On May 7, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell announced the appointment of the Rev. Canon James F. Turrell, Ph.D., as dean of the School of Theology at the University of the South. Turrell is the current Norma and Olan Mills Professor of Divinity, professor of liturgy, associate dean for academic affairs, and sub-dean of the Chapel of the Apostles. He will assume his new duties on July 1, 2020.
“I am delighted that Jim Turrell has accepted this appointment,” said McCardell. “Not only is he well acquainted with the School of Theology and its mission, but he is also a respected scholar and participant in the life of the wider Church. I know that the Sewanee family will join me in welcoming Jim to his new duties with great enthusiasm.”
For the past 17 years, Turrell has taught liturgy and the history of worship at the School of Theology and has served 11 years as associate dean for academic affairs. During his tenure, he led the School though a successful Association of Theological Schools reaccreditation in 2015, reorganized and streamlined academic policies, programs, and procedures, and recently revised the core curriculum to increase and enhance contextual education. His work with the wider Church includes membership in the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music since 2015 and in the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops since 2013.
“From my perspective as a member of the faculty, an administrator, and a participant in the wider work of The Episcopal Church, the School of Theology is well positioned to thrive,” stated Turrell. “As an Episcopal seminary that is also embedded in a larger university, a unique commitment and accountability to both the Church and the academy distinguish the School, making it more than the sum of its parts. I am thrilled to accept this appointment as we look to the future.”
Turrell studied history as an undergraduate at Yale (B.A., 1991) before pursuing a divinity degree there (M.Div., 1996). He was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) in 1996. After parish work, he studied history at Vanderbilt University (Ph.D., 2002), focusing on religion in early modern Britain.
Rebecca Abts Wright, professor of Old Testament, senior faculty member, and search committee member, has worked with Turrell as a fellow teacher and as the academic dean. “The faculty has seen Jim’s academic life in the classroom and publications, his patient and pastoral character tending to administrative details, and his depth of skill and love for liturgy. We trust his leadership in this time of pandemic change and look forward to what he will bring to the School when we emerge into whatever will be our new "normal." Jim is a person for whom ‘esteemed colleague’ is more than a polite title; it is a statement of our shared reality.”
Turrell inherits a thriving enterprise. He will succeed the Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, during whose eight years in the deanship enrollments have grown and broadened. He has strengthened the faculty and helped raise more than $27 million to support the School’s mission and facilities.
Alexander will step down as dean on June 30, 2020; however, he will return after a sabbatical period and resume teaching at the School of Theology. He expressed that he couldn't be more pleased that the University has chosen Turrell to be the next dean. “As fellow scholars in the field of liturgy, I have known Jim for many years and I can vouch for his commitment to theological education and to the Church. Working alongside him during the last eight years, I can attest to the fact that he is eminently qualified to carry forward the mission of the School of Theology. I look forward to working with him as a member of the faculty in the years to come."
The dean search advisory committee, co-chaired by the University's Chancellor, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Robert Skirving, and Provost Nancy Berner considered a group of very capable candidates. Berner had this to say about the appointment. “Jim’s intimate knowledge of the workings of the School of Theology, and the University more generally, will be a great asset, especially as we navigate these uncertain circumstances.