The Rev. Herron Gaston calls himself a people person, the perfect qualification for his job of recruiting an increasingly diverse student body to Yale Divinity School, including clergy from the New Haven area.
At the same time, he is well known in Bridgeport as senior pastor of Summerfield United Methodist Church for giving young people a path to become productive, mature citizens.
“I really care about the flourishing of humanity and helping people to reach their full potential,” said Gaston, associate director of admissions at the divinity school. “People normally say to me that my personality is magnetic and there’s something that they feel drawn toward.”
It’s a quality that has helped him carry out Dean Gregory Sterling’s goal of opening the seminary to a broader range of people, and letting potential students from Greater New Haven know that the high-quality theological education the school offers is available to them, and so are many free programs and speakers.
Gaston, 30, who holds two master’s degrees from Yale Divinity School, as well as a doctorate from Andover Newton Seminary at Yale, has been in his position for three years, focusing on colleges whose students didn’t necessarily think of Yale as a welcoming place, such as the 105 historically black colleges and universities, as well as institutions in areas such as the western region of Texas.
What Yale offers is a broad range of theological thought, Gaston said. “I think it’s very important for ministers to have a wide array of perspectives, so they’re not engaging in spiritual malpractice,” he said.
Harvard University professor Cornel West, the internationally known activist and philosopher, called “dear Brother Gaston” “such a powerful force for good in ensuring that students of color get a fair chance and have an opportunity to gain access to a Yale education.”
A graduate of the largest historically black public college in the nation, Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Gaston said, “When I came in [to Yale], I said we can recruit in other places.”
In New Haven, Gaston drew in clergy such as the Rev. Boise Kimber, senior pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, who just earned a master’s in sacred theology to add to his master’s from Hartford Seminary and doctorate from United Theological Seminary. Kimber’s wife, the Rev. Shevalle Kimber, who was ordained July 1 and also ministers at First Calvary, will begin a three-year master’s program in the fall.
“He was very instrumental in looking at my application and helping to figure out the areas of study that I should take,” Boise Kimber said. “If Herron Gaston was not there I probably would have taken other routes to getting a master’s.”
Kimber said Gaston also recognized “my pastoral experience, leadership skills” and Kimber has responded by having more 75 local black clergy and other leaders attend a dinner to become acquainted with the school.
“As a partner with my husband in ministry it’s just important that I do this,” Shevalle Kimber said. “You have people sitting in your congregation that are smarter than you are. It’s important to be credentialed, especially by Yale. Where better to get a master of divinity from? I’m born and raised right here in New Haven, Connecticut.”
Since, the 2014-15 academic year, the percentage of students from underrepresented groups has almost doubled at the seminary, from 17 percent to 32 percent for the incoming class. These include African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, according to school figures.
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Source: New Haven Register