Exactly a year ago today was my first scheduled day of work. I woke early, prepared for the day, and walked along the path from our new family home on Lorraine Street to the large white building you all know as Hartford Seminary. As I crossed the road, I glanced to the right and noticed, in broken sunlight, the beautiful stone arches of the UConn Law School, buildings that were once our Seminary’s home. It reminded me of something important, something crucially important, especially when you have a 185-year-old history.Things change. And in that moment it also dawned on me, quite literally, that the role of a president is actually not one of presider. The president needs to be a facilitator and manager of change. How one does those things is key.
Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future was the theme we chose for my inauguration event. It struck me as the right message for a seminary like Hartford, one with such a rich history and yet so much room to grow. I can say that this message has animated my work every single day since walking across the street that early July morning.
It should come as no surprise that it’s been a year of change – of accomplishments as well as challenges, of joys as well as the occasional sorrow. We have grown as an institution, and I’ve grown as an individual. I wouldn’t trade my job for the world.
In the fall, we welcomed an extraordinary group of new and returning students, increasing our enrollment numbers from the previous fall. We also greeted a tremendous cohort of International Peacemaking fellows, held my Inauguration in November, and learned that Hartford Seminary had been awarded a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to launch an exciting new venture called the Pastoral Innovation Network of New England.
It wasn’t long into my role when we witnessed the horrific, hate-filled attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Sadly, I met many leaders and members of our local Jewish communities while speaking at vigils, one of which was especially important for building new relationships. Later in the year I would, again, speak at vigils related to evil attacks motivated by hate-shootings at two mosques in New Zealand and then bombings at Christian churches in Sri Lanka. These events served to reinforce my and the Seminary’s commitment to peacebuilding, religious dialogue, and education – all of which our world so desperately needs.
As the year went on, I watched with pride as our faculty presented papers, spoke at institutions around the world, and published books and articles. Hartford Seminary reverberates with the ambitious work of the dedicated scholars who teach here. They make us, and me, very proud. They have become my colleagues, and I’m delighted that we’ve added a number to our ranks this year, including Dr. Bilal Ansari, Dr. Hossein Kamaly, Dr. Suheil Laher, and Dr. Allison Norton as faculty, and Dr. Yahya Michot as Emeritus Professsor. On that note, I would be remiss if I did not also mention our hiring of two important staff members, key members of our Hartsem team: Kaaren Van Dyke in Philanthropy and Aida Mansoor in Islamic Chaplaincy.
Everything we do is about our students. When I walk our halls, make my way to and from campus, or teach in the classroom, I get to talk to them and learn about their hopes, struggles, aspirations, and faith. They are guided by a higher calling, and it’s a true gift to witness their lives of grace and be part of their journeys. They are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and other, and they are a beautiful microcosm of the world at large. Their desire to serve a world in need is inspiring.
The 2019-20 academic year stretches before us like a blank canvas. New faculty arrive, students will find their way to us (with your recruiting help!), we will hire a VP for Academic Affairs and Administration, and a strategic planning process will begin. There is hard work to do, and anticipation is in the air. Please stay tuned to our news pages and social media platforms this fall to learn about how to be involved in these processes. We’re better because of your help.
Peace be with and upon you all,
Joel N. Lohr
P.S. If you are ever in the area and enjoy a hike – students, faculty, staff, alumni, all – I regularly head to Talcott Mountain in the early evening to climb it. If you want to join me, drop me a line.