On Nov. 12 and 13, hundreds from San Francisco Theological Seminary’s community, past and present, came together in a series of weekend events to celebrate the Seminary’s 150th anniversary—both reveling in long-ago experiences and heralding the future shaped by the 2019 merger with University of Redlands.
During the weekend’s Worship Service led by Marcia McFee, Ford Fellow Visiting Professor in the U of R Graduate School of Theology, and Rev. Dr. Jana Childers, former dean of SFTS and the Graduate School of Theology, the gathering sang “Wade in the Water” with thematic stories woven by SFTS alumni.
“It’s an African American spiritual that reminds us of the stirring up of waters that we are called to do to make this world a better place,” says McFee, who chose the gospel song “because the struggle belongs to us all and because delight happens when we create something together. How incredible to think of the hundreds of people who walked this land and studied in these halls. We are forging new ways to answer the problems of our day and into the future. The possibilities brought about by the collaboration with other parts of our U of R family are important in a time when we need leaders versed in entrepreneurship, environment, racial justice, interfaith dialogue, conflict resolution, and trauma care. I’m not just talking about what the U of R brings to the conversation, but also what the Seminary brings to the U of R in that work.”
At the end of the service, a candlelit ritual of remembrance held on the campus’s labyrinth, McFee asked all to offer up the names of those who had passed but were once part of SFTS—the fellow students, alumni, professors, staff, and friends who contributed to decades of education on this treasured campus. There were a few tears reflecting the fondness of the names spoken as the U of R student string quartet played softly in the background.
SFTS’s 150th celebration offered new ways to connect among the generations and called up meaningful moments from the past for many of those in attendance.
Sabrina Roblin ’22 (M.A.T.S.) was among the students and staff volunteering as reception and dinner servers, sales-table staffers, and tour guides. “I volunteered because I felt the weekend was an important acknowledgement of the history and legacy of the Seminary,” she says. “It was a treat to meet, serve, and talk with the alumni and learn the different ways they have served in their communities and their work.”
“Walking through the campus brought a flood of memories of my professors and fellow students who taught me and touched my life,” says Rev. Scott Mason ’92 (M.Div.), pastor of the Beaumont (California) Presbyterian Church, who met his wife, Rena Mason ’96 (M.Div., who also earned a U of R multiple subject teaching credential) at SFTS; daughter Kavya Mason ’20, earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and public policy at Redlands and will enter the University’s graduate teaching program in January.
“A nature walk on the trails near Phoenix Lake reminded me of frequent walks and mountain bike rides I took as a student to clear my mind and recharge my batteries while enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.”
Rev. Robert Perdue ’72 (M.Div.), who attended the celebration with his wife, Linda Perdue, recounts memories from nearly 50 years ago. “The example of faculty and administrators who were involved in the challenges of society and interacting with the concerns of the students was very significant,” he says. “I remember worshiping in Marin City for a term, visiting the Veterans Hospital, and I frequently drove one of the Seminary vans that served the student body. I recall faculty and administrators sitting with us as we grieved for those who were killed during the Kent State University campus protests.”
Thomas Rickert ’69 (Th.M.), founder and executive director of Access International, attended the celebration with his wife, Susan Rickert, who wanted to know more about Tom’s SFTS life. “I think the larger-than-expected participation in the weekend indicated the significant positive interest generated by the new collaboration with Redlands,” says Tom. “It sparked a lot of conversations with the SFTS and Redlands staff, and I am encouraged by the synergies I felt.”
‘Synergy of values’
A similar sentiment was shared by U of R President Krista Newkirk, whose remarks at the Friday night welcome dinner recognized the value and promise of SFTS as part of the U of R Graduate School of Theology (GST). “In welcoming San Francisco Theological Seminary as part of our University community, we are proud to more fully realize a vision to contextualize theology within a broad, inclusive, and socially engaged educational enterprise,” she said. “Our [GST] enrollment continues to grow—this fall, we welcomed 41 percent more students than originally projected, with 109 students throughout all degree and certificate programs.
“Aligned in this vision, SFTS and the University share a deep synergy of values that include a commitment to education for justice and social transformation, critical thinking, and respect for spiritual foundations. As we look back and celebrate the past 150 years, there is much about the Seminary that remains the same. … Other elements have changed and will continue to change, but this evolution is based on that shared vision.”
Rev. Yvette Flunder ’97 (D.Min.), founder of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California, and presiding bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, spoke to the dinner guests about the necessity of change, especially within the Seminary, and the union of leadership skills with theological training as an imperative for both religious and secular leaders.
Saturday’s academic panel brought together retired and current faculty to consider the challenges and transformations that have gripped theological education for over a generation and continue to do so today. What are the issues that challenged them as they have sought to equip students for ministry? How has the seminary been transformed in response to the changing landscape? With Assistant Provost and Interim Dean Christopher Ocker presiding, alumni and guests enjoyed the lively conversation of retired Professors Herman Waetjen, Carol Robb, and Warren Lee in discourse with current faculty Professor Wendy Farley, Director of the Shaw Chaplaincy Institute Laurie Garrett-Cobbina, and Professor Eugene Park.
Polly Coote, retired associate professor of biblical Greek, registrar, and associate dean of student life at SFTS, reflects, “The yearlong anniversary celebration was designed not so much to contemplate the whole 150-year history of SFTS, with its light and dark sides, as it is to imagine its survival into the future, while highlighting features of the SFTS ‘traditions’ that are rooted in the relatively recent past. It’s important to reassure the old-timers that SFTS lives on and still needs and deserves their support.”
Having come at a pivotal time in the Seminary’s history, the celebration was an opportunity for the greater SFTS community to get to know University of Redlands staff, trustees, and professors.
“The events both days worked wonders in that direction,” says Carol Robb, Margaret Dollar Professor of Christian Social Ethics Emerita, who retired nearly seven years ago, and moved to Southeast Kansas. “In the getting-to-know-you moments, we who are merging could see potential ways of working together to create something new and better than what we would do without each other. That’s exciting.”