Cover photo for Rev. Dr. James Kenneth Echols's Obituary
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Rev. Dr. James

Rev. Dr. James Kenneth Echols

d. December 22, 2018

Obituary for The Reverend Dr. James Kenneth Echols - 5/26/1951– 12/22/2018 The Rev. Dr. James K. Echols, the first African American scholar to serve both as the Dean and President of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) seminary, and a retired ELCA Pastor, died Saturday at his home in Philadelphia. Quiet and reserved manner, Echols was a Philadelphia native who grew up as a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in West Philadelphia. Frequently urged by peers and church leaders to consider an ordained ministry career, Echols was a reluctant candidate for the ministry, preferring instead to focus initially on a career in Law. But Law School’s loss was a gain for the church as he became the first African American seminary professor at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, [now United Lutheran Seminary] in 1982. From 1991-1997, he served the seminary as its Dean, again the first African American to hold this office. In 1992 he led the first seminary Globalization trip to Namibia and South Africa, prior to the end of apartheid. In 1997 he was chosen to head the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago [LSTC] for the next 14 years, again serving as an African American trail blazer in the ranks of the ELCA.“For fourteen years, President Echols led our school during a period of accelerating change in theological education, with a vision for new possibilities that was often far ahead of his time,” said James Nieman, [current] president. “With quiet intensity and firm resolve, he set in motion local, ecumenical, and global ventures that others had not yet imagined. He was also a person of substantial scholarly and ecclesial grounding whose very presence as a seminary leader was an inspiration to many. We are blessed to be beneficiaries of all the good to which he was committed, and saddened that his time among us has ended so soon.” In Echols’ time as president, LSTC built a new worship space, the Augustana Chapel. He also helped create A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice, an endowed chair in Christian-Muslim studies and interfaith relations, the Albert “Pete” Pero Jr., pioneering African American professor Multicultural Center, and a program of spiritual formation for youth. Echols’ dedication to collaboration led to a closer partnership and shared campus with McCormick Theological Seminary, a school of the Presbyterian Church USA. He also worked closely with partners within the ELCA, seeking opportunities to make leaders in the church more aware of the central role of theological education. Prior to retirement, Echols served as the Director of Theological Education and Networks Office of the Bishop of the ELCA. Echols was educated in Philadelphia Public Schools, graduated cum laude from Temple University; The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, earning the MDiv. degree; and Yale University with studies in Psychology, Religion, Theology and Church and Society, earning MA, MPhil., PhD degrees.  He was awarded Honorary Doctorates from Carthage College, 1999 and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 2018. Echols served as an elected member of the Executive council of the LCA, the ELCA Commission for Multicultural Ministries Steering Committee/Advisory Committee. He served as a Member, ELCA Task Force on Race, Ethnicity and Culture and the ELCA Division for Ministry Board and the Board of Directors for the Deaconess Community. As a leader in theological education, Echols served on numerous reaccrediting teams to review seminaries in the United States and in Africa.  Globally, Echols participated in Lutheran and ecumenical conferences in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. He was a leader in the Conference of International Black Lutherans (CIBL) and the African American Lutheran Association. He published in the areas of church history, theology and Black American Lutheranism. He is the editor of I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Future of Multicultural America (Augsburg Fortress, 2004) In 2017 LSTC presented him with the Doctor of Divinity honoris causa in honor of his more than 37 years of dedicated service in parish ministry, theological education, ecumenical and interfaith work, as well as his service to communities of color in the United States and the Caribbean and his distinctive contributions across the global Lutheran communion. The James Kenneth Echols Prize for Excellence in Preaching was established in 2008 by the late LeRoy T. Carlson in honor of Echols and to promote excellence in preaching among LSTC students, the Lutheran church and the world. In addition to honors and awards from Wagner College and Carthage College, Echols received a Luther Institute Wittenberg Award in 2000 and a Wheat Ridge Ministries Seeds of Hope Award in 2005. Echols was not just a seminary professor and leader, he served a number of churches after his seminary graduation, many of these were while he was pursuing his graduate education.  From 1977-79, he was the Parish Assistant at Bethesda Lutheran Church, New Haven, CT; from 1979-81 he was the Assistant Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Epiphany, Hempstead, NY; and from 1981-82, the Associate Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Epiphany, Hempstead, NY.  As a professor at the Philadelphia seminary, he served Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA, 1984-85 as Interim Pastor, 1992-95 Pastoral Associate, St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA; and 1995-97 Interim Pastor, Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA. Preceded in death by his parents, Harry Echols and Edith McGruder Echols, and brother, Harold Echols. Dr. Echols is survived by his wife Donna Skinner Echols, and daughters Jennifer Hope Echols and Courtney Lynne Echols Penn (Eric), granddaughter Charlotte Regan Penn, and brother David Echols.  He is mourned by his Nieces: Lauren Echols, Joy Renee Blalock, Lesli Alexandria White, Cameron Nicole Skinner;  Great Niece: Jordan Ashley Sell ;  Nephews: Phillip Echols, Harold Echols, Charles Herman Blalock, Trevor Scott Blalock; Sisters-in-law: Gloria Lemmon Echols, Beryl Blalock Humes, Bobbi Skinner-White, Sylvia Fulford Skinner, Brother-in-law: James Howard Skinner, and God Children: Kari Ingrid Beck, Bethany Hopkins, Nathaniel Peterman, and Laura Rivera. Funeral Service will be December 28, 2018 at The United Lutheran Seminary, the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119 at 9:00 am. In Lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the United Lutheran Seminary or the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  
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Service Schedule

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

7:00 - 9:00 pm (Eastern time)

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Starts at 9:00 am (Eastern time)

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