Professor Emeritus Channing Renwick Jeschke (December 28, 1927 – January 13, 2016) was the Margaret A. Pitts Professor of Theological Bibliography and director of the library at Candler School of Theology from 1971 until his retirement in 1994. His distinguished career and his contributions to Candler were recognized when he was awarded the Centennial Medal in 2014 on the occasion of the school’s 100th anniversary.

Born to William Marion and Vera Mabel (Voll) Jeschke in Buffalo, New York, Channing attended Oberlin College for his B.A. (1949), Yale University for his B.D. (1952), the University of Chicago for his Ph.D. (1966), and Columbia University for his M.S. in librarianship (1967). He and Carol Louise Ahrens married on June 24, 1955, and they celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary the summer before Channing’s death.

He was ordained for ministry in the United Church of Christ (1952), served as chaplain at the Taft School (Watertown, Connecticut; 1952-1955), and was a minister in the North Illinois Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (1955-1961). He served on the library staff at the Union Theological Seminary (1961-1966) and then on the faculty of the Berkeley Divinity School (New Haven, Connecticut; 1966-1971). He was hired as theological librarian by Candler School of Theology in 1971 at the associate professor rank, promoted to professor in 1979, named the Margaret A. Pitts Professor of Theological Bibliography in 1984, and awarded emeritus status by Emory University upon his retirement in 1994.

During the interview process, Channing had asked the faculty what sort of library they wanted, and one of them declared that they wanted a library as fine as that of Yale Divinity School. It was clear that Dean Jim Laney and his faculty had high expectations for Candler’s library. In about a year (September 1972) the new librarian learned that the Hartford Seminary Foundation would be revising the nature of theological education at their school from that of preparing students for ministry to working with those already engaged in ministry. This, along with Channing’s sense that Emory University was garnering more attention from national foundations, led him to believe that there might be the possibility that Hartford’s library could be purchased for Candler. As he described the process in his remarks for the dedication of the new Pitts Theology Library on November 11, 1976:

“One evening after work, I talked to my wife about the idea while she was preparing dinner and then during dinner, and the longer I talked the more convinced I became. My argument went something like this. Historically there have been five premier theological collections in the United States and Canada. All five have been within a day’s drive of each other in the northeastern United States. They are the libraries at Union Theological Seminary in N.Y.C., Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Hartford Seminary Foundation. In recent years theological seminaries have attempted to approximate their needs for greater library resources through cooperative library programs. Candler has made this approach too through the Atlanta Theological Association. In the southeastern United States, however, the individual seminaries are too few and the resources too thin to even approximate the needs of the area. The acquisition of the Library of the Hartford Seminary Foundation and its relocation in Atlanta at the Pitts Theology Library would fulfill this primary need. The duplication rate of materials held by the two institutions, one could expect would be relatively modest. … the most active and productive period in the life of the Hartford library was the half century between 1880 and 1930. In 1930 the Library of Candler School of Theology reported holdings of 8,060 volumes; Hartford reported 188,000 volumes. Finally, my wife interrupted my lengthy soliloquy with a cry of surrender – ‘I’m convinced, I’m convinced! But I am not the person you need to talk to. Put your idea in a letter to the Dean.’ Now there is the advice of a practical woman. I did, and we were off and running. With the dedication of this building today, the end of my race is in sight ….”

This purchase of the bulk of the library of the Hartford Seminary Foundation—about 220,000 volumes for $1,750,000—established Channing’s reputation at Emory and among American theological librarians and brought the aspirations of Candler’s faculty for a truly great library to fruition. The story of this achievement has been told well by Gary Hauk in Candler’s centennial history, Religion and Reason Joined: Candler at One Hundred, and the details do not need to be rehearsed again here. However, the Hartford acquisition was neither Channing’s first nor his last for the Pitts Theology Library. As the years passed, the library’s collections continued to grow—surpassing 450,000 before his retirement—but they did so in a disciplined and strategic fashion. Fully aware that no library had the resources to collect everything, Channing led Pitts to collect what was necessary for its faculty’s research and for the school’s academic programs but then pushed ahead to identify a handful of areas for particular collection development focus. These were:

  • English Religious History (1660 – 1920), which provided the context for the work of the Wesleys and the birth of the Methodist Church, documented the Oxford Movement and English Catholicism, and included almost 10,000 English parish church histories. Building upon the Thursfield Smith Collection of Wesleyana that Bishop Warren Candler had acquired for the school in 1915, this collection grew most quickly under Channing’s tenure with the assistance of Pitts Foundation grants and through Channing’s engagement of Brian Carter and other English book dealers.  
  • The Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection, focused on the work of Martin Luther and his friends but included the responses of their opponents (1517 – 1570); its foundation was in the Hartford Collection. The resource became the largest collection of early Luther imprints in America and emerged from a chance meeting of Channing and Richard Kessler, a Lutheran layperson and businessman who found in the Pitts librarian a theological librarian of vision and entrepreneurial ability.
  • North European Theological Dissertations and Disputations, typically academic pamphlets from Scandinavia and Germany from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. A much neglected genre of materials, Channing took advantage of opportunities to build this important research collection at low cost.
  • The English and American Hymnody and Psalmody Collection, which grew out of the Warrington-Pratt-Soule Hymnody Collection from Hartford and supported Candler’s programs in sacred music.
  • The Sub-Saharan African Collection, which consisted primarily of modern periodicals but also included monographs, pamphlets, and archival collections. Channing’s vision for this body of material grew out of his conviction that American theological libraries needed to collect not just materials about Africa but materials written by Africans to preserve the stories of their churches and struggles. This seemed especially appropriate for a theological library in Atlanta and would supplement the efforts of other American theological libraries to collect materials from other geographical areas outside of North America and Europe. Cindy Runyon was the periodicals librarian at the Pitts Theology Library during the early years of this collection and tirelessly shouldered the difficult work of identifying periodicals for the collection, entering subscriptions, and keeping track of the process.

Channing’s efforts to build these collections were supplemented by his desire to help others use these materials intelligently and creatively. Consequently, he began the Occasional Publications of the Pitts Theology Library to issue pamphlets of lectures or short articles related to Pitts’ holdings, as well as a book series entitled, Emory Texts and Studies in Ecclesial Life.  He was the consummate strategist for collection development in the service of research and laid an elegant foundation for all who followed him at Emory.

In addition to these efforts to assemble the finest materials for Candler’s faculty and staff, Channing had strong interests in Candler’s facilities. He worked closely with renowned New York architect Paul Rudolph on the renovation of the Pitts Theology Library so that it could accommodate the Hartford Collection. Later, he would join Prof. Don Saliers to work with Rudolph again on the design and construction of Cannon Chapel (1979-1981).

Channing was active in the American Theological Library Association, serving on its board of directors (1975-1978) and then as its president (1988-1989) and always encouraging his professional staff to attend the association’s annual conferences and contribute to the profession. In addition, he served on reaffirmation of accreditation committees for the Association of Theological Schools and contributed to their efforts to improve theological education in America and Canada. These commitments also found expression at Candler, as Channing served on the school’s committees, participated in the academic advising of students and in the supervised ministry program, and taught polity for UCC students. He and his wife, Carol, were always looking to the future, but always mindful and appreciative of their own religious heritage, and so they established the Ahrens-Jeschke Library Book Endowment for the purchase of Swiss, French, German and other Reformed materials so that future generations of faculty and students would be intellectually and spiritually nourished, just as the Jeschkes had been by those who preceded them.

Those who served on Channing’s staff at Pitts were regularly impressed with his professionalism, absolute commitment to the library’s role in Candler’s mission, collaborative spirit in working with ATLA and other Emory libraries, loyalty to colleagues and friends, gentlemanly demeanor, and support for Civil Rights. He had a delightful sense of humor, could easily entertain a group with stories of a childhood in Buffalo or hauling trash for Chicago apartment buildings in order to make his way in graduate school, and maintained a lively intellectual life. Most of his colleagues will remember him perched on the library steps facing the Emory Quad, taking a brief coffee break and conversing with passersby. Candler’s deans and development officers will remember the drives to Waverly Hall, Georgia, to visit Miss Margaret Pitts—the library’s “angel,” according to Channing—taking her out for lunch at Callaway Gardens, expressing the school’s thanks for her unflagging generosity, and updating her on developments at the school and the library. According to Carol Jeschke, Channing felt a sincere and personal connection with “Miss Margaret” and their friendship was a delight to behold.

From his colleagues at other theological libraries, one hears about his impact on their careers and the profession generally.

  • “At the outset of my career as a theological librarian and my activity in ATLA in the 1980s, Channing Jeschke was profoundly influential, both professionally and intellectually. Not only his remarkable transformation of the Pitts Library into the exemplary powerhouse that it remains today, but his expansive vision of the opportunities and the responsibilities of our North American seminary libraries were impressive and inspiring. Particularly eye-opening for me was his deep, productive commitment to the African project, which demonstrated the practical potential of collaboration when compelling needs cannot be met by any library on its own. (At the time I had been consistently frustrated in my attempts to acquire African Anglican diocesan periodicals.) I still remember Channing’s stirring expression of the obligation of our relatively well-resourced Western seminary libraries to acquire, preserve and provide access to the publications of Third-World (the terminology of the time) churches—their own words, rather than just the accounts of Western writers that were so much easier to collect. It was an exciting, empowering conception of the theological librarian’s global mission, and I have always admired Channing for embracing and promoting this world view.” (Linda Corman, University of Toronto)  
  • “Channing Jeschke had integrity through and through. His word was his bond; if he told you he would do something, you could count on it getting done. He served as Vice President then President of ATLA in 1987-88 and 1988-89, showing all of us that giving leadership beyond your institution is a part of being a good theological librarian. Moreover, those who knew his work at Emory know that his best work was in developing a strong and capable staff, not relying only on his own brilliance (which was substantial), but giving many others the opportunity to rise and shine. If you look around the theological seminary world, you will see person after person who has had some years at the Pitts Theology Library and has gone on to become a library director, both there and elsewhere. We are all immensely in his debt.”  (Roger Loyd, Duke University)
  • “In 1993 [Channing] very kindly invited me to give a talk to the Atlanta area theological librarians’ group and was a gracious host to me during that visit.  He delighted in showing me the Reformation treasures at Pitts Library on that occasion.  …  He stands in my mind as a prime example of the scholar-librarian ….  Channing established a great tradition at Emory in this regard, one that continues significantly to benefit theological education. On Saturday I will go to the funeral of the long-time University Librarian here, a man who mentored and guided me over a good many years and whose contributions to this community are deep and varied.  People like him and Channing are pillars for us and for our institutions in ways we can realize only partly.  I’m thankful I knew Channing Jeschke ….  (Jim Dunkly, Sewanee: The University of the South)

Finally, as one of his Candler colleagues, Professor Emeritus E. Brooks Holifield, observed so well, “All of us appreciated the calm, thoughtful, and professional manner in which Channing led the library.  He was always ready to help both students and faculty members with research issues, and Candler owes him a permanent debt of gratitude for his work with Jim Laney to bring the Hartford Collection to Emory. Trained as a historian, Channing had the breadth of vision that allowed him to see the importance of an African Christianity collection at the Pitts Library, and he helped make our library one of the leading centers in the country for the study of one of the fastest-growing Christian movements in the world. … Channing’s vision of the library as one of the country’s leading Christian research institutions has left an unchanging imprint on the library, the theology school, and the university.”

All who use the resources of the Pitts Theology Library and benefit from its programs are indeed indebted to Channing Jeschke and drink from the wells that he dug over twenty-three years of faithful and creative service. I have counted him as my mentor in theological librarianship and a close personal friend—along with his wife Carol—and I feel encouraged each time I look up from my desk and see a photo of him on the wall, holding a leather-bound folio volume—perhaps one from Hartford—in Pitts’ special collections, immaculately dressed and with a steady gaze, serious about the library’s business, and perhaps inviting us all to join him in this good work.