In Memory of Rev. Dr. Albert J.D. Aymer
November 23, 2021
By: Ken Garfield
Most everyone who knew the late Rev. Dr. Albert J.D. Aymer has a tender memory to share.
Rev. Holly Cobb McKim was a student at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, N.C., when Dr. Aymer served as its president. As a third-career pastor-to-be, she says he took a deep interest in her journey. “He saw potential in me.” She remembers the day he subbed for her Old Testament professor. He asked to see each student’s notes. But first the notes had to be typed, and they had to be grammatically correct. McKim, now the pastor at Hudson United Methodist Church in Caldwell County, says the most important lesson she learned from Dr. Aymer was reflected in that bit of tough love. If you’re going to do God’s work, you must be all in. “He was tough but fair and gentle and funny and tough,” she says, adding that second “tough” for emphasis. “He was one of my most favorite people on the planet.”
Rev. Dr. Otto Harris III remembers Dr. Aymer’s deep intellect, and a rich Caribbean accent (he hailed from the island of Antigua) that added to his mystique. Harris was a student at Hood when Dr. Aymer shepherded the seminary’s move into an old Holiday Inn in 2005. Harris, now pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Charlotte, says the transformation went beyond bricks and mortar. Determined to build community among students, faculty and staff, Dr. Aymer insisted that the cafeteria be called a refectory. In Latin, refectory is a place one goes to be restored. Such was his pride for the place, Dr. Aymer also insisted that students running late to class must stay on the sidewalk. In other words, keep off the grass. When Dr. Aymer spoke, Harris says, students listened. “He was a towering figure on campus in both stature and intellect.”
Dr. Aymer died Nov. 5 in Texas after several years of declining health. He was 84. His life was filled with impressive achievements, including leading United Methodist churches and a school in Jamaica, Tobago and the United States. For 12 years, he served as Hood Theological Seminary’s first president after it became independent in 2001. He helped lead the seminary into its new home, expanded its programs, and expanded enrollment from 30 to the current 225. While honoring its roots as an historically black seminary, Dr. Aymer helped opened the doors to others. Today the student body is roughly 65 percent black and 35 percent white. Several Hispanic students add to the rich diversity. He also worked to deepen the seminary’s ties to The United Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
His resume, as significant as it is, doesn’t do justice to his legacy.
“President Aymer was an encourager, a visionary and a man of strong intellect and deep faith,” says Bishop Ken Carter. “He was instrumental in establishing and expanding Hood Theological Seminary, which has become a pathway for many of our pastors and leaders to prepare for ministry and service to local churches. His paths and mine crossed at the intersection of the academy and the church – when clergy were integrating their study with practice, and on more than one occasion when he was present to honor one of his graduates before a congregation.”
Rev. Dr. Stephanie Moore Hand, District Vitality Strategist for the Metro District of the Western North Carolina Conference, was a Hood student when Dr. Aymer was president. She remembers the day she was summoned to the President’s office. Uh-oh, she thought. Not to worry. “He wanted to share what he saw in me,” she recalls. “He sensed very strongly God’s calling on my life and wanted to do whatever he could to help me. He cared about every student at Hood.”
Rev. Dr. Bill White Jr., Director of Equity & Justice for the Western North Carolina Conference, met Dr. Aymer in 1994. Dr. White was a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Dr. Aymer had just been named Dean of Hood Theological Seminary. Their connection deepened after the sudden passing of Dr. White’s father. Dr. Aymer became a friend to the White family and a mentor to a pastor eager to soak up his counsel. “I could always talk with him about theological education and ministry paths,” Dr. White says. “I am eternally grateful for the wisdom and guidance he shared with me. Many of us enjoyed hearing him speak and tell stories and acknowledge how verbose he could be.”
In Dr. Aymer’s case, friends and associates agree, verbose was good for he had much to share. As Dr. Vergel L. Lattimore says, “You knew he was in the room.”
Dr. Lattimore was named president of Hood in 2014, succeeding Dr. Aymer. He credits Dr. Aymer with upgrading the quality of education, including establishing a Doctor of Ministry program, and enhancing the seminary’s reputation locally and nationally. Under Dr. Aymer’s leadership, Hood earned full accreditation from the Association of Theological School in the United States and Canada. In spearheading the move to its own campus (it had been based at nearby Livingston College), the inspired idea to repurpose an old motel took on symbolic, spiritual significance.
“It became a place of true hospitality,” Dr. Lattimore says.
‘It felt academic,” says Dr. Harris of St. Mark’s United Methodist. “The library and classrooms did not feel hotelish.”
Dr. Lattimore says Dr. Aymer possessed a rare gift. He could teach the Bible with the best of them while also mastering the administrative art of running a seminary. But Dr. Lattimore says there is still another gift that should be lifted up as we remember Dr. Aymer.
He understood that building God’s kingdom on earth begins by building relationships.
He reached out to other denominations and houses of worship, that Hood might be seen for what it is, “a place of true ecumenical integrity,” as Dr. Lattimore puts it. In the Rowan County region, he made connections with the Chamber of Commerce and corporate giants like Salisbury-based Food Lion and Cheerwine, that each might appreciate Hood as a community treasure. And while he loved the family-style meals served at weekly meetings, that’s not why he joined the Rotary. He joined because he had good news to share with friends and neighbors. The good news of a born-again seminary.
As Dr. Lattimore recalls, “One of the things when I came, he said, ‘You need to join the Rotary, Lattimore.’”
Dr. Lattimore did.
Remembering Dr. Aymer
Donations can be made to The Albert J.D. Aymer Endowed Scholarship Fund at Hood Theological Seminary at www.hoodseminary.edu/donate/donate-now.
Ken Garfield is a freelance writer/editor in Charlotte. He is former religion editor of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and served 12 years as Director of Communications at Myers Park United Methodist Church. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.