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150th SFTS convocation ceremony emphasizes courage and community

A group of people stand in a sanctuary and look at hymnals.
Rev. Dr. Jacqueline A. Thompson, the senior pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, participates in the first part of SFTS’s Fall Convocation before delivering her sermon. (Photo by Cali Godley)

On September 9, students, staff, faculty, and community members gathered to celebrate San Francisco Theological Seminary's (SFTS) Fall Convocation and the opening of its 150th year.

“We’ve been through a lot and the pandemic has left its mark on each one of us,” said Christopher Ocker, assistant provost and interim dean of the U of R Graduate School of Theology, in his opening remarks in Montgomery Chapel, burial place of Alexander Montgomery, an early benefactor. “The Seminary has gone through extraordinary transitions, and we are embracing these transitions and moving forward."

Participants prayed for divine blessing and renewed their commitments to one another and to an inclusive learning community. Psalm 19 was read in Korean and Russian in a service designed by students in the Doctor of the Ministry program.  The Women’s Chorus of the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, filled the round sandstone chapel with an extraordinary interpretation of three spirituals.

Before introducing the Convocation preacher, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Garrett-Cobbina, director of the Shaw Chaplaincy Institute and co-chaplain of the seminary, said, “All of us are here today because we said ‘yes.’ We said ‘yes’ to teaching. We said ‘yes’ to graduate school. You said ‘yes’ to coming and joining us on our 150th convocation. I want to thank you.”

The Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson, senior pastor of the Allen Temple Baptist Church, preached the homily. Remarking on the bridges that connect communities and counties around the San Francisco Bay, she commended the seminary’s commitments to building bridges. “How amazing is it that there is a seminary that recognizes that part of its role should be to bridge all of the things that are divided in our society?”

But she pointedly challenged her audience. Bridges, she noted, must withstand earthquakes, and they sometimes fail. Like houses and seminaries, they sometimes need to be torn down before justice can be built up. Pointing to the story of Jesus and the healing of the paralyzed man whose friends tore open the roof of a crowded house to lower him before Jesus (Mark 2:1-12), Thompson reminded the audience that courage and persistence are necessary to make change.

“I am excited by these people because they were not deterred by the blockages at the door,” she said. “I pray, as you go into this year, that you are not deterred by the blocks that were set up by a pandemic, the blocks that have been set up by political disarray, and the blocks that have been set up even in our own personal lives.”

In a renewal of covenants between faculty, students, community members, staff, and the seminary’s board of directors, Garrett-Cobbina, co-chaplain of the seminary, reminded everyone of the seminary’s mission: “We charge you to be learners, sharing this provision of education with us and witnessing to our hope for learning, transformative education, and lives dedicated to service.”

Learn more about the Graduate School of Theology.