The Reverend Gregg Alan Mast, Ph.D.,
president emeritus of New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) and General Synod Professor emeritus of the Reformed Church in America (RCA), died on Monday afternoon, April 27, at Albany Medical Center Hospital, Albany, New York, after being ill with the COVID-19 virus for several weeks.
Gregg Mast was born on February 7, 1952, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Corneal and Stella Mast. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hope College in 1974, he attended NBTS, receiving his Master of Divinity degree in 1976. After being licensed and ordained by the Classis of South Grand Rapids, RCA, Mast served as assistant pastor at Andrew Murray Church in Johannesburg, a congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, for one year at the height of the struggle against Apartheid. He then joined the pastoral staff of North Reformed Church in Newark, New Jersey for a year before spending seven years as pastor of Second Reformed Church of Irvington, New Jersey.
While he was at Irvington, Mast studied in the liturgics program at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, studying under its founders—Bard Thompson, Erik Routley, and Howard Hageman—and earning his Master of Philosophy in 1981 and his doctorate in 1985. During that time, he served as Hageman’s informal teaching assistant, occasionally filling in at classes at Westminster Choir College in Princeton and NBTS. He then served as Minister for Social Witness and Worship for the RCA from 1985 through 1988, before accepting a call to be Senior Pastor of First Church (Reformed) in Albany, New York.
Dr. Mast considered his fifteen years in Albany as his most fruitful time of ministry prior to his return to NBTS as its president. He served as president of Albany Classis, moderator of its Vocational Development Committee, and a contributing editor of
The Church Herald
, RCA denominational magazine. He published, with Randy Weiland and L’anni Hill-Alto,
And Grace Shines Through: A Journey of Faith Through the Ordinary Stories of Our Lives
(Reformed Church Press, 1977) and a new edition of
Our Reformed Church
—a short book for new RCA members originally written by Howard Hageman. He also completed
In Remembrance and Hope: The Ministry and Vision of Howard Hageman
Raising the Dead: The Sermons of Howard G. Hageman
and also published his doctoral dissertation as
The Eucharistic Service of the Catholic Apostolic Church and Its Influence on the Reformed Liturgical Renewals of the Nineteenth Century
(Scarecrow Press, 1998).
After serving the RCA again, as Director of Ministry Services, from 2003 to 2006, Gregg Mast was called to serve as the fourteenth president of NBTS. He and his wife, Vicki, came to New Brunswick in a time of financial and staffing instability along with growing concerns over issues of race in the life of the Seminary—which had moved from a mostly white, mostly RCA, almost all-male student body to a fully coeducational, multicultural student body, representing a variety of denominations. Dr. Mast guided the school through a return to financial stability, the creation of a Doctor of Ministry degree, and the move into a new physical plant with the building at 35 Seminary Place. He also began a long run of teaching worship for the annual intensive courses for the RCA’s Ministerial Formation Coordinating Agency.
As President, Dr Mast also gave expression to his longstanding passionate interest in global Christianity, and his commitment to the future of the Christian faith as a global reality. He had travelled widely, visiting, preaching and teaching in Christian churches around the world, not least during his term as General Synod president, but throughout his years of ministry as well. At NBTS he experimented with a program to bring scholars from abroad, especially from the two-thirds world, to join the faculty, and established another program to bring seminary students from churches outside America to NBTS for a portion of their studies. He also took the lead in establishing the Underwood Center for Global Christianity, which cultivates relationships between the seminary and churches abroad in a variety of ways; and, in partnership with the Saemoonan Church of Seoul, Korea, he began the annual Underwood Symposium each spring, introducing American and European scholars to Korean Christian audiences.
Dr. Mast also had a deep commitment to racial justice, from his days as a seminary intern in inner-city Philadelphia, through his time in South Africa and throughout his career. At NBTS, the achievement he was arguably most proud of was the initiative to dismantle institutional racism at the school, through many student and faculty dialogues, major curricular changes, and the creation of the Anti-Racism Transformation Team. This Team, in turn, with his encouragement and participation, opened the way to a number of fundamental structural and policy changes at the administrative level, to a transformation of the daily culture of the school, to the establishment of annual anti-racism trainings that are still required of all students, faculty, staff and board members, and to the adoption of the Anti-Racism Statement of the Board of Trustees:
"We, the Board of Trustees of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, have decided to take a stand against racism and insidious structure of privilege and power. We are committed to identifying and dismantling all such structures in this Seminary. We make this commitment in full knowledge and understanding that it will involve uncomfortable and painful self-examination, both personal and corporate, and that it will require deep and difficult changes at all levels of our beloved institution, including this board. We are humbly yet firmly convinced that in making this commitment we are being led in Spirit, we are demonstrating obedience to God’s will and plan, and we are following the example of Jesus, Our Lord and Savior.
We pray that God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer will redeem our sins and guide, bless and help our creative efforts to let God do a “new thing” at New Brunswick Theological Seminary."
Faculty, staff, administration, students, and trustees in the time of his presidency not only found inspiration in these deep commitments and visions that he brought to his work; they also came to deeply trust his leadership itself. He led by cultivating relationships throughout the seminary community, bringing his ideas and passions into conversations with others, listening to their responses as well as their own ideas and passion, thereby building community and, at the same time, engaging everyone in the process of shaping the school’s life and mission. As he nurtured that process, which had its moments of uncertainty and frustration, he remained patient and wise. A consummate leader, he saw it through.