The Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle has been nominated to be the next Dean and President of The General Theological Seminary in New York City. Approved by the Executive Committee of the seminary's Board of Trustees, Dunkle's nomination was presented to the Trustees on Friday, February 1, 2013, by Search Committee Chair Randall Ashley Greene. The Trustees will formally vote on the nomination at the next Board meeting in May 2013.
Since 2006, Dunkle has been serving as rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Orange Park, Florida, a parish that has experienced significant growth under his leadership. Just before his arrival, 965 of the 1,000 members had left the parish because of disagreements with The Episcopal Church. Today, the parish has grown to about 450 members, an expanding parish day school of students from preschool through eighth grade, a new organ, and emerging programs and parish life created from scratch. "I like to grow things and people," Dunkle said.
Prior to his ministry at Grace, in his first call after ordination, Dunkle served as Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, with responsibilities for staff administration, deployment, and representing the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard in all aspects of diocesan life, particularly managing clergy and congregational conflict.
Dunkle is a graduate of General Seminary, where he earned the Seymour Prize in Preaching and served as a member of the Admissions Committee. Previously, he worked as a partner at Rogers Towers, the largest law firm in Jacksonville, Florida. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida's College of Law, where he served on the Editorial Board of the university's Journal of Law and Public Policy, and his bachelor's degree from Duke University.
Dunkle believes one important characteristic of General Seminary's future mission will be to teach future leaders how to help faith communities thrive. "Right now, one of the fundamentals largely missing in seminaries is how to grow the church in numbers of participants and in depth of engagement with Jesus Christ," he said. "Training leaders to grow people and institutions, not just maintain them or even manage the decline gracefully, is essential in our Episcopal Church today. Relevancy today, in the Church and at General, is not just about survival; it's about thriving. We need to develop a culture where thriving is the norm, and having more people in our Church with an increased focus on Jesus is the key to thriving."
For Dunkle, one of General Seminary's strengths, and a key to its future mission, is its emphasis on community. "Formation only happens in community, and community only happens when people are near each other," he said. "Simply because of economic realities, seminaries may need to do some of the educational portion of training at a distance, but the formational portion can only be done in community." Given that General Seminary is welcoming an increasing number of non-residential students, faculty and staff, a goal will be to expand the scope of what community means. "We need to create that real and abiding community for those who live elsewhere" than on the Close.
As for his own leadership, Dunkle said that he will aim to develop a compelling vision for the seminary and then devote resources at every level to realize that vision. "The leader's job is to nourish the people with that vision. And, for a vision to be compelling in the Church, that vision must be centered on Jesus."