Pacific School of Religion names Riess Potterveld president

August 6, 2010

RPotterveld.ltsPacific School of Religion (PSR) has announced that Riess Potterveld, currently president of Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, will become president of PSR for a term of three years, beginning October 1, 2010. The Rev. Sharon MacArthur, chair of the seminary’s board of trustees, said: “The board is pleased and excited about this appointment. Our search committee was hoping for someone who either knows PSR well or has been a seminary president—never imagining that both qualities would be available in one person! We look forward with great anticipation to working with Riess Potterveld in building a sustainable future for PSR.”

Before going to Lancaster, Potterveld served in three administrative roles at PSR from 1993 to 2002, and he says that his development here, both professionally and personally, played a role in his decision to return. “There is no other institution that could have induced me to leave Lancaster,” he said. “My ten years at PSR were particularly challenging, but also exhilarating. I was able to serve in a variety of roles and to see the school from several different perspectives—as fundraiser, vice president, and finally acting dean for two years. Those rich experiences and connections to the PSR community are leading me to return to offer what I can to strengthen this school.”

Among his accomplishments at PSR, Potterveld oversaw an increase in the school’s endowment from $25 million to $45 million; an increase in the number of donors by over 33 percent; and, following seven years of decline preceding his tenure, a substantial increase in the school’s annual fund. In his eight years as president of Lancaster, that seminary’s number of annual donors has nearly tripled and the school has developed an elaborate system of educational programs that reach youth, lay leaders, congregations, newly ordained pastors, and seasoned pastors—providing theological education to 3,000 people annually.

Toward the end of his earlier PSR career, Potterveld was instrumental in the development and launch of the seminary’s successful capital campaign (2001-2003). He also wrote or co-authored numerous foundation grant proposals that resulted in the establishment in 2000 of PSR’s ground-breaking centers: the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, and the Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacific and Asian North American Religion (PANA Institute). He also helped create a new endowment for field education stipends and a new program in congregational leadership.

Born in Milwaukee, WI in 1943, Potterveld was educated at Trinity College, in Hartford, CT, and earned his MDiv at Yale, and his MA and PhD at Claremont Graduate University. He served as senior minister at the Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Northridge, CA, from 1974 until his 1992 appointment at PSR.

Now he returns for a period of three years. “I’m comfortable serving for such a term,” he said, “because I had been planning to retire in about three years. While every president has an eye on the long-term horizon, my focus will be to accomplish particular outcomes, including the need to find additional financial resources to support this remarkable institution. I look forward to working with the board of trustees, the dean, faculty, staff, students, and alumni/ae to clarify what key leaders believe is essential to accomplish in the near term.”

PSR’s current dean, Mary A. Tolbert, welcomed Potterveld’s return: “This is a crucial time for theological schools across the country, and PSR is enormously fortunate to have a proven leader and fundraiser join the school as its next president. Not only is Dr. Potterveld a nationally respected voice on the future of theological education in the U.S., he is also a well-known and trusted figure in the Western region and at PSR. I am excited to be again working with Riess, and I know that his leadership will ensure a bright and productive future for PSR.”

Potterveld and his wife Tara have four grown sons and four grandchildren. Tara is an accomplished artist (a sculptor and painter) as well as a nationally known sign language interpreter for the deaf, specializing in legal interpreting. She is currently completing a book on legal interpreting that will be published in the coming year.

A multidenominational Christian seminary in Berkeley, California, Pacific School of Religion has been preparing bold leaders for historic and emerging faith communities since 1866. PSR’s graduates are known for innovative ministries of compassion and justice around the world—in urban and rural parishes, on city streets and college campuses, in the arts, public policy, and many other fields. PSR is a member of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), an interfaith consortium of seminaries and institutes in the Bay Area.