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Starr King President's Lecture

General Assembly 2001 Event 4024

Sponsor: Starr King School for the Ministry

Speakers: Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker and Rev. Dr. Til Evans

An overflow crowd of more than five hundred people gathered in the Grand Ballroom to hear the president of Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM) Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker. She began by outlining the progress during her ten years as president: a fourfold increase in endowment, a renovated building, expanded staff and increased enrollment.

She described how, ten years ago, she took over the reins from Rev. Dr. Til Evans. "Imagine two women in garden hats on a wagon loaded with dynamite and pulled by galloping horses, defending the dynamite from a band of outlaws." She declined to elaborate on who the outlaws were.

Instead, she read a poem by Angela Jackson and used this to describe how meticulous mercy is important, regardless of the outcome. "Each life is of inestimable worth; when one is injured, all are injured. Communion can be broken, bonds of interconnection torn down. But communion can be restored. The act of addressing life with tenderness is itself a restoration of communion."

She held the audience spellbound as she described a friend, Megan, who began her religious journey by talking back to a preacher on the radio. "I don't believe Jesus is The Son of God; we are all children of God," Megan told the radio. Gradually, Megan came to the realization that she, too, was a child of God. As a result, she began searching for a church with Unitarian Universalist (UU) words, black-Baptist music, and small groups like those of the Christian Scientists. Rebecca hopes Starr-King graduates can provide such a church where "Every person is of sacred worth."

"Church is all of us working together in shared ministry," Rebecca said. "We are travelers in this world, but we go together. Meticulous mercy is our work. We can only do it together."

Rev. Dr. Til Evans, the former president of SKSM, took the podium to describe the rapid changes brought about by technology and draw our attention to how our fears are manipulated. "We need what each of us knows, we need to hear each other," she said.

She recalled a time when she was an interim minister. A member of the congregation, Susan, approached with ominous determination. "I have a complaint to make!" Susan told Til. Naturally, Til reacted with fear, but listened attentively, promised to respond, and was ready to move on. "Wait, I have more complaints," said Susan. Til's fear turned to alarm, rage, and despair, but she managed to reply, "I can only deal with one complaint at a time."

Fear, Til said, can cause us to drown in a sea of chaos and be lost forever. Fear had caused her to lose touch with the knowledge that "We are surrounded by and embedded in a very great trust."

"What do we think of when we say Religious Education or Sunday School?" she asked. For example, do we think of regular school? Sunday School was started by Methodists to teach children to read and write, children who were in sweat shops six days a week. "People put words together and shrink the truth of them." She urged us to think of religious education as a verb rather than a noun. Nouns are static; verbs help us travel. Sunday School is only one form of religious education, which should bring great things into our presence and help us travel, to move past what we are afraid of toward a "Great cascade of lights."

Til's lecture was followed by a message from Denny Davidoff, who recalled how Til had encouraged her to "Honor your nuttiest dreams," and a speech by Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) president-elect Rev. William Sinkford, who praised SKSM for helping establish a quality of presence to his life and ministry. He recalled his first days at SKSM. "I was entering as Til was leaving. My family and I had a long list of things to do and our spirits were frayed, when Til invited us to her home and served homemade pie and hot tea. Maybe, in your own way, you were teaching us the need to slow down, or a different way to be present, or maybe it was just wonderful pie and tea," he said. "Or maybe." Til added, "I just liked you."

At the conclusion of the session, Rebecca, Denny and William announced a campaign to raise $1.5M to establish the Til Evans Professorship and Chair for Religion and Education at SKSM. To support this campaign with an inaugural gift of $100 or to talk about a major gift beyond your inaugural pledge, please phone (510) 845-6232.

In closing, Rebecca envisioned the new chair as one of hospitality, learning, development of creativity, and renewal of the world. "May the blessings be carried far beyond the walls of the school to your children's children and their children's children."

Reported by Mike McNaughton.