Lexington Theological Seminary names its first female president

For the first time in its 146-year history, Lexington Theological Seminary will be led by a woman.

Charisse Gillett was named the seminary's 17th president Thursday morning at a special meeting of the school's board of trustees. She will take office Sept. 1.

Gillett will be the first woman and the first African-American to hold the top post at the seminary.

Her selection follows the recent naming of the Rev. Canon Carole L. Wade to be the first female dean and rector at Lexington's Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral.

Gillett said it was an emotional moment when the trustees informed her she had been selected to lead the Lexington seminary.

"I was aware that I would be the first woman and the first African-American to be president, but my prayer was that my skill set and knowledge were part of what made me an attractive candidate," she said. "I am excited about the future of the seminary, and the students and congregations we will be able to touch in the years to come as our program continues to grow in dynamic ways."

Gillett had been the seminary's vice president for administration and special projects since February 2010. Before that, she was a seminary trustee and an officer on the board.

Gillett holds a doctorate in education from Northern Illinois University. She has held administrative posts at Transylvania University, Midway College, Robert Morris College and the University of Northern Iowa.

She also is a former moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has been a commissioned minister in the Christian Church in Kentucky since August. Her husband, Donald Gillett II, a Lexington Theological Seminary alumnus, is senior pastor at East Second Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Lexington.

Charisse Gillett "brings vision and energy for leading LTS with its innovative approach for preparing men and women for congregational ministry," said Leslie Geoghegan, who chaired the seminary's presidential search committee.

Geoghegan said Gillett's leadership abilities, creative approach, commitment to students and congregations, and her communication style made her "the right person to lead the seminary as we move forward."

Lexington Theological Seminary has moved much of its instruction online, and one of Gillett's main tasks will be to continue that move.

"We're trying to find a way to help people who have a call to ministry ... but who still have families, careers and multilayered lives," she said. "A residential seminary doesn't fit their needs. I think what we're doing at LTS gives them a chance to get a high-quality theological education."