Gift honoring Don Harp to establish chair in biblical studies at Candler

Emory Report | Aug. 9, 2021

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A $3 million gift from The O. Wayne Rollins Foundation will establish an endowed chair in biblical studies at Candler School of Theology. The position honors The Rev. Dr. Donald Allen Harp Jr., Candler alumnus and former pastor/theologian-in-residence (shown in the pulpit at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta).

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Candler School of Theology has received a $3 million gift from The O. Wayne Rollins Foundation to establish an endowed chair in biblical studies. Named in honor of the late Don Harp 66T, Candler alumnus and former pastor/theologian-in-residence at the school, The Rev. Dr. Donald Allen Harp, Jr. Distinguished Professorship in Biblical Studies Endowment will support an outstanding expert in biblical studies at Candler.

Harp served more than 40 years as an ordained elder in the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, with his longest tenure at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, where he was senior pastor from 1988 to 2008 and then senior pastor emeritus. From 2008 to 2018, Harp was a supervising pastor for Candler’s Teaching Parish program and served as the school’s inaugural pastor/theologian-in-residence from 2008 to 2019.

He received Candler’s Distinguished Alumni Award in Service to the Church in 2008 and Candler’s Centennial Medal in 2014 for extraordinary service to the school, the church and society.

“It would be hard to overstate Don Harp’s impact on Candler School of Theology,” says Dean Jan Love. “He was an active ambassador for the school, a generous and wise advisor to students and leadership alike, and a reassuring, clear-headed and witty presence in any arena. He represented so much of the best of Candler.”

Pam Rollins, granddaughter of O. Wayne Rollins and a trustee of the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation, recalls their family — longtime members of Peachtree Road UMC — inviting Harp and his wife, Mary Ellen, to dinner when the Harps first arrived at the church. It was the start of a deep and meaningful pastoral relationship.

“Don was with us through the good times as well as the bad,” Rollins says. “There was never an event in my family that we didn’t look to him for religious support. He was always kind, caring and loving. His humor was an additional plus for our family since we love to laugh.

“We loved Don like family and could think of no greater way to honor him than by gifting to Candler, where he taught and believed in educating students,” Rollins adds. “We love that generations to come will benefit from the impact he’s had on so many.”

Love, also a member of Peachtree Road UMC, agrees that an endowed chair is a fitting way to pay tribute to her friend and former colleague, who served as a trusted advisor from early in her deanship. After he retired from the pastorate, Love appointed Harp the school’s first pastor/theologian-in-residence, a position created to help students gain insights from pastors with a career’s worth of experience.

“Don grew Peachtree Road to be one of the largest congregations in the North Georgia Conference and led it to be deeply involved in missional outreach,” Love says. “Students benefit enormously from taking courses from highly successful church leaders like this. Having Don as pastor/theologian-in-residence made his gifts for mentoring available to numerous students, especially those in the Teaching Parish Program.”

Thomas W. Elliott, Jr. 87T 97T, associate professor in the practice of practical theology and Methodist studies directs Candler’s teaching parish program. He worked with Harp for seven years through the program, which allows students to gain ministerial experience by serving as pastors-in-charge in local churches or as assistant pastors in larger churches. Harp advised a cohort of eight to ten students every year and held “preaching days” where they had the chance to preach from the pulpit in the 1,750-seat Peachtree Road sanctuary. Elliott recalls the student pastors’ excitement to learn from Harp.

“Don was a truth-teller, somebody who always encouraged you to do your best,” Elliott says. “He would also help you with achieving that and share with you realistically. He was always an encourager, and he expected that you would be responsible for your own work.”

Both Love and Elliott note that while Harp encouraged and supported every student who crossed his path, he was a particularly strong advocate for women who felt called to be pastors or serve the church in leadership.

“He had a heart for women in ministry and saw their value,” Elliott says. “He saw the idea of women leading as being biblical and what it should be; it wasn’t up for debate. He was a champion for women.”

The new endowed chair named for Harp will further distinguish Candler’s biblical studies area, already renowned for its high caliber of teaching and research.

“We are committed to sustaining Candler’s tradition of strength in biblical studies and are grateful to the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation for its ongoing partnership and support of Candler in a way that honors one who contributed so much to our community,” Love says.

To Elliott, linking Harp to biblical scholarship makes perfect sense. 

“Don was a preacher, and that meant biblical studies. One of the chief vocations of the preacher is living in Scripture. Don was very serious about his faith and his study, and he championed that in our students and their preaching.

“The endowed chair is a great honor for him and for Candler. It’s part of the legacy he leaves for preachers coming along in the next generations.”