The Meaning of Pilgrimage

November 2006

Theadora Davitt-Cornyn

For Theadora Davitt-Cornyn, a fifth-year Starr King M.Div. student, a pilgrimage to Transylvania meant more than seeing where events that determined the history of Unitarianism took place or meeting the people who carry on the movement’s legacy. This sacred journey also meant a direct connection to the past through heart and mind.

“I set my foot on a stone path made long ago by those for whom religion was their entire world and a sincere matter of eternal life,” she said. “I tried to put myself in that mindset, which brought a different perspective to my own time and spirituality. Today, in this country, we don’t even have to go to church.”

This was Davitt-Cornyn’s second Unitarian Universalist pilgrimage. Another, in 2005, brought her to Europe to follow the trail of the three Marys – Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and the Black Madonna. In summer 2006, she traveled to Transylvania with the Unitarian Universalist Sisterhood, a group of women ministers and friends led by the Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford of the Conejo Valley fellowship in Thousand Oaks, Calif. For two weeks, they drove through Romania by bus, visiting Orthodox churches in Moldavia on the Russian border, the Transylvanian city of Kolosvar and half a dozen Unitarian churches. Davitt-Cornyn and her group were warmly welcomed into homes and congregations, including the church once led by Francis Balázs, noted poet, Unitarian leader, Starr King graduate and namesake of the school’s Transylvanian scholar’s program.

Her journey to Transylvania, where Unitarianism took root in the 16th century, reminded Davitt-Cornyn what great risks forbearers such as Reformation theologian David Ferencz, martyred in 1579, took to stand up to the powers of the day, including the Jesuits who arrived in force to launch the counter-Reformation.

“I felt enormous gratitude connecting with that religious journey,” Davitt-Cornyn said. “I see my whole life as a pilgrimage. When we stop and get quiet, we can listen to what the universe is trying to tell us and hear the voices of people who came before. I’m so grateful to them. I want to carry on this work to the next generation and tell them we Unitarian Universalists have a healing message for the world.”

Photo: Theadora Davitt-Cornyn

Message from the Acting President

The Starr King Board met last week and voted to endorse moving ahead with a strategic planning process that includes such exciting new steps as developing online certificate programs for both professional and lay studies – the latter a whole new, though long dreamed-of area of work for our school.

We’re also working on promoting our Master of Arts in

Religious Leadership for Social Change or MASC, a program which has now had its first graduate move out into the world with our school’s goal of countering oppressions and working for just and sustainable societies.

In other action, with the support of our faculty and staff, the board of trustees voted to extend Rebecca Parker’s sabbatical until June 2007. Until then I’ll continue in the role of Acting President.  Rebecca’s sabbatical extension will give her time to work with Rita Nakashima Brock on the sequel to Proverbs of Ashes, the ground-breaking book they wrote together. Beacon Press will publish this new book next fall. Rebecca is also at work on a new book with John Buehrens about Unitarian Universalist theology.  This is an area in which she has become one of our denomination’s most noted authorities.

During the spring Rebecca will be working on behalf of the school, as well.  She has agreed to several speaking engagements, along with meetings with our graduates and other supporters.  She’ll also work with our staff on budgeting and our strategic plan.  Come April, Rebecca will take a break in her sabbatical to engage with our board in a process of recovenanting for what we believe will be a bright new era for our school.

Photo: Dave Sammons
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Delights and Challenges of RE Carol Bodeau

A little Harry Potter goes a long way in a Sunday school class, according to the Rev. Michele Favreault, religious education director of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland (California).

Favreault, a Starr King graduate, visited Starr King’s Congregational Dynamics class Nov. 16, along with the Revs. Darcy Laine and Sheri Prud’homme, also RE directors and SKSM grads, to share the challenges and successes of their

years of religious education work.With Hogwarts-style workshops on “flying” led by a volunteer at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley who was also a professional dancer, “potions” presented by a nutritionist and other learning wrapped in delight, kids whose attendance was normally spotty that time of year showed up with enthusiasm and surprising clarity about what the Harry Potter series meant to them as Unitarian Universalists.

Favreault savored that success at her previous church with a class of nine SKSM students, some of whom have already worked as RE directors and could speak knowledgeably about the job. Among those students was Carol Bodeau, a fourth-year M.Div. seminarian, who serves as RE director for the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo in California. She shared with the group her congregation’s efforts to build a more inter-generational learning environment.

Discussion in the room also turned to the challenging side of an RE director’s job–the question of paid RE staff versus parent volunteers, complaining or disinterested parents, Gameboys in the classroom, short-term instructors, kids who’ve been sitting at desks all week balking at more confinement, demanding administrative duties, classroom space issues and curriculum models that vary from congregation to congregation, teacher to teacher.

At the end of her visit to the Congregational Dynamics class, Favreault offered some advice: “To be successful in RE, you have to have great boundaries and be extremely flexible.”

Photo: Carol Bodeau
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Supporting Starr King Merritt Cutten

Merritt Cutten of Tahoe City, Calif., has established a new scholarship at Starr King School for future Unitarian Universalist religious leaders.

“Merritt, a life-long Unitarian Universalist, wants to honor the legacy of exceptional ministers who touched his family’s life,” said the Rev. Kelly Flood, SKSM Vice President for

Advancement.  “By establishing a scholarship at Starr King for the remarkable ministers of tomorrow, he’s doing his part to transform lives, to transform the world.”

Starting with an initial gift of $7,700, the Cutten Family Scholarship will help support a student focusing on religious leadership, with a particular preference for those interested in attending programs at Star Island, a conference and renewal center founded in 1897 on the New Hampshire coast.

The Cutten family history with Starr King School and the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco dates back to Edward Logan Cutten, Merritt Cutten’s grandfather and a member of the San Francisco church during the ministry of the Rev. Horatio Stebbins (1864-1900).

Cutten’s parents, Merritt A. and Madeleine H. Cutten, both served as trustees of Starr King School—Merritt A. from 1938 to 1941 and Madeleine from 1948-1954.  Cutten’s parents were influential members of the First Society congregation during the ministry of the Rev. C.S.S. Dutton (1913-1949), who Cutten says made a significant impact on his life.  Later Cutten and his family joined Unitarian Universalist congregations in Marblehead, Mass., and Schenectady, N.Y., and helped found the Los Gatos Fellowship and its first Sunday school.

Cutten plans to add to the scholarship fund in coming years.

Photo: Merritt Cutten
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FractalIn Trust Article Features SKSM on Faith Connections

A recent article in IN TRUST magazine discusses the efforts of theological schools all over the country to explore the interconnectedness of faith traditions and includes an interview with Dr. Ibrahim Farajaje’, Starr King director of the Luce Project for Multi-theological Education and Professor of Islamic and Cultural Studies. Click to read the article.

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SKSM Grad Association President Checks In

I am honored, pleased, and slightly in awe to have been elected as president of the Starr King Graduates Association for the next two years.  Having just completed two terms as vice president, I have some familiarity with what’s happening at the school and with the graduates, and within the next few months I expect to have some more.

If you were at the Graduates Dinner at General Assembly in St. Louis, you heard the good news that we completed the Centennial Capital Campaign well over the $7 million goal.  Many thanks to the graduates who dug deep and made pledges to the campaign or included the school in planned giving.  The generosity and commitment of its graduates is one aspect of Starr King’s strength and durability.

If you weren’t at the dinner, we missed you.  Please consider coming next year when we gather for GA in Portland, Ore.  During my term, I hope to work on enhanced communication between the school and its graduates.  Tom Disrud, the former Grad Association president, will remain on the SKSM board of trustees as I take over the board position allocated to the Grad Association president, and together we plan to be in personal contact with many of our graduates.

But don’t wait for our call.  If you have questions or want to tell me your thoughts about the school’s future or its recent past, please send me a message at

Rev. Judy Welles, SKSM (’94)
Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley
Boiling Springs, Penn.

Photo: Judy Welles
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Our current ECO (Educating to Counter Oppressions) theme is “Community Consciousness Raising: Sustainability, Race and Ethnicity.” Simply be aware of how this theme plays out in your life, your congregation and the larger world. We invite you to share in this process —

In what ways do you find racial and ethnic assumptions affecting your life and those in your home, community and larger world?

How does white supremacy figure into our sense of priorities, of what is sustainable and what is doable?

What are the continual effects of environmental racism and how do patterns of environmental racism inform or misinform our sense of sustainability?

In the words of the ECO document, how might we confront and challenge social systems “that perpetuate too banal a sense of ‘the good life,’ making it available to too few and causing harm to too many and to the earth”?