Loren Mead, Alban Institute Founder and Activist for Local Church Growth, Has Died

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: Facebook/Paul Mundey)Loren Mead, author, Episcopal priest, and founder of the Alban Institute.

The Rev. Loren Benjamin Mead, founder of the Alban Institute and author who stressed the need for local church focus, has died. He was 88 years old.

Mead passed away at Goodwin House Bailey's Crossroads in Falls Church, Virginia, last Saturday, with his funeral scheduled for May 21 at St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.

Paul Mundey, who formerly served on the national staff of the Church of the Brethren and worked alongside Mead, offered his condolences on Facebook, calling Mead "a confidant and a friend."

"While I served on the national staff of the Church of the Brethren, Loren helped me to design Passing on the Promise, a three year renewal process for congregations -- that expanded for use not just with the Church of the Brethren but the Brethren Church and the Mennonite Church, as well," wrote Mundey.

"So hard to sense his passing, but so thankful for his legacy and all Loren did for the local church. All glory to God!"

Born in Florence, South Carolina, in 1930, Mead was ordained in 1955 and served multiple churches during the 1950s and 1960s, before founding the Alban Institute in 1974 and serving as its first president. The institute served as a resource for churches and tackled such issues as conflict, transition, and mission in congregational and ministerial life. 

By the time he stepped down in 1994, the Institute had an estimated 8,500 members. Eventually the entity became the Alban at Duke Divinity School, which "helps leaders connect and learn from one another by sharing practical wisdom, stories of thriving congregations and transformational models of ministry."

Mead authored multiple books on the issue of helping congregations, including The Once and Future Church (1991), Transforming Congregations for the Future (1994), Five Challenges for the Once and Future Church (1996) and Financial Meltdown in the Mainline? (1998).

In August 2015, Mead published what would become his final book, titled The Parish Is the Issue: What I Learned and How I Learned It.

"Navigating the treacherous waters of congregational and cultural change can be daunting, but knowing that others have come safely through those waters before can make the journey less unsettling," reads the description on Amazon.

"Loren Mead helped hundreds of churches steer around the shoals and whirlpools. In this new book, he reflects on what he learned over ... decades of ministry and leadership, and offers inspiration for a new generation of leaders seeking to create change."

A native of Jim Crow South, Mead was noted for his work on racial reconciliation, at one point marching with a delegation of white pastors in support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following the assassination of Medgar Evers.

For his work, Mead received honorary degrees from academic institutions including the University of the South, Virginia Theological Seminary, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and the Episcopal Divinity School.

In a 2016 interview with Alban that was posted online on Monday, Mead noted that he believed church leaders, especially bishops in mainline denominations, need to make a better effort to listen to local congregations.

"The churches are very much telling you what to do. Clergy are that way about their people. Basically the organizational church is a deductive organization. It assumes a certain truth and reality and it tries to communicate that," said Mead at the time.

"Inductive organizations go out and try to find out what the data is and try to draw learnings from that. We approach people deductively. We've got the answer. We haven't really heard the question very much."

Mead was married to Polly Ayers Mellette, who died in 2013. The couple is survived by four children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook