Trustees announce selection of James Brenneman as new ABSW President

May 1, 2017 ~ Meagan Wood

Dr. James Brenneman, newly elected as president of ABSW
Rev. Dr. James Brenneman, newly elected president of ABSW

Berkeley, CA, May 1, 2017 — At its annual meeting on the Berkeley campus this past weekend, the Board of Trustees of the American Baptist Seminary of the West (ABSW) unanimously elected Rev. Dr. James E. Brenneman as their new president.  In June he will step down after three successful terms as president of Goshen College in Indiana, and will assume his duties at ABSW in August.

A year ago the school was saddened by the tragic death of its previous president, Dr. Paul Martin. After securing the services of Rev. Dr. Nick Carter to serve as President for the Interim, the school launched into a 12 month national search that ended this week in Brenneman’s selection.  “We are thrilled with the breadth of experience Jim brings to the position,” said Rev. Dr. Marcia Patton, ABSW Board Chair.  “He has proven success in ministry, higher education, fundraising, and scholarship. We couldn’t have asked for more.”

Brenneman is an ordained minister of Mennonite Church USA and was the founding lead pastor of Pasadena (CA) Mennonite Church where he served for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a senior associate in leadership development for U.S. Ministries of World Vision from 1983-1986. For fifteen years, he also served on the faculty at Episcopal Theological School at Claremont (CA) in Old Testament scholarship. He received his BA from Goshen College, his MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary and at Claremont Graduate University he earned both a MA in religious studies and a PhD, with a focus in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies.

The Search Committee was chaired by trustee Rev. Stephen Bils, the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast. Upon Brenneman’s election Bils said: “It was a rigorous search that looked at many qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds, but Jim excelled them all. We were impressed by the scope of his experience, the clear success he has had in fundraising, and the deep commitment he has to issues of diversity.” While at Goshen, Brenneman, who attended school and church in the Cuban quarter of Ybor City (Tampa), oversaw the percent of undergraduates who are Hispanic grow from 4 percent (2006-07) to 20 percent (2016-17) in a student body of nearly 1000 students, 38% of which are now students of color.

Reached for comment just after his election, Dr. Brenneman shared his enthusiasm for the prospect of serving at ABSW. “I truly feel like I’m coming home to a seminary among a union of seminaries similar to my experience in Southern California; coming home to California where Terri and I lived most of our adult lives; coming home to serve with other ecumenically-minded, progressive Baptists; coming home to a seminary with a uniquely diverse campus, a mission that lies at the core of my identity and life experience. I look forward to helping the American Baptist Seminary of the West realize its bold and ambitious vision for years to come.”

When asked about the break with tradition in hiring a Mennonite to lead a Baptist school, the Academic Dean, Rev. Dr. LeAnn Flesher, noted that it is an easy match: “Mennonites are historic Anabaptists whose values closely align with those of the American Baptist Churches, particularly our shared believe in adult or “believers” baptism.” She observed, “People should realize that “Anabaptist” doesn’t mean “anti” Baptist, but rather “re-baptizer,” a label which refers a shared belief of Baptists and Mennonites in adult baptism over infant baptism. Mennonites also have an historic commitment to peace which is highly valued at ABSW.” Dr. Flesher finished saying, “while ABSW’s commitment to the American Baptists is arterial to our identity, the reality is that there are nearly 30 different religious traditions present in our student body. That should make a comfortable home for Dr. Brenneman. We are genuinely excited about his coming.”

The American Baptist Seminary of the West was founded in 1871 and is the center of Baptist ecumenical theological education in the western US. It was one of the earliest colleges in California, moving successively from Vacaville to Oakland and then Berkeley, taking the name Berkeley Baptist Divinity School. In 1968 it merged with California Baptist Theological Seminary to become ABSW. Now in its 145th year the historic graduate school offers the traditional ministerial degree of Master of Divinity (MDiv) as well as Master of Community Leadership (MCL) and Doctorate of Ministry (DMin) degrees. Through its founding role in the consortial partnership known as the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) students can also receive an academic MA or a PhD degree. ABSW is recognized nationally for its diversity, being only one of 10 seminaries in the US that are designated as “multi-racial/multi-cultural,” indicating that no one racial or cultural group is in the majority.

For more information, contact Rev. Dr. LeAnn Snow Flesher, VP & Dean, 510-841-1905 ext 236, lflesher@absw.edu.