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Over the last few months, Brenda and I have been keenly aware of transitions: saying farewell to friends in New York, doing the many tasks to prepare for a move, then arriving at a new place. Even though our plans were made with great care, unpredictability struck: the lost bag, the delayed truck, and the family emergency that occurred en route! But I can assure you that the hope and excitement surrounding this new vocation as CDSP’s dean and president trumps all the challenges that cropped up along the way.
Now a new class of students has arrived, some with spouses or partners, and children, and they tell our story several times over again. They too have begun a new turn in their lives. Even when following a lead that deep down seems right, unpredictability and big questions remain: Have I understood the vocation sufficiently? Do I understand well enough the church and world I wish to serve?
In some ways we are all in transition these days. The entire school community senses that theological education, and how it will be delivered, is in flux. The church itself is discovering new models of gathering, and new ways of raising up leadership for ministry within congregations, which for a seminary means that we must find new ways of educating and deploying our graduates. And all of this is occurring in the midst of a rapidly changing world. So we find our- selves in search of a way to manage our personal transitions in contexts that are constantly changing.
My vocation has taken various turns within theological education. It includes a decade at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) and on faculty at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), eleven years as Professor of Systematic Theology at General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York, serving as theological advisor to Trinity Institute and on the editorial committee of Anglican Theological Review (ATR). And now, at the invitation of the Board of Trustees of Church Divinity School of the Pacific, I have accepted the call to be the new Dean and President at CDSP. This is a great honor, and I look forward to sharing the vision I have for this work in the months to come.
Some have asked (and of course I have asked myself!) why would I make such a move? If I have a passion for teaching, why then give it up to confront the financial stresses and challenges intrinsic to seminary education in America today?
This doesn’t have a simple answer. But, a few things come immediately to mind. First, I see this as an opportunity for service. My experience in the classroom and living among students preparing for ministry has been grace itself, and a unique slice of being church. If I can contribute to enabling this experience for others who follow, even as the mode of teaching and learning adapts to new conditions, then nothing could be more satisfying.
Second, my imagination turns toward the opportunities found in times of challenge and dilemma. And this involves all of us in the CDSP community. We are at a turning point that demands creativity and excellence. If we look over the history of CDSP (captured in Alda Morgan’s book, From Ocean’s Farthest Coast) it becomes clear that some of CDSP’s most creative moments came at dynamic times in the life of our nation and our church. Moving to Berkeley, the opening of the M.Div. program to women, and taking the lead in the formation of the GTU in the time of high ecumenical energy but also cultural turmoil, are all examples of this. CDSP did not shrink back in moments of transition.
I believe that the CDSP community has a desire to continue in this spirit, and it possesses great potential. In the midst of the GTU we have the opportunity to know ourselves in a more focused way through dialogue and conversation with a wider community of faith traditions. In the midst of a great university and urban center, we have the opportunity to discover leading cultural and intellectual currents of our day. Trusting in God’s faithfulness as source of all things, and One who draws all things to their fulfillment, we begin this new academic year with hope and expectation, while praying for the courage to give our best, to not hold back, in the transitions we all face.
Recently Donn Morgan shared with me a prayer that he and Alda Morgan had written together. Many of you will know it already:
You have gathered us for mission, ministry and education, O God: first from the west then swiftly from the whole world; first with Episcopalians then from the whole Church and other communities of faith. You have blessed us with a particular Anglican witness, with a table where all are welcomed, with openness to the new that you give us each day. Now, in times of change and uncertainty, grant us a vision for Church Divinity School of the Pacific that is faithful to this great mission, that enlivens our commitment and openness to the other, that inspires us to work, together with others, for your future. For all this we give you thanks and praise.
W. Mark Richardson