s largest research universities while also allowing it to retain its own distinct identity.

“Whenever you merge two institutions, you’re going to have some rough edges,” he said.

Among the approximately 90 students enrolled in the school, those interviewed said that Britton will be remembered for his ability to help them look beyond Sterling Memorial Quadrangle and towards New Haven and the world.

Britton’s departure will be a sad loss, said Cecil Tengatenga DIV ’17, recounting how Britton’s global initiatives for the school influenced his decision to remain at Yale Divinity School rather than leave for another program.

“You think, ‘What am I getting myself into,’ and he sort of contextualizes that within the global Anglican community,” Tengatenga said. He added that this international emphasis has deeply impacted his understanding of major issues that the Episcopal Church will have to face in the 21st century — for example, he said, a leader who thinks internationally can have a large role in controversial church debates, such as whether or not to ordain gay priests.

Britton’s successor will officially assume his or her new post on Jun. 1.

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