Dear Ones —
I am writing to you tonight from my home office — and from liminal space, that territory we encounter as we move from one reality to another. This letter is meant to acquaint you with some of the steps we’ve already taken toward our new reality.
I’m pleased to say that Starr King has signed its Memorandum of Understanding with Mills College to co-locate on the Mills campus. The school’s new home will be situated in the Vera Long Building, originally built in the 1930s but remodeled in the early 2000s, nestled in a beautiful spot across the road from the Mills Post Office and its Tea Room, or cafeteria. Vera Long includes a comfortable conference room and as well as a lounge area with a kitchen and is adjacent to a large and well-equipped classroom that we can reserve as necessary. We will share the building with several senior Mills College faculty.
And yet, we have not arrived at our new home, and will not until October 1, 2020. Like the rest of the country, the spike in infections and death from the coronavirus here in Alameda County make it necessary to phase in the number of people and institutions allowed to have access to the Mills Campus. Even when Starr King ultimately arrives at Vera Long, we will be instituting strict protocols, including initial coronavirus testing for everyone on staff, as well as rotating the numbers of faculty and staff who will be present at any one time. For now, having already made the decision to conduct the work of the school online for the fall semester, nothing has changed for us except our new physical address:
This past week, a team of experienced movers and dedicated Starr King staff completed the process of packing and moving our possessions. Over the course of six days, movers transported the school’s books, files, selected furniture and other equipment, and placed them into storage until October. Our most challenging task, by far, was the preparation, packing and moving of the Wilbur Rare Book Library into climate and humidity-controlled storage space. Several staff members, led by Matthew Waterman, created an assembly line of boxes, bubble wrap, and archival tissue to separately wrap each volume and pack it so that the delicate books would not be damaged in transit. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Matthew, as well as Kim Moebius, Teresa Joye, and Fred Williamson, who together managed nearly every aspect of our move. By early afternoon on August 1, our work was complete, and we said farewell to our home of 78 years. We know that several of you are eager to craft a more formal goodbye to the Le Conte Avenue site. In the coming weeks, plans for an appropriate leave-taking ritual will get under way. If you would like to be part of that, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we can be in touch with details.
We abide now in liminal space — the space between what has been, and what will be. It is a space even more uncertain than it might have been, for we cannot control Covid-19 and its capacity to cause even more upheaval. But in this space in which we rest, we gain valuable insights, the most important of which is this: Starr King is not its building — old or new. It is not even its impressive collection of artifacts and books. Starr King is found most abundantly in the people who dedicate themselves to counter-oppressive, intersectional, sacred social change — as students and staff, as faculty, friends, and donors. I am especially aware of this now, as orientation for a new school year begins on Thursday afternoon, August 6. Our new class of 17 people will join us (electronically) on the journey to build a new world and a new way of being in it. We know from experience that they will be transformed in their preparation for the work — and so will we. It is a part of the grace that holds us in this holy task.
There is a certain grace in letting go — at least for a little while. Once orientation is done and our new semester begins, I will be leaving for a much-needed sabbatical, beginning August 15, 2020, and returning on February 15, 2021; the Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt will serve as acting president in my absence. I look forward to finishing my spiritual autobiography and some other writing projects, working on voter-registration and election-protection activities, and getting some rest and recreation with family.
I end with these words from the progressive evangelical writer Sarah Bessey: “The Spirit is often breathing in the very changes or shifts that used to terrify us. Grace waits for us in the liminal space.” May all of us encounter abundant Grace — and abundant Love — in the days ahead!
The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, President
Starr King School for the Ministry, Oakland CA