Dear Friends,
y first assignment with Bread for the
World back in 1999 was to lead the orga-
nization’s effort to urge the U.S. Congress
to provide deeper, broader and faster debt relief for
the world’s poorest countries – Bread’s contribution
to the Jubilee 2000 campaign. A small coalition of
church groups — Church World Service, the Epis-
copal Church, the Methodists, the United Church of
Christ, Presbyterians, the U.S. Conference of Catho-
lic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services — and Ox-
fam America came together and focused our efforts
on introducing and passing bipartisan legislation that
would break the cycle of debt and promote poverty
It was a tall order. No one thought we could do
it, even we ourselves. Poor country debt was an eso-
teric topic, too hard for most people to understand.
The problem seemed so big. The odds were stacked
against us.
But there was something of God in this effort and
the Holy Spirit was at work. Our efforts succeeded
beyond our wildest dreams. We not only passed leg-
islation. We in fact changed U.S. policy, and the poli-
cies of other rich countries and international financial
institutions. And poor people in some of the poor-
est countries in the world are reaping the benefits of
those efforts, even today.
That assignment showed me the power of faith to
change the course of history and improve the world.
This is the same opportunity and challenge that San
Francisco Theological Seminary has today.
We live in a polarized and partisan world, where
differences seem to matter more than the things we
hold in common. The church itself suffers from these
same divisions, and has a difficult time connecting
with people who are seeking deep expressions of faith
and life. The church can do better, and seminaries
have an opportunity to help the church meet the
The prophetic ministries of the 21st century are
ministries that foster conversation, interaction, com-
mon action and uncommon community among peo-
ple and groups that do not know each other, do not
understand each other, and do not agree with each
other. We need church leaders who are capable of
bringing people together across the political, ideolog-
ical and cultural divides, and of bridging those gaps.
We need to design seminary education in a way
that provides the intellectual underpinnings for that
kind of leadership — the Biblical understandings, the
lessons from church history, and the theological and
ethical basis for such ministries. We need graduates
who have been challenged to develop the emotional
intelligence, spiritual formation and practical skills
that would enable them to be the kind of religious
leaders our polarized, parochial and partisan world
so desperately needs.
This fall SFTS is embarking on a season of change.
We are beginning to consider how we can transform
our educational model and the curriculum that sup-
ports it in order to connect with the sea of changes
taking place in the world today. SFTS needs to be a
place of hope and energy for a transformed church ca-
pable of healing a broken world. We should be a place
that helps the world and the church move beyond the
divisiveness and corrosiveness that are needlessly tear-
ing us apart. Graduates of SFTS should be equipped
and empowered to be the kind of religious leaders
who can bring people together and motivate them to
participate in God’s mission as it is now unfolding.
I pray that we will be able to look back on this
time of uncertainty and transition for the Church
and recognize how God was working in and through
SFTS to do a New Thing.
Grace and peace,
Rev. Dr. James L. McDonald
President and Professor of Faith and Public Life
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