On 20 Years of Leadership

Message from the President banner

photo of Rebecca Parker

A pitcher longs for water to carry.

And a person for work that is real.

~ Marge Piercy
Dear Friend of Starr King,

A softly-shining pewter water pitcher was given to me this past weekend to mark my twenty-years of service as president of Starr King School. It beautifully captures the joy I experience in my work. I will cherish it, along with the delightful scrapbook of letters, stories, songs, and poems from Starr King donors, students, trustees, grads and colleagues I received (with room, I’m told for more stories to be added!).  Most assuredly, this has been twenty years of “work that is real.” My cup of gratitude overflows for the good we’ve accomplished, the struggles we’ve endured that have yielded progress on important aspirations, and the wonderful people it has been my good fortune to work with, learn with, teach with, and serve with.  Grateful for all that has been, my heart is fully engaged in the present life of the School, and my eye is on the future for which we are laying the path today.

My office window at Starr King looks out on the courtyard garden.  Through the grass, a curved path of stepping stones leads to and from a pool of water, filled from a cascading fountain, sheltered by cumquat trees and a flowering plum which any day now is going to burst into a riot of blooms.  On warm sunny days–we have a few–students can be seen gathered by the water, engaged in lively conversation or deep reflection.

When I reflect on my twenty years of leadership, I feel I’ve been working shoulder to shoulder with good colleagues to lay down the stones that make vital theological education possible, that create a path to engagement and reflection, that lead people to the water and that enable people to carry water to the places where ministry and religious leadership are needed.

To my eye, there are seven stepping stones that are in place now.  Some have been here for generations, some are newer.  These stepping stones mark out the Starr King way and set the direction for the School’s future:

The Stone of Multi-Religious Embodiment.   At Starr King we understand that we teach by who we are.  Today, we promote the Unitarian Universalist values of countering-oppressions, creating just and sustainable communities, and cultivating multi-religious life and learning by who we are–an international faculty, staff and student body of people from a rich diversity of racial, cultural, and religious identities, working together to fulfill the School’s mission to “educate people for Unitarian Universalist ministry and progressive religious leadership for society.”

The Stone of Global Creative Interchange.  The schoolhouse at 2441 Le Conte, Berkeley provides a central gathering place for our educational work, but that work takes place in creative interchange with multiple contexts and communities, within and beyond Berkeley.  Beginning with the context of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), of which we are a member school, Starr King students take courses in a vibrant consortium that includes eight other seminaries, an Institute for Buddhist Studies, a Center of Jewish Studies, a Center for Islamic Studies and more.   Beyond the GTU, Starr King students, faculty and staff are globally engaged: from our travel-study immersions in Rome and Istanbul, to our internship programs that place students in Unitarian Universalist congregations and social justice projects across the continent; to our embrace of low-residency students, faculty and staff who bring Starr King into their communities and their communities into Starr King; to our use of new educational technologies that provide virtual spaces for creative interchange among our growing diversity of students who are located all around the world.

The Stone of Holistic Ministry.  We affirm that ministry and religious leadership take many forms – from the classic role of parish minister (UU parish ministry is the path of 60% of our graduates), to specialized ministries in religious education,  music, pastoral care, spiritual direction, and chaplaincy, to religious leadership by lay leaders, artists, and professionals in various fields, who through their vocational life offer compassion, heal wounds of body and spirit, work for justice, ecological and economic sustainability, and more. Over the past ten years, Starr King has expanded its offerings from the M.Div. alone to include the Master of Arts in Religious Leadership for Social Change (M.A.S.C.), the GTU Common M.A., the Certificate in UU Studies, and the Certificate in Multi-Religious Studies.  These diverse degree and certificate programs reflect our affirmation of multiple forms of religious leadership – all of which are needed for the work of ministry and religious leadership to be whole.

The Stone of Stewardship and Generosity.   Careful resource management is one of Starr King’s strengths.  Our assets remain modest and every year our annual operations require frugal creativity and careful planning, but thanks to sacrifice and generosity from all concerned – students, faculty, staff, trustees, donors – our educational work flourishes.  Over the years, we’ve grown the School’s resource base and have benefitted from significant support from our circle of devoted donors, as well as generous help from the Luce Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Carpenter Foundation, the Hinckley Fund, the Unitarian Universalist Panel on Theological Education, the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, and more.   The current economy is creating challenges for us which we will meet by continuing on the path of careful stewardship, while being bold in asking for generous support from friends old and new.

The Stone of Innovation. Starr King has a long legacy as a progressive educational institution, and this history orients the direction of our future path.  We place students at the center;  we expand learning beyond the confines of the classroom alone; we emphasize I-Thou meeting through intensive mentoring/advising of each student; we promote methods of academic scholarship that advance justice, equity, and peace; we integrate spirituality, the arts, personal growth, and community building into our ways of teaching and learning.  Today, we are well along the path of integrating new technologies into our educational life:on-line courses, hybrid courses, social networking, blogs, and video production–continuing the school’s legacy of educational innovation and openness to multiple modes of learning.

The Stone of Accountability.  Starr King understands itself to be part of something larger than itself.  We are guided by our glimpses of a “fire in the soul” and a “revolution of the spirit.”  We regard ourselves as accountable to our students and the communities they are called to serve; to Unitarian Universalism, in its institutional forms as well as to its values and practices; to the community of theological schools, the GTU, and the wider academic community; to diverse, progressive religious and spiritual traditions; and to communities of struggle and resistance.  In all our efforts, we seek to move in right relationship to these communities.

The Stone of Welcome.  Starr King has now opened its doors, with intention and enthusiasm, to people of various progressive faith traditions in addition to Unitarian Universalism.  We recognize and celebrate that Unitarian Universalism is strongest when it crosses paths with other progressive people of faith.  None of us is whole in isolation – wholeness is achieved in meeting, interacting, collaborating.   “Come, come, whoever you are…” we sing these words of Rumi at the threshold of each semester, “Ours is no caravan of despair.”

The path of stepping stones in Starr King’s garden was Dr. Arliss Ungar’s idea.  Arliss is a devoted friend of Starr King who has chaired our board, written a comprehensive history of the school (With Vision and Courage), received an honorary doctorate from the School, and now leads our Balazs Scholars Program as a tireless volunteer.   The fountain in our garden is there at my insistence – I wanted a symbol at the center of the school that evoked the spiritual sources and resources that nourish us and call us.  “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a flowing stream.”  (In case you are worried, Starr King’s fountain runs by recycling water.)  I am deeply mindful that none of us is the sole creator of Starr King School’s present or future; Starr King School is a shared project that takes shape through the contribution of many people’s gifts, talents, and ideas.  The joy is that together, along with those who’ve come before us, we make a path.

In grace and gratitude,

Rebecca Parker
President and Professor of Theology
P.S.  Applications are now being received for fall 2011. Final deadline is May 1. See www.sksm.edu/admissions/how_to_apply.php to start your application.

We look forward to hearing from you.  Email comments and responses to me at rparker@sksm.edu.  Your gifts of financial support are needed and appreciated.  Click here to make an on-line donation.

Donations by check may be mailed to:

Starr King School for the Ministry
2441 Le Conte Ave., Berkeley, CA 94709-1209
Attn: Donor Relations

Educating Unitarian Universalist ministers and progressive religious leaders for society since 1904.

If you are interested in exploring a Starr King education, or know someone who is, visit www.sksm.edu/about/prospective_students.php and contact our Recruitment and Marketing Director, Crystal H. Weston, at recruitment@sksm.edu.

Final application deadline for fall 2011 admission is May 1, 2011.  To begin your application process, see www.sksm.edu/admissions/how_to_apply. Pictured above are Rebecca Parker, Barbara Hamilton-Holway (co-minister of UU Church of Berkeley), and John Buehrens with attendees at the L
awrence Lecture in Berkeley. Revs. Parker and Buehrens delivered the lecture on themes from their recent book “A House for Hope” (Beacon Press).     Starr King School for the Ministry | 2441 Le Conte Ave. | Berkeley | CA | 94709