New York Theological Seminary names female megachurch leader as president, a first in 119 years

Rev. LaKeesha Walrond
The Rev. LaKeesha Walrond is the new president of New York Theological Seminary. |

NEW YORK — The Rev. LaKeesha Walrond, executive pastor of the 10,000-member First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, has been named as the first female president of the 119-year-old New York Theological Seminary. She will also be the 12th president of the seminary when she steps into the role on June 3.

“My hope is to work collaboratively with the faculty, staff, students and board members to make NYTS a world renowned theological institution for preparing students for urban ministry,” Walrond said in a statement.

“The more I learn about the history of New York Theological Seminary, the more I appreciate its vision — not just for the future of theological education, but for societal matters including education for incarcerated people," she said. "The former administrations set a bar that I will strive each day to surpass, as I challenge myself and the NYTS community to make this historic and revered seminary greater and grander."

Walrond earned her Ph.D. in special education and literacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005. Her other academic credits include a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary where she also serves on the board of trustees.

The NYTS has a strong commitment to ministry and mission and boasts a diverse student body from different cultural and denominational traditions.

Jeffrey C. Slade, chair of the presidential search committee and vice-chair of the seminary’s board of trustees, said he is confident Walrond will lead the school to higher heights.

“NYTS is truly blessed to have found such a dynamic and well-prepared leader. Rev. LaKeesha Walrond combines extraordinary vision and understanding of the importance of seminary education to ministry with solid, successful administrative experience directing major organizations. I have no doubt that she will lead the school to new heights and great success,” he said.

Walrond will replace Dale T. Irvin, who in addition to leading the seminary, serves as a professor of world Christianity.

In a note to the school community announcing his decision to step down from the helm of the NYTS in March, Irwin, who served in the position for 13 years, said faith continued to be a strong factor in the city but is now being reflected in new and more diverse ways.

“Looking back on the impact these last 13 years have had on me, I can say confidently that the answer is yes, there is still much faith to be found on Earth, at least as far as those parts of the world where my work has taken me,” he said.

“The faith of our NYTS leaders, faith communities, and wider city population is as strong and as enduring as ever. We are clearly living through a time of change in which faith is taking on new forms and more diverse expressions. I see new leadership emerging, often from places considered too marginal to the overall life of the city. I see the divine being manifested in ever new and engaging ways,” Irwin added.

Walrond’s husband, Michael A. Walrond Jr., is senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church. He also serves as a trustee and adjunct faculty member of Chicago Theological Seminary and chairs The Board of Visitors at Duke University Divinity School.  

Just over a year ago, he came under fire from conservative Christians for telling his congregants that the belief that Jesus is the only way to Heaven is "insanity."

"There was a time when you would see people in the pulpit say, 'well, if you don't believe in Jesus you going to Hell. That's insanity in many ways because that is not what Jesus even believes. And so the key is you believe in God. And whatever your path is to God I celebrate that. Personally I celebrate that," he said.

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