March 19, 2015

I Am Starr King: Interview with The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt

Watch The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, 7th President of Starr King School for the Ministry, speak about her experience and vision for Starr King School.

Why did you decide to become a religious leader?

I think I became a religious leader after years of doing a lot of other things, most notably, journalism. I was a journalist for many years and I continue to be one. But primarily, I feel that being a religious leader allows me a greater breadth and depth in the things that I write about, in the things that I advocate for, and in the work that I care about. It’s not enough to have great language for something; it matters more if you have heart for something and if you can touch people’s spirit as well as their minds. And being a religious leader allows me to do both of those things. So I believe that the work that I care about most is most effectively done as a religious leader.

Why did you decide to serve Starr King?

Well, this is not the first time I have served Starr King. I have been honored to have served on the Board from 1993 to 2001, I believe. I served out my maximum term on the Board of Trustees. And so a lot of the work that Starr King has lived into began when I was on the Board of Trustees twenty years ago. So it is exciting for me seeing embodied in the school the ideas that were just conversation back in the ‘90s.

But even then, we were talking about the ideas of creating a counter oppressive educational model, something that would address the goal of a just, sustainable, and regenerative community. The idea that I could help make that more real was very attractive to me. So I was glad to come back.

Why is it important to you to help developing religious leaders?

I think it is important because the world needs more progressive, savvy, and ethical religious leaders in a way that we have never needed them before. We live in a world that is beset by extremist religion and fundamentalist religion. And the only real counter to that is progressive, loving, embracing, inclusive religious leaders who understand the importance of community and of working together. It is an honor to help people who have that same desire reach their goal to become a religious leader.

What has been the most memorable or meaningful experience in your first year as President of Starr King School?

Oh…that’s easy. It was orientation: my first orientation with the first class entering after I came here. It was the closing service at the end of orientation week, when we anointed the incoming students. Myself and the Provost, Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé met with the students for worship service in the Round Chapel and anointed them. And while the Starr King Choir sang “Balm in Gilead,” it was an incredibly powerful experience and it just felt so right and so… holy, is the best way to describe it. And I just thought, ‘I get to do this all the time now.’ And it was pretty wonderful.

So I look forward of more of those moments, and more classes of those people who want to serve the world in this way.

What is your vision of the future of Starr King School, theological education and religious leadership today?

Well, you know, we already have a wonderful model that emphasizes the identification and countering of oppressions and the desire to create a just and sustainable world. But now we need to broaden that— to make it possible and accessible for more people. We are also a multi-religious theological school. That means that Unitarian Universalists study with Sufis, and Muslims, and Buddhists, and Jews, and Christians, and those of no particular faith, but who have a life of spirit.

And now it is time to take that vision and that kind of community and move it out into the world. And move it out into the world so that different parts of the world can embrace our model in a small way whether in a weekend class, or an intensive for a week, or an immersion as we move to other countries, or in a large way with a full graduate degree. We can do that not only because we can bring them to us or meet them where they are, but we can meet them where we are through the joys of distance-education.

We have done online learning since 2000, and we have gotten pretty good at it in the intervening 15 years. And with the advances in technology that all of us enjoy in this society, we can teach anywhere in the world and we plan to do that. Whether it is Kampala, or Kolosvar or the Khasi Hills of India. We plan to bring a Starr King education, eventually, to anybody who wants one.


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