The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, who left the University of the South’s School of Theology when he became Bishop of Atlanta in 2001, will return to the school Aug. 1 as its dean. Alexander had announced in February 2011 that he would resign as Bishop of Atlanta to become professor in the practice of liturgy and director of the Anglican Studies Program at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He had planned to begin that work this fall.
Bishop Alexander, who has been serving as the university’s chancellor, succeeds the Very Rev. William S. Stafford, who retired June 30, as dean of the seminary.
“Bishop Alexander brings the exact qualities that The School of Theology needs to win national stature and recognition and the wide support of the Church, for which it is so ready,” Stafford said. “I enthusiastically welcome Bishop Alexander to this new position on the Mountain. I delight in his appointment and look forward to years of grace in the future.”
“I am delighted to be able to continue my working relationship with Bishop Alexander in this new role,” said John McCardell, vice chancellor of the university, in announcing Alexander’s appointment. “The years we have served together as chancellor and vice chancellor have been enormously productive for the university, and his numerous strengths are a perfect match for The School of Theology, which is poised to grow and embrace future challenges.”
“Being chancellor and working with Dr. McCardell and the board was a privilege,” Alexander said. “To me, serving Sewanee is not only important, it brings me a great deal of joy.”
The Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, Bishop of Florida, will serve as chancellor until the next election by the Board of Trustees.
“I am glad that Neil has accepted the call to return to Sewanee to lead the seminary in the coming years,” said the Rt. Rev. Gary R. Lillibridge, Bishop of West Texas. “He brings a deep commitment to theological education in general and to Sewanee in particular. He has the respect of both faculty and students and he will bring a thoughtful approach to the changing landscape of theological education. His experience as a faculty member, regent, bishop, and chancellor will serve all of us well.”
Alexander has a long-standing relationship with Sewanee and The School of Theology. He began as a sabbatical replacement for the Rev. Dr. Marion Hatchett, professor of liturgics and music, in the early 1980s. He later joined the faculty in 1997 as the Norma and Olan Mills Professor of Divinity: Liturgics and Homiletics, and taught for four years before being elected in Atlanta.
“I have come to know Bishop Alexander as a person who is even-handed,” said the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon Jr., dean and president of Nashotah House Theological Seminary. “I think it is an important trait in this day and age, as people who are even-handed make dialogue possible.”
Alexander’s early degrees in the church music field include a diploma with a concentration in organ performance from the North Carolina School of the Arts at the University of North Carolina; a B.A. with a concentration in music from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa.; and a master’s degree with a concentration in organ performance and choral conducting from the University of South Carolina. He received his M.Div. with a concentration in liturgics and homiletics from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and his Th.D. with a concentration in liturgics from General Theological Seminary.
“This is an excellent appointment for Sewanee,” said the Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee. “Bishop Alexander’s experience in both the academy and the church equips him uniquely for leadership at The School of Theology, a pivotal institution for theological education in our church. I am delighted that he has been persuaded to serve.”