Norman J. Kansfield ’62

After the 1840s, a spidery network of Dutch immigrant communities arose along the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan and extended into Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. South Holland, Illinois, when established in 1847, was among the least significant of those Dutch settlements. It had changed very little by 1940, when six-month-old Norman Kansfield and his parents, Orval Russell Kansfield (1913-1990) and Margaret Norman Kansfield (1914-1980) moved there. It was an idyllic community with the Reformed Church at the center of all that moved or breathed. Everybody knew everybody.

As a child, Norm loved working with wood. With his increasing design and carpenter skills, forts and huts abounded. He studied the Dutch language with an elderly neighbor, and by the time he finished high school, Norman knew he wanted to become a minister. He enrolled at Hope College (A.B., 1962), then Western Theological Seminary (B.D., 1965). During this time Norm developed a love for the First Testament or Old Testament. He loved languages, particularly the Hebrew language, and in 1965 he began a doctoral program in Old Testament Studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Norm enjoyed his graduate work, but as he noted “to pursue a doctorate in Old Testament requires a mind that is an inch wide and a mile deep. My mind is an inch deep and a mile wide.” With that realization, Norm received a Master’s degree in Sacred Theology from Union in 1967, transferred to the University of Chicago and began his study of Library Science, earning a Master’s Degree in 1970 and a Ph.D. in 1981. His dissertation is entitled “Study the Most Approved Authors: The Role of the Seminary Library in Nineteenth-Century American Protestant Ministerial Education.”

During his Hope College years, Norman met Mary Klein, who became the love of his life. Mary was the daughter of Dr. John Paul Klein (1912-1973) and Joan Walvoord Klein Hilmert (1912-1975). Both of her parents had grown up in other Midwestern Dutch communities, and Mary’s family lived in Fremont, Michigan, where they attended the First Reformed Church. On June 25, 1965, Norm and Mary were married.

By the end of June, 1965, the newly-married, country bumpkins were on their way to New York City for Norm to begin his ministry at the Second Reformed Church of Astoria, a small congregation in Queens, next to the elevated tracks, to begin his graduate work at Union, and to set up a new household. During the 1960s, living in New York City was extremely exciting, especially to this young couple, and the cost of the subway had just gone up to fifteen cents.

Realizing his need to change his field of study, Norm and Mary moved to the University of Chicago for Norm to begin his studies in theological librarianship. Of course the young couple found Chicago to be no less exciting than New York City. In 1970, Norm joined the faculty of Western Theological Seminary as Associate Librarian and Assistant Professor of Theological Bibliography. Western Seminary appointed him Librarian of the John Walter Beardslee Library in 1974 and Professor of Theological Bibliography in 1981. In 1982, the General Synod of the Reformed Church elected Norm to the ecclesiastical office of Professor of Theology.

For thirteen years, Norm enjoyed working in the library and teaching, writing and editing for the denomination, and playing a major role in the American Theological Library Association. A new home for the Beardslee Library, called the Cook Center for Theological Research was constructed, and daughter Ann Margaret was born in 1975, and in 1978, son John Livingston was born.

From 1979 to 1982, Norman served as a member of the Editorial Committee for Rejoice in the Lord: a Hymn Companion to the Scriptures. This hymnal became the official hymnal of the Reformed Church in America, and the editor was the eminent English hymnologist, Erik Routley. Norman loved to sing. Although his singing was totally without merit, Norman always figured he was given a place on the Committee because if he could sing the hymn, anybody could. Norm had three special tasks on the Committee: 1) identifying hymns written by members of the Reformed Church in America, 2) translating hymn texts from the Dutch language, and 3) altering texts for inclusive language. Following the unexpected death of Erik Routley, Norm completed the task of obtaining permissions of tunes and texts.

Living in Holland, MI, among fellow Dutch folks, made Norman and his family feel quite “at home.” While they never gave a thought to leaving Holland, God had other plans. In 1983, the Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary called Norman to become Director of the Ambrose Swasey Library, which serves both the Divinity School and St. Bernard’s Institute in Rochester, NY. Leaving the secure Dutch cacoon Holland provided, Norm was introduced every morning to chapel worship of a different faith tradition. His work experience was broadened to meet the needs of students from all the denominations, and to integrate further the libraries from each school in the consortium.

From January, 1993 to 2004, Norman served as John Henry Livingston Professor and President of New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, NJ. As the oldest Protestant seminary in North America, the NBTS community was diverse, and during Norm’s tenure, racial and ethnic minorities came to represent the majority of the student body. The school looked outward and flourished. The endowment doubled, and in 1993, the General Synod again elected him to the ecclesiastical office of Professor of Theology.

Throughout his career, Norman worked to improve the inclusion of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender persons within the life and ministry of the church. He was a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s “Out in Scripture” Editorial Committee, producing an on-line inclusive commentary on each week’s lectionary passages. In 1998, Norm addressed the General Synod saying

“You now know where my commitments lie. I ask you to count me among those who are committed carefully to listen to and, as necessary, to speak on behalf of homosexual persons, most of whom will not feel free enough to participate in the church’s important conversations.”

In May, 2004, the State of Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. On June 14, 2004, Norm married his daughter Ann to Jennifer Aull at the First Churches of Northampton, MA. The General Synod brought charges against him, and in June, 2005, the General Synod trial found him guilty of three charges: 1) failing to keep his ordination vows to seek the peace and unity of the church, 2) failing to heed the counsel and admonition of the General Synod, and 3) breeching the faith and practice of the denomination. With these charges, Norm was removed from the office of Professor of Theology and suspended as Minister of Word and Sacrament. In October, 2011, the Classis of Rockland-Westchester restored his ordained status.

During the trial, supporters of inclusion prayed outside the building, each wearing a tee shirt that bore the motto “Room for All: The Reformed Church in America, increasingly inclusive since 1628.” The disappointment felt with the outcome of Norm’s trial (especially the punishment), moved these and others to establish a group called “Room for All.” This organization has flourished and now represents persons and congregations throughout the denomination.

In 2005, Drew University, in Madison, NJ, elected Norm to the office of Senior Scholar in Residence within the Theological School, where for eight years he taught Reformed Theology. Norm and his wife Mary moved to Stroudsburg, PA, and joined Zion United Church of Christ, as Associate Members. There, Norm was appointed to serve as Theologian in Residence.

In January, 2023, Norm and Mary moved to New York City to be closer to family. Living in an apartment in Flushing House brought together both new and old friends. Norm’s health began to decline, and on January 27, 2024, Norm passed away. His ashes remain in the columbarium at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. After fifty-eight years of marriage, he leaves his wife Mary ’64, their children Ann Margaret Kansfield (Jennifer Aull) and John Livingston Kansfield (Melissa Marks) and three grandchildren, John Aull Kansfield, Grace Carol Aull Kansfield, and Jackson John Kansfield. He was 83 years of age.

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