Baylor Alumna Recommended as First Woman to Lead The Riverside Church in New York City
Dr. Amy K. Butler, B.A. ’91, M.A. ’96, called as senior pastor of influential congregation
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WACO, Texas (May 1, 2014) — The Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, a Baylor University alumna, has been recommended by the pulpit committee of The Riverside Church in New York City , New York, to become senior pastor. If elected, she will become the first woman to lead the influential church in its 83-year history.
The interdenominational church, which The New York Times has called “a stronghold of activism and political debate” since its inception, was founded by financier/philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. in Manhattan. It has been home to some of the most influential clergy in progressive Protestant history.
The church will vote on Butler’s candidacy in June. She is the second Baylor alumna to make church history this month, the other being the Rev. Dorisanne Cooper, pastor of Waco’s Lake Shore Baptist Church. Cooper accepted a call to become the first woman pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., which ordained the first Southern Baptist woman to the ministry 50 years ago.
Butler earned her bachelor’s degree in 1991 from Baylor with a dual major in religion and political science; and her master’s degree in religion from Baylor in 1996. She was lauded by religion faculty for her humility, academic achievement and commitment.
Butler is the senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where she has been recognized for revitalizing and expanding a shrinking congregation and encouraging diversity.
“Under her leadership, the church (Calvary) has become an influential congregation in the nation’s capital,” The Riverside Church’s search committee said in an announcement letter to the congregation. The announcement quoted Butler as saying that the church’s diversity “raises the potential of modeling how we live with and relate to one another. The human community is messy and sometimes painful. But to live into a vision of love within the tension of uncertainty and difference can be stunningly transformational.”
W.H. Bellinger Jr., Ph.D., chair of Baylor’s department of religion and The W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Professor of Bible, said that “I remember Amy Butler very well as an undergraduate student, a graduate student and a fellow church member at Lake Shore Baptist Church. Our children remember her as a baby sitter.
“She was a fine student, and her educational experiences have had a profound impact on her life and ministry,” Bellinger said. “She has ministered effectively at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and is strongly committed to the local church.”
Beverly Gaventa, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of New Testament in Baylor’s department of religion, said that Butler’s candidacy is significant for women’s expanding role in ministry.
“Riverside Church is a landmark, not only for its physical beauty and its long history of preaching excellence, but for its ministry in the city and the world,” she said. “The call of Amy Butler as senior minister at Riverside advances that ministry, even as it brings great encouragement to the many women and men who have worked and prayed for the full inclusion of women in church leadership.”
William Pitts, Ph.D., a professor of religion at Baylor who supervised Butler’s thesis at Baylor, said that she combined “humility, a dedicated work ethic and an inquiring spirit into her studies. She wrote ‘Changing Convictions, Changing Roles: The Southern Baptist Women of Texas, 1886-1920,’ in which she examined emerging avenues of leadership by women in churches and the denomination.
“Amy has a pastor’s heart as her work over the years attests . . . She has demonstrated courage and leadership as a pastor. I am proud of her achievement and recognition,” Pitts said.
Cooper, a close friend of Butler, said the women are sharing the “new seasons” in their lives.
“Amy Butler is one of the most gifted and hardworking ministers I know,” Cooper said. “Her skill set as a preacher, pastor and leader is a great fit for The Riverside Church, and her selection speaks to the church’s keen recognition of someone who can lead them well into their future. Her friendship has been a great gift to me for over a decade, and sharing the anticipation of new seasons in our lives, as well as our grief in leaving churches that we love, has only cemented that friendship even more.”
As for her own move, Cooper said, “is extraordinarily meaningful to me to anticipate serving the church where the first Southern Baptist woman was ordained 50 years ago this year. Watts Street's strong sense of social justice, their compassion for all of God's children and their deep dedication to living out the Gospel are all qualities that drew me in. I look forward to walking alongside them for many years to come."
Cooper earned a B.A. from Baylor in 1993 with majors in psychology and German and her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Butler, meanwhile, also holds degrees from The International Baptist Theological Seminary (B.Div., 1995) and Wesley Theological Seminary (D.Min., 2009). Before coming to Calvary Baptist, she worked with the homeless in New Orleans and served as associate pastor at the city’s St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church.
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