The Rev. Dr. Stephen (Steve) A. Hayner, president emeritus of Columbia Theological Seminary, passed away today at the age of 66 surrounded by family and friends in the Columbia community. Known by many throughout the world with love, affection, and gratitude, Steve was a person of many honors and degrees who refused to categorize others or himself by achievements. His goal was to always live to and for an audience of One, and his hope was to live life with wide open arms and relational integrity. His life was imbued with joy and freedom, which touched and changed many people along the way.
Born June 23, 1948, Steve graduated from Walla Walla High School in Walla Walla, WA. He then attended Whitman College also in Walla Walla, graduating summa cum laude in 1970 with a B.A. in English Literature.
In 1972, Steve continued his education at Harvard Divinity School where he received his M.T.S. in Semitic Studies, and then one year later earned a Th.M. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. While in the Boston area, he served at the well-known Park Street Church where Steve met Sharol Rhodes, whom he later married in June of 1973.
After receiving his degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1973, Steve was ordained and installed as “university pastor” at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA where he was involved with students and faculty. What started as a group of 17 students quickly grew to over 1,200. While there, he utilized two sabbaticals to complete his Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland in 1984.
Steve then took the position of Vice President of Student Affairs at Seattle Pacific University in 1984. Throughout his time in Seattle, he was involved as an adjunct professor of Old Testament with Fuller Theological Seminary extension sites.
In 1988, Steve was called as President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (USA), a non-denominational discipleship ministry to students on college campuses across the country. Alec Hill, current President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (U.S.A.) said of his predecessor, “Steve brought pastoral care, healing and hope to an InterVarsity community that had undergone much trauma in the 1980’s. When he left in 2001, the Fellowship was healthy and the board fully engaged. He is one of the kindest and most authentic people I’ve ever known.” Steve continued to serve as an adjunct of professor of Old Testament at a number of schools such as: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Regent College, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
In 2001, Steve made the transition from the academic world to parish ministry. He became the Senior Associate Pastor at High Point Church and the Associate Pastor at the Fountain of Life Family Ministry Center, both in Madison, WI. Alex Gee, Founder & President of the Nehemiah Community Development Corporation, is a friend and partner from that time, “Steve was our founding board chairman… [and] served as a volunteer Associated Pastor at our cross-cultural, multi-class congregation. He helped me to create an in-house urban leadership training program for developing our folks. Steve’s brilliance is only eclipsed by his humility! I’m a better man because of my accountability to Steve and his love for me.”
In 2003, he was called as the Peachtree Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, while also serving as Scholar in Residence at Peachtree Presbyterian Church. In 2009, he was called as the Seminary’s ninth President. Deborah Flemister Mullen, Dean of Faculty and Executive Vice President of Columbia Seminary said of their partnership, “Steve was not only my closest colleague on the administrative staff, he was a beloved brother in Christ and my friend. We never thought of each other in the traditional hierarchal ways that often define relationships between presidents and deans…The seminary is a very different place because of Steve Hayner’s gifts of life, especially his commitment to God’s wide welcome of everyone to the table. That work is ongoing. We will carry on as Steve would want us to…gratefully and joyfully.” In 2011, he was awarded an honorary D.D. at Presbyterian College in South Carolina.
Throughout his life, Steve was deeply and personally involved with various organizations that serve local and international communities. He served on a number of international boards, including World Vision United States, World Vision International. Richard Sterns, President of World Vision United States, said, “Steve’s faithful leadership was marked by the Godly wisdom described in James 3—wisdom that ‘is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’ Countless young lives have been impacted by Steve. He modeled for all of us how to glorify Christ in all things and at all times—forever and always pointing the way to Christ.”
Steve also served on the board of directors of International Justice Mission, Nehemiah Community Development Corporation, Christian International Scholarship Foundation (now called ScholarLeaders International), Evangelical Environmental Network and Presbyterian Global Fellowship, The Navigators, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Stony Brook School.
Steve was the son of Jeannette (Hafner) and Herman “Dutch” Hayner. He is survived by his wife Sharol (Rhodes) Hayner, three grown children Emilie (and Chad) Wagner, Chip (and Kristen) Hayner, and Drew Hayner, as well as 5 grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother Jim (and Pam) Hayner of Walla Walla, WA, his sister Judy Hayner of Los Altos, CA, and a great number of other family and friends.
Steve’s desire was that Columbia Theological Seminary be a place of diversity and welcome, where people are stretched and pushed, and also held in love and grace. He hoped that graduates of Columbia would be known as resilient and imaginative leaders, those who seek to be transformed by God, and who partner with God’s work in this changing world. He always sought to encourage people to be all that God had them to be.
On Wednesday when the Columbia community gathered to worship and pray for Steve and his family, he continued to love the students, faculty, and staff as he texted to say, “On what will probably be my last day on this earth I want to send you all at the seminary my deepest love, gratitude and joy. Joyfully, Steve.”
A service celebrating Steve’s life will be held at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, 3434 Roswell Road Northwest, Atlanta, GA 30305 on February 23 at 2:00pm.