After 17 years as the pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, Rev. Derrick Harkins is stepping down from the pulpit to become the Vice President of Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
During his tenure, Harkins invited to the church hundreds of nationally renowned figures across the political spectrum, from Republican White House appointees to President Obama.
One of the keys to Harkins’ effectiveness has been his engaging personality and his ability to make everyone feel special, friends and colleagues said. At the same time, he appeared to be flexible on thorny theological issues like the ordination of women. He also supports the full marriage rights of same sex couples.
Harkins won the respect of conservatives like former Attorney General John Ashcroft even while he was on the podium during the 2012 Democratic National Convention as the party’s faith adviser, for instance.
“In terms of faith, I have always tried to have a message of love coupled with social justice and I have always tried to find common ground to work with people,” Harkins said. “For example, while I may have disagreed with Ashcroft politically, he came to our church more than once and had enjoyed himself as [did] the President and his family.”
And even though Harkins became a national figure by hop-scotching across the country from college campuses to the studios of CNN or MSNBC during his tenure, he was keenly aware of being in the pulpit on most Sunday mornings to lead the 175-year-old congregation that for decades has been a hub of faith for a close knit congregation of middle class families.
“I am deeply appreciative for all the support that I have received from my Nineteenth Street family over the last 17 years,” Harkins said in an interview. “At the same time, I am looking forward to having a greater impact in the faith community around social justice issues.”
In his new role as Senior Vice President for Innovations in Public Programming at Union, Harkins will focus on developing programs to attract non-degree seeking people to the New York institution through continuing and online educational programs, public events, and other avenues.
In a statement, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union, said “We must invite a broader public audience into a conversation about the connections between faith, scholarship, and social justice. Derrick Harkins is the perfect person to take on that challenge, and he is the perfect fit for Union.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post