McCormick celebrates life, legacy of David Ramage

02-17-2010 by

Geoff Ashmun
Past president strengthened seminary’s urban, cross-cultural commitments

McCormick Theological Seminary gives thanks to God for the life and legacy of its former president, the Rev. Dr. David Ramage (Class of 1955), who died on Sunday, February 14 in Fairfax, Virginia, after a prolonged illness. He was 79.

During his tenure as president, 1985-1993, David Ramage led the seminary to build on the values that informed McCormick’s historic decision to relocate to the South Side of Chicago in 1975. His tenure was marked by McCormick’s growing interest in community-based urban ministry, ecumenical partnerships, and the further diversification of its student body toward a new conception of theological education as cross-cultural.

“David’s leadership came at a critical time for the seminary, when McCormick was re-inventing its role in the life of Chicago and the broader Church,” said President Cynthia Campbell.

"He understood urban ministry and how women and men from different backgrounds, cultures, and theological persuasions could be the basis for a dynamic environment of learning for students and faculty alike."

Under Ramage’s leadership, McCormick broadened its constituency and, building on the Hispanic Ministries Center, developed new programs for African American, Korean and Korean American faith communities. Most notably, the seminary was the recipient of a grant from the MacArthur Foundation toward the development and launch of the African American Leadership Partnership Program, which was designed to encourage partnerships between the seminary and local congregations and organizations seeking to educate and call new leaders for the future.

After earning his B.D. from McCormick, where his studies combined theology and social work, Ramage briefly served a church on Chicago’s South Side before working at the Presbytery of Chicago as Director of Urban Ministry, followed by the PCUSA national office as director of a major division of the Board of National Missions and, finally, the World Council of Churches before coming to McCormick.

Ramage’s involvement in ecumenical circles also focused on community organizing and social justice, as Executive Director of the Center for Community Change in Washing­ton, D.C., and as President of the New World Foundation in New York City. He was also one of the key leaders in organizing the Parliament for the World’s Religions centennial meeting in Chicago in 1993 out of which came the organization by the same name.

In his inaugural address in 1985, Ramage, who had served the seminary on its board of trustees for seven years prior, offers a vision for learning in and through community that McCormick proudly embraces to this day:

“We have en­or­mous diversity in this seminary, for it represents the world in which it lives.  We do not know whether in such diversity it is possible to have sufficient common experience so that ‘ed­ucation’ can occur. But perhaps that is an old under­stan­ding of education, which limits itself only to the transmission of cultural history.  Perhaps the education that is re­quired today is a mutual education in which all participants learn from each other and from each other’s histories. It is important that all may learn and all may come to share new values, for if they do not, surely all will share in the same destruction.”