At its commencement ceremony on May 21, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) presented the Doctor of Divinity degree, honoris causa, to the Rev. Dr. James Kenneth Echols, who served as the fifth president of the seminary. He was honored for his more than 37 years of dedicated service in parish ministry, theological education, ecumenical and interfaith work, to communities of color in the United States and the Caribbean, and his distinctive work across the global Lutheran communion.
Echols served as president of LSTC from 1997 – 2011. He was the first African American president of a North American Lutheran seminary. From 2012 until his retirement in 2015, Echols served as Director of Theological Education and Networks, Office of the Bishop, for the ELCA.
His vision for theological education reshaped LSTC. During his time as president LSTC built a new worship space, the Augustana Chapel. He recognized the need for deepening the spiritual lives of students and the church, which led to an endowed position at the seminary, the Cornelsen Director of Spiritual Formation. He also helped create A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice, an endowed chair in Christian-Muslim studies and interfaith relations, the Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. Multicultural Center, a program of spiritual formation for youth, and he brought the Tithing and Stewardship Foundation to LSTC.
Echols’ dedication to collaboration led to a closer partnership and shared campus with McCormick Theological Seminary. He also worked closely with partners within the ELCA, seeking opportunities to make leaders in the church more aware of the central role of theological education.
Echols served as dean at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia from 1991-1997. He joined the faculty of that seminary in 1982 as professor of American Church History. He earned three degrees, including the doctor of philosophy, from Yale University.
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The Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC) is dedicated to bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, it is the leading urban Lutheran seminary training students for purposeful vocations in the global community. Aligned with its Lutheran heritage and built on a foundation of intellectual rigor, LSTC’s innovative, nationally recognized curriculum gives students skills for visionary Christian leadership in the public sphere.