His colleague Mark van de Water, a senior lobbyist at the firm, praises Kennedy’s methodical approach to public policy.

“Keith emphasizes doing things the right way,” says van de Water. “His approach is measured and careful with an eye to long term effectiveness versus going with the most expedient way, the latter of which is more the normal way of operating in public policy.” 

While the numbers of those who have moved from seminary to government service may not be high, his path is hardly unique, says Kennedy. Among others he cites whose careers have followed similar trajectories are Congressman David Price (D-N.C.) and former Senator and U.N. Ambassador John C. Danforth. Price went to Yale Divinity School before becoming a political science and public policy professor at Duke and then pursuing a seat in Congress; Danforth is an ordained Episcopal priest.

Kennedy has always valued his seminary degree, and felt that he chose an alternative ministry in government service. “I have from time to time wondered what it would have been like to serve in the ordained ministry,” he says. “But that is a very challenging journey, and one must be very sure of the calling.”

He has always believed that a theological education is great preparation for a variety of careers, adds Kennedy. “I tried to make that point repeatedly in my time on the Divinity School Board of Visitors.”

The Divinity School shouldn’t think of itself solely as a vocational school training men and women for the ordained ministry, but as providing a theological education to students who will take a variety of paths through life, maintains Kennedy. “As the blues artist Keb’ Mo’ has written, ‘There’s more than one way home.’”

Kennedy’s commitment to public service takes many subtle forms on all levels of his current work, says van de Water: “He always treats everyone with the same level of respect and concern. It is as though he never seems to lose sight of being a public servant, someone who is there to serve people.”

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