At PSR right now, we’re witnessing the birth of something new. It’s a tangible force here, a movement of the Spirit. Maybe it’s the energy our new Change-Maker Fellows are bringing to campus. Maybe it’s living into the challenge of how to translate the Gospel to a world that is increasingly fractured. Maybe it’s asking the question of what theological education is and can be.

And I want you to be a part of it. I invite you to invest in PSR’s continuing tradition of boldness, and am hoping you will consider a gift to our annual fund.

Let me tell you about some of the changes we’re making and about some of the students who are changing us:

Training Ministers and Scholars for the 21st Century Church

In addition to investing in new initiatives, PSR maintains a strong commitment to doing what we do best: training ministers and scholars. This year we welcomed Dr. Sharon R. Fennema as our new Visiting Professor of Christian Worship and Director of Worship Life. Sharon is helping students explore innovative worship design and liturgy.

“While other institutions are sitting back and watching what is happening, PSR finds itself riding on the crest of the wave of the monumental changes that theological education is undergoing,” Sharon said. “What makes me most excited about being a part of PSR at this moment is finding the space and encouragement to explore how disciplines like mine, which are strongly rooted in a church-based imagination, can be informed by and contribute to the broader contexts of social transformation.”

In addition to the Changemaker Fellows, PSR continues to draw students who want to make a difference in the world in important ways.

Randall Sparling, a second year MDiv student, came to PSR to prepare for a call to military chaplaincy. Randall, who served as a cavalryman in the US Army for two tours in northern Iraq during the second Gulf War, was moved to consider ministry after his mentor in his unit was killed. “Suddenly there was no one for the young joes to talk to,” he said. Randall stepped into that role and realized his call to active duty military chaplaincy.

“When you’re working with young soldiers, you can help them make the right decisions. For example, how to interact with the local population – people are going to shoot at you and you’re going to shoot at them, but you have a choice about how you act in relation to people who aren’t shooting at you,” Randall said. “Jesus speaks to the behavior of occupying forces pretty clearly – treat people with respect, help people.”

Third-year MDiv student Angela Brown worked in the San Francisco District Attorney Office for 34 years, 22 of which she spent as an Assistant District Attorney. Angela is currently in an Advanced Placement assignment at Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco. During her time at Glide she has worked with the Social Justice Team. One of the many issues addressed by that team is the treatment of inmates confined to the solitary confinement cells in the California prison system. The Social Justice Team was supportive of the recent inmates’ hunger strike and built in front of Glide a life-size replica of a solitary confinement cell for members to understand why this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

“Working in the criminal justice system has convinced me that as a society we need to address the criminal justice system in a more holistic, compassionate manner, and I want to be a participant in the revision,” Angela said.

Second year MDiv student Sara Warfield came to PSR as a Unitarian Universalist considering non-profit leadership, and is now discerning a call to parish ministry in the Episcopal Church.  “I fell in love with the liturgy. PSR does some pretty crazy things to a person. In an attempt to figure this craziness out, I’m interning at The Table United Methodist Church in Sacramento. Two years ago, they had 20 people in worship. Last Sunday, they had 130,” Sara said. “I’m hoping to learn there how I can build that kind of community while honoring and bringing life to the Episcopal liturgy and theology I’ve come to love.”

“PSR is teaching me how to be brave, how to step into my authentic self so I can create authentic, compassionate community through Christ,” she added.

The Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation

The changing socio-religious landscape in the United States and around the world invites innovative approaches to training spiritually formed leaders. We are witnessing profound demographic shifts with respect to race and ethnicity in the midst of dizzying advances in technology, economic uncertainties, and global climatic crises. Religiously and spiritually, mainline Protestantism continues its decline in the United States, as does the world of graduate-level theological education, while “emergent” Christianity charts new pathways for spiritual communities apart from institutional religion. Increasingly, people are engaging their spirituality in the work of social change-making across a broad spectrum of concerns. This area of change-making offers a mostly untapped potential for configuring Christian congregations as networked communities for social transformation. All this unfolds in the crucible of postcolonial sensibilities, global connectivity, and multi-religious cultural contexts.

To meet and address these challenges, the strategic vision adopted by PSR’s Board of Trustees this past spring focuses on an engaged spirituality energized by the insights of various types of change makers (social entrepreneurs, social innovators, community organizers, and activists), and especially the role change-making is playing in higher education. This vision builds on PSR’s historical commitments to shape a vital role for the school not only among its traditional partners, but also in change-making organizations, social ventures, and emerging forms of Christian service and ministry.

This year we are launching the PSR Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation, which will model a culture and an ethos of educational innovation, not only for PSR but also for other schools, churches, and the wider society. We imagine the Center as a hub for asking the big questions, identifying local and global social problems, and incubating creative solutions in partnership with leading social change organizations. In doing so, the Center would likewise provide an incubator for the life of the school, accelerating innovative approaches to theological education, spiritual formation, and leadership development throughout the campus ecosystem and networked partners. In broad strokes, the center will facilitate:

  • a more deliberate attention to experiential and immersive learning,
  • developing new courses, certificates, and degree programs emphasizing progressive Christian reflection and engaged spirituality for social change,
  • establishing global partnerships, especially in parts of Asia and Latin/South America,
  • prototyping seminars and workshops for “third-age” learners,
  • creating a global network of change-makers and mentors,
  • leveraging the best of new media and technology tools,
  • pioneering the role of visual and literary arts in social transformation, and
  • designing programs for youth and young adults as well as for leadership development in these areas.

Changemaker Fellows

This year we started a project known as the Changemaker Fellowship. We provided 14 students of color who were already doing change-making work in their own communities with a free year of tuition at PSR.  These students were nominated by faith communities and social justice organizations.

The group brings to PSR a vast mix of experience and goals, including performer and Fine Arts Director of St. Leo the Great Catholic School, Kevan Peabody; founder of the HIV intervention non-profit Messengers of Hope, Ernest Larkins; and President of the Ella Baker Center, Jakada Imani, who is pursuing ordination to further his liberation and social justice work.

The PSR Board of Trustees has created the Changemaker Fellowship Program as one way of living into our new vision. Approved by the Board in April, our new vision states that PSR will equip leaders who are compelled by their own spiritual formation and practice, who are rooted in Christian theological traditions, and who have the skills to lead justice-driven change in churches, institutions, communities, and individual lives.

Jakada Imani left his position at the Ella Baker Center in Oakland to come to PSR because he felt that a year of theological education as part of the Changemaker cohort could influence his social justice work in the world.

“During the past 20 years I’d developed a rigorous and self-consistent political framework, but had not had the same opportunity to develop a consistent theology related to my progressive policy work,” Jakada said. “I had a profound sense that policy campaigns weren’t enough.  We’d ‘win’ a campaign, and then the next time, we’d be fighting again. We weren’t changing minds and hearts. My sense is that matters of the heart and soul are carried out in public policy – if you’re doing political engagement out of loving all of God’s creation, it changes things.”

Jakada said this kind of engagement requires deep theological reflection – something he has the time and support to do here at PSR.

Another Changemaker Fellow, Demitrius Burnett, came directly to PSR after graduating from Brown University with a major in business.

“The Changemaker Fellowship program speaks to the heart of who many of us are.” Demitrius said. “The opportunity to build a theological base and develop the leadership skills to help us do what we are already interested in doing is rare.”

In addition to a rigorous academic program, Demitrius played football for Brown and served as an intern in the chaplain’s office where he coordinated events, helped lead worship, and supported other students. He is considering staying at PSR after his fellowship year to pursue an MDiv and would like to combine his undergraduate and graduate studies to pursue a career on the production side of the Christian rap industry.

“Our faculty, staff, and students are thrilled by the talents, energy, and enthusiasm that these Changemakers are bringing to our campus this year,” Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean Dr. Bernard Schlager said. “We hope to learn from them and with them as we work together to build upon PSR’s rich legacy of educating leaders for creating positive change in communities of faith and our wider society.”

Diana Becton, a Superior Court Judge in Contra Costa County who has won several awards for her work, believes all the Fellows are ready to rise to that occasion.

“I am humbled, grateful, and excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this awesome group of Changemakers to whom much has been given, and from much is expected,” she said.

I hope you will join us as we support these students and look towards a transformative future for PSR and the wider world. Please make your gift today.


Rev. Sterner's signature

Rev. Stephen L. Sterner
Acting President, PSR

One comment

  1. This sounds like a wonderful program and an impressive answer to the steep decline and malaise in the UM church. If you need a volunteer for anything, at your new hub I’ll be glad to help.

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