WINSTON-SALEM — A female New Testament scholar and ordained United Church of Christ minister has been tapped to replace Baptist historian Bill Leonard as dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity.
Gail O’Day, currently senior associate dean of faculty and academic affairs and the A.H. Shatford Professor of New Testament and Preaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, will become dean and professor of New Testament and Preaching at Wake Forest divinity school Aug. 1.
Leonard, 64, founding dean of the divinity school — one of 15 seminaries, theology schools or Baptist-studies programs that partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — is stepping down June 30 because of a tradition at the historically Baptist university in Winston-Salem, establishing a 10-year tenure for deans. He will remain on the faculty as chair of church history in the divinity school and the university’s religion department.
“The School of Divinity has had an impressive record of achievement in its first decade under the founding leadership of Bill Leonard,” O’Day said in a news release. “The divinity school’s combination of ecumenical openness and Baptist heritage, together with the university’s values of academic excellence, moral formation and service, positions the school to continue to move from strength to strength in making a unique contribution to theological education.”
O’Day is a world-renowned scholar for research on the Gospel of John, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, the Bible and preaching and the history of biblical interpretation.
“Gail combines an outstanding record of teaching and scholarship with strong experience as an administrator and a sense of pastoral leadership that makes her the perfect person to lead the Wake Forest Divinity School into its second decade,” said Wake Forest Provost Jill Tiefenthaler, who chaired the search committee for the new dean.
Opened in 1999 with 24 students and Leonard serving as the sole professor, Wake Forest Divinity School currently has 101 students enrolled.
The school has from the beginning been known for its interdisciplinary approach, described as “Christian by tradition, ecumenical in outlook and Baptist in heritage.”
Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch described O’Day — who holds an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate from Emory — as “the perfect leader to steward that balance.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)