Douglas W. Oldenburg, former senior minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte and progressive leader in the Presbyterian Church-USA, died on July 21, 2020. He was 85 years old.
Skilled in the art of diplomacy, blessed with an unerring sense of right and wrong , and coupled with his genuine affection for those with whom he worked, Oldenburg was admired by the congregations and staff of the churches he served, the faculty and students of the seminary he led, and many, many others.
Oldenburg was born on February 22, 1935 in Muskegon, Michigan, son of Frederika Nordoff and Theodore Oldenburg, who, as a small child, immigrated from Amsterdam, Netherlands to the United States.
At age eleven, Oldenburg moved to Signal Mountain, Tennessee to a street where his future wife, Claudia, lived. Their childhood friendship grew into a love that lasted for 63 years. He was in the first graduating class of Myers Park High School in Charlotte where he was president of the student body.
At Davidson College, he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, sang in the Male Chorus, and earned a B.A. degree in English. An officer in the ROTC, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the US Army and served for a short time as an officer in Armor and later transferred to the Chaplaincy as a Captain in the Army Reserve. Oldenburg entered Union Theological Seminary where he earned a B.D. degree and won a Fellowship that took him to Yale Divinity School and a S.T.M. degree.
His first pastorate was to develop a new church in Lynchburg, Virginia. While there, he was instrumental in starting the Kum Ba Ya House for disadvantaged children in the city. After seven years, he moved to Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church in Elkins, West Virginia. While in Elkins, he headed the support for a city-wide referendum to raise teacher salaries that had been defeated three times previously. This effort passed with an impressive 60 percent of the vote. In 1972, at age thirty-seven, Oldenburg was called to be the senior minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Always concerned with helping the poor and with Christian faith and economic justice, he continued to study economics related to Christian life. He helped to establish Crisis Assistance Ministry, was a member of the Charlotte Housing Authority, and was co-founder of The Presbyterian Family Life Center. During his 14 years of service in Charlotte, he led a successful Presbytery-wide ten-year massive self-help project to assist a village in Haiti in a long-term effort to improve the quality of life there.
He served on the Board of Trustees of St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Union Theological Seminary and Agnes Scott College. Active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s and always advocating to improve race relations, he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. award and Charlotte’s Order of the Hornet. In 1987 he left Charlotte to undertake a new challenge as the seventh president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
Under his leadership, the seminary rose to prominence and was know for its excellent faculty and progressive thinking. During his tenure, the endowment was raised from $27 million to $155 million and a capital campaign raised more than $34 million. He was instrumental in overseeing significant building and landscaping improvements at the seminary.
Upon his retirement, the beautiful, new campus center was given the name of The Oldenburg Quadrangle. He served his Presbyterian church though many committees in the General Assembly, the Synods, the Presbyteries and in the communities where he lived. He was most proud of his work on “A Declaration of Faith” for the denomination that is used in many worship services today. During his years in the Atlanta area, he was a member of the Atlanta Rotary Club and was instrumental in coordinating relationships between the presidents of all the seminaries of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
He was elected to be Moderator of the 2.6-million member Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1998. During his term, he emphasized a theme of concern for hungry children in the USA and in the world. He has been awarded honorary degrees from Davis and Elkins Presbyterian College, St. Andrews University, Davidson College, Hastings College, Presbyterian College, The Reformed Theological Academy in Budapest, Hungary and Rhodes College. After retirement from the seminary in 2000, he and his wife moved to their beloved home on Lake Davidson north of Charlotte. He loved working in his yard, going to the Charlotte Symphony, attending Davidson College basketball games, and convening a regular meeting of retired ministers in Davidson.
He also began “Advocates for Ministry” in which he and other Presbyterian ministers visited colleges and universities to encourage students to consider the ministry as their vocation. Golf was one of Oldenburg’s passions and was a game he continued to enjoy at Charlotte Country Club where he played into his late 70’s. He was well-traveled and visited 45 countries, some of those several times.
He is survived by his wife, Claudia, their three sons: Mark, Scott, and Todd; their wives: Courtney, Leah, and Claire; and eight grandchildren: Tyce, Jack, Paige, Hap, Evan, Eli, Charlie and Isla. His family gave him much joy and pleasure. His ashes will be places in the Columbarium at Covenant Presbyterian Church.
A virtual memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday, July 29 at 11:00AM. It can be viewed by going to www.covenantpresby.org and following the link on the homepage.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte or the charity of your choice.
James Funeral Home of Huntersville is serving the family. www.jamesfuneralhomeLKN.com
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