In Memoriam: Harvey Guthrie, Jr. ‘47

Reported in the Boston Globe, February 14, 2018

The Rev. Harvey Henry Guthrie Jr., Class of 1947, who threatened to step down as Dean of Episcopal Divinity School in 1974, forging the way for women to be added to the faculty, has died at the age of 93. Dr. Guthrie, who in retirement returned home to Fillmore, California and volunteered as a legal aid advocate for the poor late into his 80s, died Dec. 17, 2017 in Oxnard, Calif., of complications from a fractured hip.

Born October 31, 1924 in Santa Paula, Calif., Guthrie’s father, Harvey Sr., was a laborer and held many jobs. His mother, the former Emma Aubrey, had been a church custodian and later worked in a lemon packing plant. Upon graduating from Ventura High School, the future divinity school dean aspired to be either a lawyer or minister. He attended Ventura Junior College and graduated from Missouri Valley College with a bachelor’s degree, but reading “Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic,” by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, provided direction. Dr. Guthrie headed to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where Niebuhr taught.

“While I was there, I decided the Episcopal Church was the one I wanted to be ordained in,” Dr. Guthrie told the Los Angeles Times. “I was attracted to the Episcopal tradition of inclusiveness and doctrinal freedom.”

In 1945, Dr. Guthrie married Doris Peyton. They had met while they were college students, and in retirement they lived in her family’s home in Fillmore. Mrs. Guthrie, who had worked in survey departments at universities in Massachusetts and Michigan, was 91 when she died in their home in 2016. Their son Lawrence died last year. “People really loved my dad,” said his daughter, Lynn of Seattle. “My dad lived a long and meaningful life, right up to the end, and lots of people cared deeply for him.”

He spent three years as vicar of St. Margaret’s Church in White Plains, N.Y., before becoming an instructor at General, where he also received both a master’s and a doctorate.

In 1958, Dr. Guthrie joined the faculty of what was then the Episcopal Theological School, and he was named dean in 1969. He was a leader in the 1974 merger of the institution with the Philadelphia Divinity School, and was co-dean with the Rev. Edward Harris of the renamed Episcopal Divinity School until Harris retired a couple of years later. Dr. Guthrie stayed as dean until 1985. In the 1960s, he helped found the Boston Theological Institute consortium, which allowed students to take some courses at any of seven area seminaries.

Frustrated by the Episcopal Divinity School’s refusal to hire its first ordained Anglican woman to serve on the faculty, the Rev. Harvey Guthrie Jr. threatened to step down as dean in 1974, and he issued his ultimatum in the most public of forums: a speech during commencement ceremonies.

He said that if the school’s board claimed no funds were available, he would quit so his salary could be used. “That is blackmail, but I believe it is Gospel blackmail,” he told the Globe. “It is all I can do about it, but in the name of God, something has to be done.”

Several months later, the Cambridge school hired two ordained women, the Rev. Carter Heyward and the Rev. Suzanne Hiatt. While Dr. Guthrie was dean, the school also became the first Episcopal seminary to let ordained Anglican women celebrate the Eucharist in its chapel and the first to admit openly gay and lesbian students to degree programs.

The school “had a dean who was practicing ecclesiastical disobedience,” said the Rev. Gary Hall, who recently stepped down from chairing the Episcopal Divinity School board. “That was a hard moment, but he didn’t back down.” “The trustees had said, ‘We don’t have the money to hire any more people.’ And he said, ‘This is really a matter of justice,’ ” Hall said.

Through Dr. Guthrie’s teaching and leadership, “he had a gigantic” influence on the Episcopal Divinity School, said Hall, who added that he also “was one of the major leaders in ordination for women and really had an impact in ways that are hard to measure.”

Dr. Guthrie also had been a president of the Association of Theology Schools, and after stepping down as dean of Episcopal Divinity School he served until 1995 as rector of St. Andrew’s Church, in Ann Arbor, Mich. The books he wrote include “God and History in the Old Testament” (1960), “Israel’s Sacred Songs” (1966), and “Theology as Thanksgiving: From Israel’s Psalms to the Church’s Eucharist” (1981).

In addition to his daughter, Dr. Guthrie leaves two sons, Stephen of Cambridge and Andrew of Hong Kong; a brother, Jim of Port Angeles, Wash.; and three granddaughters.