Reverend Norman J. Kansfield, 1940-2024 (Memorial details now available)
January 29, 2024
It is with deep sorrow that we share the news of the passing of the Reverend Norman J. Kansfield, PhD.
The Reverend Norman J. Kansfield, PhD, tenth president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, died peacefully on Saturday morning, January 27, 2024, at Weill Cornell/Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, after having been ill for several weeks. The prayers of the entire NBTS community are with his wife, Mary, his children—John and his wife, Melissa, and Ann and her wife, Jennifer—and his grandchildren, John, Grace, and Jackson.
Dr. Kansfield was born in East Chicago, Indiana, on March 24, 1940. He held degrees from Hope College, Western Theological Seminary (WTS), Union Theological Seminary in New York, and the University of Chicago. Licensed by the Classis of Iliana and ordained by the Classis of Queens, he served as pastor of Second Reformed Church in Astoria, New York, associate librarian and then librarian of WTS, associate professor and librarian for Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary in Rochester, New York, and librarian for St. Bernards Institute when its library merged with the other schools. In 1993, he and his family came to NBTS as the tenth President of the Seminary. He was also a General Synod Professor of the Reformed Church in America, one of only 105 people to serve in that office since it was established in 1784, and the only one to serve in the office at both Western and New Brunswick. After his presidency, Kansfield taught Reformed Theology at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and served as theologian in residence at Zion United Church of Christ in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
Committed to justice and the acceptance of all people, Norman Kansfield was the only Professor ever to be tried by the General Synod, after officiating at the wedding of his daughter and her wife in 2004. He was deposed from the office of Professor of Theology and suspended from the office of Minister of the Word and Sacrament. The Classis of Rockland-Westchester reinstated him as a minister in 2012. The ad hoc group that rose up to support him in the months leading up to the trial, “Friends of Norm,” morphed into “Room for All,” which seeks to “support, educate, and advocate for the welcome and full affirmation of people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions in the RCA and surrounding communities of people of faith” (from the Room for All mission statement). He taught many people that a conservative reading of the Reformed confessions would lead to an open and progressive approach to politics and society.
Beth LaNeel Tanner, NBTS’ Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs and The Norman and Mary Kansfield Chair of Old Testament, reflected on her relationship with Dr. Kansfield:
When I think of Norman and Mary, I smile. They have always exhibited the Christian virtue of hospitality for all. When I was hired at the seminary, I spent many dinners at their homes and loved their gracious hosting and welcome. That radical love and hospitality was also seen in their conviction that the Christian faith means welcoming all – All means full inclusion in the church in all its offices and rituals. It is rare that a person in power will risk it all for their beliefs, but that is what Norman did, and he paid the price. Yet he and Mary remained gracious even to those who had been responsible for the trial. They lived their beliefs and faith when it was most difficult. They are examples to us all.
This made it all the more special when I had the pleasure of being the first professor appointed to the Norman and Mary Kansfield Chair of Old Testament Studies. I am proud that my name and work are associated with them, my mentors and friends, and my example of what it means to live a life of hospitality and radical love.
People who have known Norm and his wife, Mary, have known them to be warm and open people of deep Christian commitment and gracious hospitality. Guests received a warm welcome in their homes in Astoria, Holland, Rochester, New Brunswick, and Stroudsburg. His pastoral nature and support were seen by everyone he met, as was his voracious appetite for books, music, and poetry. Part of his volunteer service to the church was as a member of the committee that created the RCA hymnal Rejoice in the Lord (Eerdmans, 1985). Everyone who has experienced his welcome, his listening ear, his preaching, his teaching, and his writing, joins his family in prayer as he sleeps the sleep of Christ until we all rise in glory.
No saint on earth lives life to self alone
or dies alone, for we with Christ are one.
So, if we live, for him our life we live,
and if we die, to Christ our dying give.
In living and in dying, this confess:
we are the Lord’s, safe in Christ’s faithfulness.
–J.W. Schultze-Nordholt, translated by Norman J. Kansfield, 1982
Memorial service information:
Service of Witness to the Resurrection in Gratitude for the Life and Ministry of Rev Dr Norman J. KansfieldSaturday April 13, 2024 at 2pmWest End Collegiate Church245 West End AveNew York City, NYA fabulous reception will follow. Please consider bringing a pie to share.