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Interview with The Very Rev. W. Mark Richardson, Ph.D.
Crossings, Spring 2010
What excites you about coming to CDSP?
There is uniqueness about CDSP among Episcopal seminaries. It truly is the seminary of the West—and I associate the West with frontier thinking. Frontier thinking is about transformations. I’m not thinking of transformations as forgetting our past, or as one-time episodes, but as an attitude, a spirit in which one meets new conditions. I think CDSP is well-placed to capture this spirit in a time when we need it church-wide.
CDSP is also in the midst of one of the most vibrant urban areas in the U.S., including university life, the ecumenical context of GTU, and an area enriched by many cultures and ethnicities. CDSP, as the seminary of the eighth province, brings together diverse elements of our church from the Rocky Mountains, the southwest, the urban centers of the coast, and much more. This can be a remarkable context for meeting the conditions of the church’s future.
It is exciting to think about attracting students who reflect this spirit of adventure, the willingness to take risks for the sake of their calls.
What challenges are you feeling about making the transition?
Of course the personal and immediate challenge for my family is picking up stakes and moving from one coast to the other. But my family is excited about this and the opportunity it represents. We have many dear friends here as well, and we look forward to making new ones. At this point our nest is emptier; we have one son still in college, so we have a capacity to move now, and we have two adult children here in the Bay Area.
Regarding the professional challenge, the common ground about what I am leaving and where I am going is theological education. I am a deep believer in theological education; it is a vital organ of the church body. Our seminaries are in a time of stress with nearly all of us facing financial difficulty, and there is no promise that they will all survive. It is a wide-open time for theological education, and this requires change. But stress points and challenges can make the adrenaline kick in, stir creativity and imagination, and make us alert to new ways to meet long-term goals. I think it is good that we will be taken out of our comfort zone. It is possible to conceive God as always moving forward toward the fulfillment of creation’s emergent possibilities. If this is true then to stay in place is to distance oneself from what God is about.
How are you feeling about getting back to the GTU?
First, I want you to know, I’m not just a product of the GTU, I’m a big fan of it, and what it stands for. GTU is unprecedented as a consortium. It is a symbol (and we could easily lose sight of this) for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. The inspiration behind GTU occurred in an era of hope and openness to mutual engagement. Now, in a time when the world seems increasingly polarized, and religion is cast as an agent of divisiveness, GTU is a symbol of the light of God’s compassion and generosity, and our common humanity, striving together as part of God’s creation. I am proud that CDSP is a founding member of GTU, and contributes to this outlook on spirit in the world.
Where do you see CDSP fitting in with the National Church?
We are an institution of theological education for the Episcopal Church and with ties to the Anglican Communion worldwide. We all know that the Church is in turmoil right now, faced with disagreements, which threaten to divide us.
In this context, we must be mindful that we are a welcoming institution of theological education. The academy must always be careful about advocacy on things of political consequence to the church. We do our best when we teach, and in controversy, when we provide a context for robust dialogue and civil discourse. Now, I say this, but at the same time, people will know that any school has a reputation for representing perspective within a whole spectrum of ideas. The church counts on CDSP to be a presenter of theological perspective, but not to be waving flags, if you know what I mean. We ought to find a way to present perspective not with sentimentality, but with clarity regarding how a particular point of view has meaning and is life giving, exhilarating.
How will the addition of your particular skill-set strengthen CDSP?
Where do you see an infusion of energy going into CDSP? I am grateful that people associate me with my teaching and love of the classroom. I have a particular interest in theology and culture and I hope this will be reflected in the school’s self-understanding as we engage effectively with the culture around us. I see teaching as more than conveying information; it is a matter of engagement, and bringing others into an excitement about the theological enterprise. To this end I’d like to continue to build on my role in the national church, including Moderator of Trinity Institute, which addresses a world- wide Anglican audience, and as a Board member of ATR, which is an organ of our Episcopal seminaries and has an international voice. I’d like to use these connections, and others, to create a high visibility for the seminary. And if others are to be convinced that we are needed, we must be involved in aggressive recruitment for a new generation of clergy, and in developing financial partners who will invest in this, and see in this investment part of their own self-fulfillment.
Are you excited about the chapel and preaching?
Yes, I want to be part of the rota, to take a leadership role with a highly talented team that’s already in place in the liturgical life of the seminary. I’m going to be visible at the chapel and I look forward to it. It’s important to me.
What do you want to say to the students, faculty, staff, trustees?
The welcome I have received here has been heart-warming. I have felt this here and from friends of CDSP around the country. I sense an eagerness to move forward, out of a love for the history (of CDSP), and a desire to move into the future. We have a highly talented faculty prepared for this. I am eager for the partnerships with every aspect of the school, starting with the Board, and including faculty, students, alumni and administration. I am also eager to build relationships throughout the province, and to learn from laity and clergy about their needs and desires for theological education. I want them to always be mindful that CDSP is their seminary.