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Ventura County Religion

Harvard's Divinity School Names Professorship for Fillmore Man

Retirement: The Episcopal priest left his post there as dean and president in 1985 and 10 years later returned to his native county, where he does volunteer work.

June 20, 1998|BRENDA LOREE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After a long and distinguished career, including several years as president of the Harvard University-affiliated Episcopal Divinity School, Harvey Guthrie Jr. retired to his native Ventura County in 1995.

But retirement didn't stop the honors from coming his way. At the divinity school's commencement this year in Cambridge, Mass., where he served as dean and president from 1969 to 1985, a permanent Guthrie Professorship of Biblical Studies was inaugurated.

"It's like a permanent chair," said Guthrie, who lives in Fillmore with his wife Doris, a native of the city.

When he graduated from Ventura High School in 1942, Guthrie knew he would become either a lawyer or a minister.

"Turned out to be minister," he said. "I come from a family in which my mother always thought we ought to go to a community church and be nondenominational."

After reading Reinhold Niebuhr's book, "Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic," Guthrie knew immediately that he "wanted to go to school where that man teaches."

The school was Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

"While I was there, I decided the Episcopal Church was the one I wanted to be ordained in," he said. "I was attracted to the Episcopal tradition of inclusiveness and doctrinal freedom.

"I just felt at home there," Guthrie said.

After serving three years as rector of a small church in White Plains, N.Y., Guthrie went back to school at General Theological Seminary in New York City, where he taught Hebrew while earning his doctorate.

In 1958, he began a new job teaching the Old Testament at the Episcopal Divinity School. He stayed until he retired as school president 27 years later.

Guthrie recalled the late 1960s as a very significant period for the school.

"I became the dean in 1969, and the country was in the middle of the civil rights movement," he said. "One of our students, Jonathan Daniels, was murdered in the South while registering voters. So we were personally involved in that."

More than one "first" in the Episcopal Church occurred during Guthrie's watch as dean of the divinity school.

"We were the first Episcopal seminary to admit women as students."

And in 1974, he was present when a group of women were ordained by a group of retired bishops of the Episcopal Church.

"It was very controversial, and connected with that, we also brought onto our faculty two women--also a first and controversial."

He believes the presence of women in the church's hierarchy since then has been positive.

"It says 'This isn't just a male establishment here.' "

Guthrie said he has always been an advocate of equal rights, from the ordination of women to the inclusion of gays and lesbians in sacramental and ministerial life.

"For me, those commitments are rooted in my study of the thrust of the biblical message, which is first of all that the rights and privileges of being human are in every respect to be shared by all as gifts of God."

*

Guthrie said he believes in adhering to the Bible's overall message, "not in choosing one specific verse, as some do."

Upon leaving his academic post in 1985, Guthrie served for 10 years as rector of a church in Ann Arbor, Mich. He also wrote four books, including "Theology as Thanksgiving," and served as a visiting scholar at Yale Divinity School.

He and his wife serve as volunteer legal assistants at Channel Counties Legal Services and are on the steering committee of the local Santa Clara Valley Democratic Club.

Ventura College instructor Ramon Rodriguez, who founded the club in 1996, said, "I have to hand it to Harvey--other people would just be enjoying their retirement and going fishing. He's chosen to remain active in helping people who need it. I'm honored to count him as a friend and colleague. What he does is what you'd call 'good works.' "

Still, the quasi-retired Guthrie said these days he doesn't mind sitting in a pew in the Fillmore Trinity Episcopal Church, instead of leading the service.

"I find myself saying, 'Hey, I really do believe all this stuff, even when I'm not standing up front getting paid for it.' "

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