Baylor Graduate Elected Pastor of Influential New York City Church

June 10, 2014
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WACO, Texas (June 10, 2014) — The Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler, BA ’91, MA ’96, has been elected senior pastor of The Riverside Church, one of the country’s most prominent liberal Protestant pulpits, thus becoming the first woman to head the church in its 84-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.

Butler spent the last 11 years doing the hands-on work of rebuilding Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C., a struggling small church. Her selection comes after a five-year period of diminishing membership at the Manhattan church.

In a letter to The Riverside Church, Butler noted that it has held a prominent place in the country's history, but "the role of the Church in America is shifting radically . . . There will be people watching carefully to see how we address those challenges together.

"Their questions are the same questions we’re asking: How will we steward the legacy of this beautiful, historic place? How can we pull together to build a community that reflects what we say we believe: a diverse, life-giving community in an increasingly secular urban setting? . . .

"These are big, wonderful, scary questions," Butler wrote. "I believe God is calling us to begin answering them for ourselves, and in the process model for the world what God’s church can be."

Butler earned her bachelor’s degree from Baylor with a dual major in religion and political science and her master’s degree in religion, both from the College of Arts & Sciences. She was praised by religion faculty for her humility, academic achievement and commitment.

At Calvary, she was recognized for revitalizing and expanding a shrinking congregation and encouraging diversity.

W.H. Bellinger Jr., Ph.D., chair of Baylor’s department of religion and The W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Professor of Bible, recalled Butler as a “fine student, and her educational experiences have had a profound impact on her life and ministry.”

Beverly Gaventa, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of New Testament in Baylor’s department of religion, said The Riverside Church is known for its physical beauty, history of preaching excellence and its ministry in the city and the world. She said that Butler’s selection is an encouraging step for those 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.

“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.

Butler also holds degrees from The International Baptist Theological Seminary, BDiv, ‘95, and Wesley Theological Seminary, DMin, ’09. 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.

The Riverside Church, affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church, has about 1,700 members.


Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 26 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines.

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