Duke University Chapel Dean William H. Willimon, one of the nation’s most notable theologians, is leaving Duke Divinity as he has been elected United Methodist bishop for North Alabama.
Willimon, who has been Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, since 1984, was elected as a bishop on Wednesday during a meeting of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church at Lake Junaluska, N.C. and was consecrated Saturday in Birmingham. He will take office Sept. 1 for two years as head of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, which has 157,862 members in about 860 churches.
Willimon is the author of over fifty books on church practice that have often criticized liberal theology and decline in the second-largest U.S. Protestant denomination. His “Worship As Pastoral Care” was selected as one of the ten most useful books for pastors in 1979 by the Academy of Parish Clergy. Over a million copies of his books have been sold. In 1996, an international survey conducted by Baylor University named him one of the “Twelve Most Effective Preachers” in the English-speaking world.
Duke Divinity School Dean L. Gregory Jones called Willimon an extraordinary leader.
"I'm delighted for Will and for the church," Jones said. "It is a loss for Duke, but a great gift for the United Methodist Church."
Noting a steady decline in United Methodist denomination across the nation, Willimon showed his desire to restore membership.
"We're going to stop that," Willimon said. "We've got a great church, a great Jesus.
Willimon is a graduate of Wofford College (B.A., 1968), Yale Divinity School (M. Div., 1971), and Emory University (S.T.D., 1973). He has served as pastor of churches in Georgia and South Carolina. For four years, beginning in 1976, he served as Assistant Professor of Liturgy and Worship at Duke Divinity School, teaching courses in liturgics and homiletics and serving as Director of the Ministerial Course of Study School at Duke and Presiding Minister in the Divinity School Chapel.
He has been awarded honorary degrees from Westminster College (D.D., 1990), Wofford College (D. Hum. L., 1994), Lehigh University (D. Litt., 1995), Campbell University (D.D., 1997), Lafayette College (D.D., 1999), Colgate University (D.D., 2000), and Centre College (D.D., 2001). In 1992, he was named as the first Distinguished Alumnus of Yale Divinity School.