Foster Connors, Gehman to Receive 2019 Alumni Awards

Foster Connors, Gehman to Receive 2019 Alumni Awards

January 9, 2019—Columbia Theological Seminary announces recipients of its 2019 Alumni Awards to be presented during their annual “Homecoming” alumni reunion event, February 4-6, 2019, on campus in Decatur, GA near Atlanta. Philip R. “Phil” Gehman (MDiv ’68) will receive the Distinguished Service Award, as someone who represents the ideals of Columbia Theological Seminary. Kate Foster Connors (MDiv ’01) will receive the Pioneer in Ministry award, as someone who engages ministry with passion, commitment and dedication.

The Alumni Association Luncheon and Awards Ceremony will be hosted on February 5, 2019. This year’s alumni reunion will include worship, lectures and workshops by Columbia Seminary faculty and professionals, and, for the first time in many years, will include the 2019 Smyth Lectures. Author, scholar and renowned preacher Dr. Frank A. Thomas, the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary, will be the 2019 Smyth lecturer.

Smyth Lecture Details

Distinguished Service Award

The Rev. Dr. Philip R. “Phil” Gehman (MDiv ’68) served at Columbia Theological Seminary first as Director of Admissions and Placement and then as Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Life from 1985 to 2003. He later served as a representative and Assistant Corporate Secretary on the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Previously, Gehman served three churches: First Presbyterian Church of Waynesboro, VA, and First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, NC, as Associate Pastor, as well as Faith Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, NC, as Pastor.

In addition to earning his MDiv at Columbia Theological Seminary, Gehman studied history at Wheaton College (BA), church history at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and Union Presbyterian Seminary (DMin).

“While on campus as a member of the Board, I was able to observe Phil’s personal and professional interactions with students, faculty and staff—all of which were warm, cordial, and exemplary,” wrote Jim Lowry (MDiv ’66). “In particular, I along with many others, have observed the extraordinary care he took with seniors as they moved through ordination exams and the call process…Indeed, throughout his career, Phil has been a prime example of what it means to be a faithful and theologically astute servant leader.”

“Phil Gehman was an important member of Columbia’s administration and faculty for eighteen years,” said Erskine Clarke, Professor Emeritus of US Religious and Cultural History. “In faculty meetings one could always count on him to be well-prepared, focused, and wise. By bringing to faculty discussions his experience as a Presbyterian pastor and active presbyter, he helped keep before the faculty its foundational purpose of preparing and nurturing pastors for congregational ministry.”

Pioneer in Ministry Award

The Rev. Kate Foster Connors (MDiv ’01) is the Executive Director of The Center in Baltimore, MD. She previously served as Associate Pastor at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN, and Youth Pastor at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD.

Before earning her MDiv at Columbia Theological Seminary, Foster Connors studied government at Wesleyan University (CT).

The website for The Center ( states, “We offer a different kind of mission experience. Through our model of pairing visiting church groups with local congregations, your group will be led by local leaders to join ongoing ministry in the Baltimore area. Visiting groups are immersed in hands-on experiences with our partners. Groups also spend time with The Center staff, reflecting on shared experiences through the lenses of Christian faith and social change. Our goal is to send participants home with a renewed sense of call, energized to affect change in their own communities.”

Katie Ricks (MDiv ’02) was the first “test case” as a congregational partner with Foster Connors: “We walked across and along the ‘red lines’ that separate neighborhoods. We reflected on racism in Baltimore and at home in Chapel Hill. We wrestled with the deep socioeconomic divide in our own group. And, we were challenged to envision our call upon returning to Chapel Hill. After each of those three trips, our youth came back to initiate new programs: a monthly lunch with the subsidized housing community on our street (where some of our youth lived), a revitalized afternoon tutoring program, and a literacy camp before the start of school in the fall. These were each youth envisioned and youth led—inspired by the mission and vision of this work that Kate began.”

In 2017 alone, Kate and The Center partnered with 25 churches and community organizations. In 2018, Kate mentored three summer interns—a college student and two seminarians from Columbia Theological Seminary. The Center was designated as the point organization in Baltimore for the PC(USA) Hands and Feet.

Homecoming Alumni Reunion Details

Columbia Theological Seminary is “cultivating faithful leaders for God’s changing world.” As an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Columbia Seminary is a community of theological inquiry, leadership development, and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. Columbia Seminary offers six graduate degree programs and dozens of courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people through The Center for Lifelong Learning. For more information, please visit

Media Contact:

Michael Thompson
Director of Communications

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