Inauguration Symposium

Aleshire, Hadsell, McCurry, Taylor share experiences and hopes
Feb. 10, 2012

The Inauguration Symposium at First Presbyterian Church, San Anselmo, included distinguished panelists with rich experiences at the crossroads of faith and public service. Expounding on those experiences, insights and convictions, their collective voices helped define the inauguration theme of “Faith & Public Life.”

Noted journalist and CNBC commentator Keith Boykin opened the symposium with the keynote speech.

In addition to Boykin, the Inauguration Symposium panelists were: Dr. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools; Dr. Heidi Hadsell, president of Hartford Seminary; Mike McCurry, partner at Public Strategies Washington, Inc., and former press secretary for President Bill Clinton; Rev. Dr. Martha Taylor, SFTS adjunct professor and Christian leadership facilitator.

Aleshire’s experiences and insights in theological education are heightened by his role in the Association of Theological Schools, which is comprised of 261 seminaries, schools of theology and divinity schools in the United States and Canada. His most recent work is Earthen Vessels: Hopeful Reflections on the Work and Future of Theological Schools.

“Theological education is a soul-shaping experience,” Aleshire said. “You really don’t come out on the other side quite the way you were when you came in. It is a formational pattern of education, not just informational, and it has long-lasting effects as foundational frames of reference.”

Aleshire elaborated on the many ways seminaries and theological schools relate to the public. He pointed out that voices differ from institution to institution as well as each school’s public. The one thing all of these institutions have in common is that they “serve as educators to cultivate a broader public voice.”

He closed with this thought: “Humility belongs even more in our moral advocacy.”

Besides her role as a theological educator, Hadsell is a familiar face around SFTS since her father, John Hadsell, was a longtime professor in San Anselmo. Before Hartford, Heidi Hadsell was director of the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Switzerland, and served as professor of social ethics and vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is co-editor of Changing the Way Seminaries Teach: Pedagogies for Interfaith Dialogue

Hadsell is committed to helping Christians engage in religious pluralism and developing relationships between people of other faiths. She says emphases on Islam in America and peacemaking have helped push Hartford Seminary into the public arena.

“We wanted to help our students and our publics and our churches understand Islam, engage Islam as an emerging American religion, and as a religion worthy of being our counterpart in conversation partner. And we want to help American churches come to terms with the fact of religious plurality in the United States.”

McCurry has served as spokesman for the Department of State and in leadership roles in several national political campaigns. Active within the administration of the United Methodist Church, he strives to make meaningful connections between faith and public policy.

“The primary challenge we have is how to overcome fear and how to relearn love and the Golden Rule if we are going to do anything about the desperately poor situation we’re in with our political discourse,” McCurry said.

McCurry pointed fingers at the poor role the media plays in reflecting the complexities of issues and in promoting understanding through education and political debate.  He also put some onus on pastors to fully engage their congregations in controversial issues of the day.

“There’s a responsibility in our DNA as a country to think about the role religion plays in our life together and how our faith calls us to be brothers and sisters and to live in communion with each other,” McCurry said.

Taylor specializes in church leadership development, workshop facilitation, Christian education and strategic planning for churches. The former pastor of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church in Oakland earned her Doctor of Ministry from SFTS.

As a person of faith who serves the African-American community, Taylor pointed out that her training and teaching at SFTS is often very different than the reality of her ministries.
Taylor believes she has been called to have a pastoral and prophetic role in communities plagued by unemployment, crime, drugs, overcrowded schools and teen pregnancies.

“What I am tasked to do is to try to bring my theological understanding to a community of people who live on the margins,” Taylor explained. “I try to help people understand not only the nature of sin and salvation, but I am trying to help people see the presence of God in their everyday life situations.

“In the words of Jesse Jackson, I’m trying to keep hope alive.”


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