2017 Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

Chicago Theological Seminary is proud to announce the winners of the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award. The 2017 Luncheon is a CTS tradition where we invite graduates, their families, and members of the CTS community to gather together and celebrate the achievements of the graduates and the recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award.


By his own admission, Rev. Nathan Dannison’s journey has been an expansive and interesting one. “When I received my call to ministry I was 22 years old and at a very low point in my life,” he explained. “I was rescued by a UCC pastor in Grand Rapids, MI, who gave me a job working at a church. He told me I’d be a good candidate for ministry, but I needed to attend a seminary.” The seminary that worked best for Dannison, both ideologically and geographically, turned out to be Chicago Theological Seminary. “CTS gave me an academic program that was rigorous and challenging, while giving me the flexibility I needed to explore ways of being a Christian that were unorthodox, so to speak.” The unconventional approach Dannison found at CTS addressed his concerns and discomfort with the Church and organized religion as a whole. “CTS taught me how to practice local, practical theology, and how to be . . . hyper-focused on the realities of the community in which a minister is called to serve.” For Dannison, this hyper-focus is all about serving his immediate community and paying special attention to those most in need, a mission that requires him “to think locally, act locally, pray locally, and serve locally,” a strategy undoubtedly influenced by his time spent as a community organizer for the Gamaliel Foundation. Ultimately, Dannison’s experience at CTS taught him “to pay very close attention to the needs of those who fall within the shadow of the edifice of the church,” as he was fortunate enough to have the same attention paid to him during his time in Chicago. “When I began my seminary journey, I was penniless, living out of my car, and I needed a lot of help. Howard Nelson introduced me to several scholarship sources. Without that support, I wouldn’t have made it.”



When Rev. Dr. Herman Haller reflects on his time at Chicago Theological Seminary, he recalls a time of nurturing, togetherness and love. “CTS for me has always been a place of community and nourishment,” Rev. Haller said. “Throughout my ministry, I’ve come to conclude that we are motivated by love.” Rev. Haller grew up in small town outside of Angleton, Texas. He’s one of seven children and says his formative years helped to instill a deso feeling of ‘Awesome love and an attitude of gratitude.’ After receiving degrees at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, he came to CTS and received his Doctor of Ministry Degree in 1984. His dissertation was on ‘Churches in Conflict and how to Resolve that Conflict.’ After moving to Lansing, Michigan with his wife and three children in 1979, Haller served the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ for 18 years as Associate Conference Minister. Haller says love is centered in everything he’s done over the years and CTS has been a big part of him realizing that. “We can love the other because they’re a creature just like I am,” Haller said. “It’s not that we condone what the other is doing, but looking at them as a creation from God.” For Rev. Haller, CTS was a place he looked forward to coming to because of his classes and the close relationships he developed with his peers and the president at the time, who also doubled as his advisor. “My time at CTS was an oasis away from some of the present concerns of that time,” Haller said. “The seminary has been a nurturing and empowering presence [in my life] and continues to be wherever I’m called.”



Emily Clark Hewitt is a former Judge and Chief Judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims. Prior to serving as judge, she practiced law with the Hill & Barlow law firm in Boston from 1978 to 1993. Judge Hewitt is considered to be a leader when it comes to the effort to open Episcopal ordination to women. Hewitt was one of the Philadelphia Eleven, the first eleven women to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood on July 29, 1974. Judge Hewitt first entered government work in 1993 when she served as General Counsel of the United States General Services Administration, overseeing the legal activities and responsibilities of the agency. In 1998, she was commissioned as a Judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims by President Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama designated her to serve as Chief Judge on March 11, 2009. Hewitt served in that role until October 2013, when her term as Chief Judge and 15 years as a judge of the Court ended. Hewitt is married to Eleanor D. Acheson, who served as Assistant Attorney General during the Clinton Administration. She graduated with honors from Harvard Law School in 1978 and received her Doctor of Ministry Degree from CTS in 2011.