Dr. Nathan Willowby, a four-year professor of ethics and theology at AU, is set be the next dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry (SOTCM). He will succeed Dr. MaryAnn Hawkins, a longtime faculty member of the SOTCM who has decided to step down after 14 years of service at AU.
“I am humbled by the opportunity to serve AU and the Church of God,” said Willowby of his promotion. “I have personally known the past seven deans of the SOTCM and the past two deans who guided the undergraduate department before its merger with the graduate SOT. All nine of these deans have served the institution well, and I seek to do all I can to bring my gifts and preparation to the opportunities and challenges we will face in the coming years.”
Willowby said that it is too soon for him to envision a specific future for SOTCM, but he feels ready to exercise the responsibilities of being dean and to keep the SOTCM devoted to AU’s mission.
“I recognize the dual task of the SOTCM role within courses in the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum, as well as our ministry preparation majors and graduate programs,” said Willowby. “Most of this fall is comfortably under the institutional vision of educating for a life of faith and service to church and society.”
After a year of unknowns wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of AU and its School of Theology is difficult to anticipate. For Willowby, his focus is to dig deeper into, improve upon and expand what the SOTCM has to offer.
“Obviously, in a year like this, there are many challenges,” Willowby said. “My penchant is to dig into the things we can do well, improve in areas we can, and work to find new opportunities to collaborate with churches and other AU programs so that we collectively meet the needs of our current and future students.”
Before accepting his promotion, Willowby consulted his family and prayed for discernment.
“I spent a lot of time talking with my family about the change administration roles would have for the rhythm and balance of our family life,” he said. “I also spent time in prayer and reflection to make sure I was at peace about accepting the opportunity and responsibility.”
Willowby’s time at AU dates back to the fall semester of 2001, when he entered as a freshman student seeking a double major in Bible and religion and business administration, both of which he completed in 2005.
Then from 2005 to 2006, he took 30 hours of courses at the then-SOT, or AU School of Theology, to begin studying for a master’s degree in divinity. He went on to finish his Master of Divinity degree at the Duke University School of Divinity in 2008.
“My journey to being a theology professor started as an undergraduate at AU,” Willowby said. “I was trying to discern my call to ministry, and during classes in the Religious Studies department with various professors, I started to wonder if maybe that was an avenue of my service to the Church and specifically the Church of God.”
Not until his last year at Duke did Willowby sense a calling to be a theology professor. There at Duke, some of his professors even encouraged him to pursue a doctoral degree. But before he was sure about his calling, he accepted a pastorship at the Crossroads Church of God in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he started and completed a PhD program through Marquette University.
In Milwaukee, Willowby developed confidence in discerning his future as a professor.
“This helped me have confidence about my discernment that being a professor could be a calling to the church that was consistent with the broad sense of calling to ministry that I had experienced since my teenage years,” Willowby said.
Willowby’s soon to be predecessor, Hawkins, recommended to President John Pistole and Provost Marie Morris that Willowby take her place.
“I recommended Dr. Willowby to the President and Provost as a possibility for the next Dean,” said Hawkins. She also endorsed his qualifications for leading the SOTCM as dean.
“Dr. Willowby has administrative gifts and is a strategic planner,” she added. “He’s well respected by both students and faculty. These qualities (along with integrity and an excellent reputation in the Church) make him the perfect ‘next’ Dean.”
Hawkins privately decided to step down for four reasons.
Firstly, Hawkins is of retirement age, she said.
Secondly, Hawkins lost a family member to COVID-19. In the wake of their loss, Hawkins’ children and grandchildren asked that she move closer to them in California.
“I was fairly certain that the SOTCM would lose another faculty position,” Hawkins said of her third reason, “and I hoped that if I stepped down no one else would need to leave.”
And fourthly, she and her husband successfully sold their home, which she called the “confirmation we were looking for.”
“I will miss AU,” Hawkins said. “It has been a wonderful home for me for these 15 years.”