On July 1, Christian Theological Seminary (CTS) will welcome a new president – Rev. Matthew Boulton – and say goodbye to its former leader – Rev. Edward L. Wheeler, who will be retiring after 14 years of guidance.
Wheeler is the longest-serving president in the seminary’s 50-year history.
“Fourteen years is a long time to do this kind of work,” Wheeler said. “The average tenure of a seminary president is six to seven years. This job doesn’t leave a lot of room to do much else. I’ve enjoyed my time, but there are other things I’d like to do while I still enjoy my health. For instance, I’d like to do some writing; I’d like to do some teaching perhaps as an adjunct faculty member; I’d like to spend time with my wife and children and grandchildren and I’d like to see if I can play a better round of golf.”
An ordained Baptist minister, Wheeler was named president of Christian Theological Seminary by action of the Board of Trustees in May 1997. Wheeler was the first African-American president at the seminary.
“I became aware soon that CTS was the only seminary in Indianapolis,” Wheeler said. “All great cities had theological schools. I hoped to bring CTS into the community in some way.”
A highly regarded community leader and theological educator, Wheeler has held positions in a number of churches and universities, including dean at Morehouse School of Religion, and faculty positions at places such as the Interdenominational Theological Center, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Wheeler was pastor at Zion Baptist Church of Cincinnati from 1985 through 1991.
Beyond his service to theological education and ministry, Wheeler has many published works, including Going Beyond News from the Brickyard and Black and White Sundays.
Wheeler also has often been asked to speak at community and religious events, and has been a leader unafraid of speaking his opinion, such as with “Interfaith Statement for One America.” The public statement was released by Indianapolis religious leaders as a result of public outcry to a proposed Islamic mosque being erected on Ground Zero in New York City, and the promotion of burning Islamic sacred texts by Terry Jones, a Christian minister in Florida, in 2010.
The statement promoted religious freedom and respect, stating: “We condemn these attempts to vilify an entire religious community and affirm that such bigotry has no place in a nation committed to religious liberty for people of all faiths and none.”
When it comes to Rev. Wheeler, Rev. Boulton, who himself served as associate professor of ministry studies at Harvard Divinity School, said he has some big boots to fill.
“I want to be able to build on his progress and invite Indianapolis into the seminary,” Boulton said. “I want to be inviting and have people come onto the campus, and I want CTS to go out into the community.”
Wheeler said he is thrilled with the new president, who was elected following a nearly year-long, national search for Wheeler’s successor.
“He is very gracious and kind. If I were 20 years younger, I would be excited about figuring out what the church is going to look like and what kind of theological education is needed,” Wheeler said. “It’s time for somebody else to take up the mantle. I told Dr. Boulton I am available for counsel as he sees fit, and I hope if he feels he needs to call, he knows I’ll be happy to oblige.”
Wheeler’s retirement will bring some time away from the many positions he has held, but that doesn’t mean it will all be relaxation.
“Probably around the first of the year I will go into retirement phase,” Wheeler said. “But I doubt I’ll just rock away in a rocking chair.”
While Boulton said at the announcement that he is ready to get started, he still may call on the former president for guidance.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants; one is in this room,” Boulton said. “President Wheeler, we celebrate your 15 years. We know you’ll get into some other mischief soon enough, but we hope you have some time to put your boots up.”