At least 10 individuals, who are serving their communities in a variety of capacities, have graduated from both the University of Redlands and the San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS). Among them are Kim Nelson, who graduated from the U of R in 1973 and SFTS in 1988, and Rena Mason, who graduated from SFTS in 1996 then earned her teaching credential from the U of R in 2012.
Drawn to a culture of mentorship
Kim Nelson grew up in San Francisco, but followed in the footsteps of his father, Darrell Nelson ’50, when he chose to attend the University of Redlands. At Redlands, the younger Nelson pursued his broad interests by combining a major in religion with a minor in physics. He also played football for two years, sang in the University Choir, Chapel Singers, and voice ensemble Bought and Paid For, and participated in the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
At first, Nelson thought he might pursue teaching or medicine as a career, but at Redlands he received a calling to become a minister. He was able to study at the Capernwray Bible School in Northern England his senior year, and, thanks to a supportive U of R registrar and a full summer course load, he graduated in the same year as his class—which included his soon-to-be-wife, Rebecca Hathaway ’73.
After earning a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, Nelson accepted a job as assistant minister at First Presbyterian Church of Stockton. In 1982, he pursued his Doctor of Divinity at SFTS, a six-year program. “Most doctoral ministry students are full-time pastors, so you [focus on the academic work] on summer breaks and meet monthly throughout the academic year,” he says.
His studies at both U of R and SFTS paved the way for a long, fulfilling career including pastorship of the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Salinas and Lakeside Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. “Redlands and SFTS share a culture of mentorship,” says Nelson. “Both U of R and SFTS also emphasize giving back to your communities—such an important aspect of what it means to be a part of society.”
‘Invested in the success of its students’
Rena Mason attended the two institutions in the opposite order.
Growing up in India within a Pentecostal family, she received her calling to minister as a teenager, even though she had few role models. “The only women in religious leadership [I knew] really didn’t have positions or titles,” she says. “They were mostly pastors’ wives or Sunday school teachers.” She applied to various seminaries around India anyway, as well as SFTS as a long shot.
However, her parents wanted a more traditional life for their daughter; they had already arranged a marriage for her and were hesitant to let her leave the country to pursue ministry. When the SFTS letter of acceptance with full scholarship arrived, they said nothing of it for a week. Finally, her father relented and shared the letter with Mason.
“SFTS was really amazing and so supportive,” Mason says. “I never imagined that someone like me—from India—could have the opportunity to go to a school of this caliber in a foreign country. In my case, I believe that it was nothing but divine intervention.”
At SFTS, she met her husband, Rev. Scott Mason, M.Div. ’92, whom she followed to Newkirk, Oklahoma, after graduation. In Newkirk, she worked with children at the Newkirk Presbyterian Church and served as youth minister for a multi-church program. Shortly after the Masons had their first child, they moved to Beaumont, California, to be closer to family. Scott became pastor of the Beaumont Presbyterian Church, where Rena became involved in the Christian education and youth ministry.
To enhance her skills, she decided to pursue a multiple subject teaching credential from the University of Redlands. “It was just the most perfect place for me,” she says. “l was really impressed with how invested U of R was in the success of its students. Because I had experienced that myself, when my daughter was choosing a college, I knew there was no better place for her.”
Kavya Mason ’21 is now an environmental science and public policy major at the U of R.
‘Two exceptional schools’
When Rena Mason learned her two alma maters were merging, she was thrilled: “It’s special for two exceptional schools like that to come together. It was meant to be.”
For his part, Nelson believes the two schools have traits that build upon each other. Drawing on his experience in premarital counseling, he provides this advice to the U of R and SFTS communities: “A partnership works well when a couple learns how to communicate well and support one another. It’s making sure each partner wants the best for the other.”
Read more about the merger in Bulldog Blog stories “Two become one, and stronger together,” “Made for each other,” and “’What should the U of R community know about SFTS.”