Spreading the Word: Alumnus Kelchner Takes Reins of Advancement

by Stuart J. Moore

Simply put, Alan Kelchner (Ph.D. ‘03) has done it all when it comes to the Graduate Theological Union: student, alumnus, professor, trustee, and now executive staff, serving as the interim Vice President for Advancement.

After leading congregations for 25 years, Kelchner found himself responding to a calling to teach.  He began a doctoral program at the GTU in homiletics, focusing on post-modernism and reader response. He observes that he continues to benefit from the uniqueness of the GTU and the extraordinary education he received here. “It was such a gift to have the opportunity to study with homileticians and teachers of preaching from six different religious traditions. There is no other school in the world where I could have experienced such a breadth of approaches to preaching.”

“Preaching the Gospel is different than any other type of communication. It's truly a unique act that occurs every Sunday in every church. The preacher is a voice of authority in a very anti-authoritarian age. The goal is to be evocative and provocative as you speak across a multitude of differences and barriers, both personal and cultural,” he explains.

During his second year at the GTU, he received a calling back to the ministry from Danville Congregational Church. He became their senior minister with the understanding that he would be granted time to finish his studies and teach. After graduating in 2003, Kelchner taught Preaching for Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Pacific School of Religion as an adjunct professor.

At a Trustees' Reception, he was asked to say a few words to his fellow graduates. Kelchner spoke about how all of them needed to support the GTU, financial being only one way. Afterwards he was approached by President Jim Donahue, and was invited to serve as the Alumni Representative on the GTU Board of Trustees. Kelchner later recruited friend and congregant Hal Leach to join the GTU Board; Leach is currently the Board Chair.

Although Kelchner stopped teaching in 2011 and retired from the ministry in 2012, he continued in his role as Trustee until he was asked to fill a vacancy in the Office of Advancement. In the past, he has guided a very successful capital campaign and also has experience in building and running a successful social services agency.

His passion for the GTU makes him the ideal advocate for soliciting support. “We're in a time of transition. We have a new president. And schools in the consortium are rethinking their approaches. We believe there is plenty of support out there for the good work we are doing at the GTU; we just need to do a better job of getting the word out and stating our case.

“We don't teach religion to the lowest common denominator. We embrace the amazing diversity that is here, knowing that it adds to our own faith experience, solidifying it more than diluting it. Students come here for that reason. And by embracing the differences, it helps us break through the divisions that continue to exist, the persistent dichotomy of us versus them.”

While here, Kelchner hopes to broaden the funding base for the GTU, the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies, and the Center for Islamic Studies. He also believes that bringing the award-winning Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) directly into the GTU would add a new dimension and would enrich the GTU as a whole.

“No matter how the GTU changes over the next years, our degree programs are well-positioned for tackling the world's problems. We have the potential to help shape this new age.”