Starr King School's Mission and History

Our Mission

The mission of Starr King School for the Ministry is to educate people for Unitarian Universalist ministry and for progressive religious leadership in society. 

Starr King School’s distinctive educational approach is rooted in the Unitarian Universalist values of countering oppressions, cultivating multi-religious life and learning, and creating just and sustainable communities.  

Starr King School aims to educate the whole person in the service of love, compassion, and justice, through:

  • Teaching by who we are and what we do
  • Student-centered participatory learning
  • Excellence and depth in religious studies
  • Formation in the arts of religious leadership
  • Service with congregations and communities
  • Active membership in the Graduate Theological Union
  • Deepening self-awareness and cultivating spiritual practice
  • Striving to live in right relationship with self, others, and the earth

See Starr King's Wikipedia page for more about our history.


Strategic Goals

In January of 2008, the Board of Trustees established a set of strategic goals:

1. Design and implement a new educational model

2. Plan and pursue short and long‐range fundraising goals and financial     strategies

3. Develop and implement strategies for recruitment and marketing

4. Re‐organize and revitalize the board of trustees

5. Upgrade and integrate new technologies for education, communication and administration.

President Rebecca Parker introduced and explained these goals in her Message from the President, February 2008 e-newsletter.


ATS Accreditation

In 2010, Starr King School received a ten year renewal (maximum term) of accreditation, with no notations, from the Association of Theological Schools Commission on Accrediting. The text of the ATS accreditation renewal letter and report, with recommendations, can be read here: ATS letter and report 2010.

Ofiicial Statement of Accrediation by the Commision on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools

Starr King School for the Ministry is Accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, and the following degree programs are approved:

MDiv, MA in Social Change

Approved for a Comprehensive Distance Education Program

The Commission contact information is: The Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada 10 Summit Park Drive Pittsburgh, PA 15275 USA Telephone: 412-788-6505 Fax: 412-788-6510 Website:


Educational Effectiveness

We are currently in the process of doing a new assessment of our educational effectiveness: new data will be available in May 2013. In the meantime, our previous assessment results can be seen here: Proof of Educational Effectiveness. Although our School has moved from being an exclusively Unitarian Universalist school to one that is both Unitarian Universalist and Multi-Religious, this assessment reports primarily on Unitarian Universalist gradutes (the majority at that time) in relation to ordination, etc..

Our History

Starr King School opened its doors in 1904 as the Pacific Unitarian School for the Ministry and was incorporated in 1906 as "an institution for educating students for the Christian ministry, and especially for that of the Unitarian churches."

The schoolís founders had identified the need for a liberal theological school in the West, one suited, said a prospectus, to the "training of ministers for their work in the very field in which they are to serve." They wanted ministers who focused on the practical realities of church life and had a vision for serving the common good.

The Pacific Unitarian School for the Ministry held its first classes at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland and moved to Berkeley two years later to be near seminaries and the University of California, where students were free to take classes. From the beginning, the school welcomed students from other parts of the world and other denominations, as well as women.

By 1908, the school had hired a second employee to serve as Greek instructor, assistant to the dean and librarian in charge of a 3,600-volume collection. Two students graduated that year, and the school moved into a large home on a lot donated by one of the founders.

Rev. Earl Morse Wilbur
The first president, Earl Morse Wilbur, led the Pacific Unitarian School of Religion for nearly 30 years, establishing a library of rare books and educational principles that continue to guide Starr King School more than a century later. He wrote, "In all our teaching we strive to keep in view the practical end; and while we aim always to cultivate thorough scholarship, yet we mean to ask at every point, What has all this to do with the actual work of the ministry?"

Wilbur called for these principles: "First, complete mental freedom in religion, rather than bondage to creeds or confessions; second, the unrestricted use of reason in religion rather than reliance upon external authority or past tradition; third, generous tolerance of differing religious views and usages rather than insistence upon uniformity in doctrine, worship or polity."

New Name, New Location
William S. Morgan succeeded Wilbur in 1931. Ten years later the school changed its name to Starr King School for the Ministry in honor of Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian and Universalist minister who served the San Francisco Unitarian Society during the Civil War. In 1942, the school moved to its present location on Le Conte Avenue in Berkeley.

A series of short-term presidents led the school until 1949, when Josiah Bartlett, a young minister from Seattle, was appointed president and dean of the school. Imaginative and progressive, Bartlett focused the schoolís educational approach on fieldwork and established individually designed study programs. Under Bartlett, students began participating in the governance of the school. A new wing was built with offices as well as a classroom, chapel and library. In 1964, the school joined the new Graduate Theological Union.

The Kimball Years
Dr. Robert Kimball, the schoolís next president, launched the school on a period of creative growth. He recruited new faculty, established an endowment, secured accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools, held innovative summer schools, started the all-school meeting tradition and increased participation in the GTU. He also expanded the student body from 25 to 50 students.

During Kimballís 14-year leadership, women increased their presence at Starr King, transforming what had become an all-male student body and faculty. In 1981, the school established the Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Professorship to ensure a feminist perspective on the faculty and appointed Dr. Clare Benedicks Fischer to fill the position.

Parker Becomes President
In 1983, the Rev. Gordon McKeeman, a Universalist minister, took the schoolís helm, signing on for a five-year commitment. Professor Til Evans then served as acting president until the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker, a parish minister from the Pacific Northwest, arrived to lead the school in 1990. (Click for a full listing of the school leadership since 1904.)

Under Parkerís presidency, the school has grown to 87 students, five core faculty, 16 associate faculty, two visiting ministers, a research professor and a visiting scholar (2005-2006 academic year). Starr King has also expanded its educational offerings and moved towards a more racially and culturally diverse faculty, staff and student body. It has increased its engagement with Unitarian Universalist congregations; expanded the study of Unitarian Universalist history; created new programs in scholarship, continuing education for ministers and lay theological education; broadened its donor base; renovated its building and incorporated new educational technologies. In addition, the school has made an explicit commitment to Unitarian Universalist theological education that is counter oppressive and committed to just and sustainable community.

Over its more than 100-year history, Starr King has held fast to its commitment to religion that is both liberal and liberating. At the schoolís heart is a passion for transformative education and a belief in the possibilities that lie within human beings.

View a list of SKSM Honorary Degree Recipients since 1929.

To purchase a copy of "With Vision and Courage: This History of Starr King School for the Ministry, the First Hundred Years 1904-2004 " by Arliss Ungar, click.

Click to view the complete Starr King catalog in PDF format. (Note: Seminary for the Laity certificate program is no longer offered.)


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