More than 170 people attended an online virtual celebration Aug. 30 for Chicago Theological Seminary president, Dr. Rev. Stephen Ray, who is retiring from his post effective August 31. The event included a diverse mix of speakers, readings and music, reflecting Dr. Ray’s inclusive and expansive approach to his ministry and service at CTS.

In his remarks, Dr. Ray said: “I want to give God thanks for each and every one of you because you all have played a part in who it is that I am and who it is that I’ve become. I want to continue to encourage all of you because the world needs people of good faith and people of good will. The world needs people who believe that the power of God can transform even the darkest nights. I ask you to keep myself and Susan in your prayers as we turn this new chapter. We are both so excited to see what God has in store for us and the journey ahead.”

The reading for the celebration was an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Music for the celebration included This Place by KEM and I am Singing, by Stevie Wonder.

Brian Clarke, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at CTS, said: “CTS is growing. CTS is vibrant with an enrollment at an all time high. The foundational work that Stephen has led leaves CTS in a very, very good place. We say to Stephen: ‘well done, good and faithful servant’.”

Speakers offering blessings and reflections included, John Dorhauer (President and General Minister, United Church of Christ), Daniel Goldwin (Executive Director, The Jewish Federation of Chicago), Mary Young (Director of Education, Association of Theological Schools), Imam Jihad Turk (President, Bayan Islamic Graduate School), and Rabbi Yehiel Poupko (Jewish United Fund of Chicago).

“Whenever Stephen Ray speaks, I learn,” said Rabbi Poupko. “I have a file of Stephen Ray teachings. Stephen is that rare person who knows how ideas work their way into reality, both for good and for evil. May all those who have learned from Stephen Ray be just like Stephen Ray.”

Imam Turk reflected: “I remember a few years ago when Bayan was looking for a long-term partner that could undertake the important work of inter-religious education. We interviewed a number of potential partners. But I’ll never forget when Stephen presented to our Board, and we were all blown away. There was this unanimous elation that we had found our partner.”

Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, CTS Academic Dean, offered a final blessing. “May the holy One bless you and keep you in your labor and your leisure…May rest return to you Stephen Ray. May the holy One’s face shine upon all of us so that the lights of the fight for justice is never extinguished.” A recording of the celebration can be viewed here.

A meeting space at the CTS main campus in Hyde Park will be dedicated in Dr. Ray’s honor, named the Stephen G. Ray Jr. Class and Conference Room.

Dr. Ray’s legacy of leadership at CTS is multi-faceted. It includes leading the organization through the pandemic all while achieving record enrollment. He led CTS through a needed reorganization process and significantly expanded the Seminary’s Interfaith efforts with the formal establishment of a partnership with Bayan Islamic Graduate School as well as the establishment a new Office of Strategic Initiatives. This new office is engaged in the development of sustaining relationships with organizations that share the mission and vision of CTS. This will allow CTS to deepen and develop its relationships with the Black church, the LGBTQIA community, the Muslim community and the UCC. These efforts, spearheaded by Dr. Ray, are central to building a new eco-system for the Seminary.

Rev. Dr. Marsha Foster Boyd, Ph.D. will serve as interim president while the organization begins an extensive search for Stephen’s replacement. Dr. Boyd comes to CTS with a lifetime of service to the faith community and religious education. She is President Emerita of Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit; a position she assumed after her retirement as president in 2013. Prior to that position, she was Director of Accreditation and Leadership Education at The Association of Theological Schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Associate Professor of Pastoral Care & Counseling at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio; and Academic Dean at Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio. In each of these positions, Dr. Boyd was the first African American woman to serve.