Shared memories, inspiring speakers highlight 2014 Alumni Reunion

2014 Alumni Reunion

Compelling speakers and the opportunity to reconnect with old friends drew graduates of San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) to the San Anselmo campus for the 2014 Alumni Reunion, April 3–5. This year’s speakers brought to podium and pulpit examples of how to translate faith into action on such issues as poverty, human trafficking, and the environmental crisis.

Greg Wood (M.Div. 1989) crossed the country from his home in Richmond, Virginia, to attend the reunion with his dad, Wilbur Wood (B.D. 1964). “We’d been back to the seminary many times, but never together,” he says. Attending their 25th and 50th reunions together, he adds, “was something my dad had been talking about for 10 years.”

Two of Greg’s uncles were also students at SFTS. “We have quite a bit of family history there,” he says. Father and son enjoyed comparing the similarities and differences in their seminary experiences separated by a span of 30 years.

“My dad washed dishes in the cafeteria to put himself through school,” Greg says. “When I was there, the seminary had no cafeteria.” But they both took classes from Professor Surjit Singh, who began teaching at SFTS in 1951, just before Wilbur arrived, and retired in 1988, the year before Greg’s graduation.

Celebrating their 50-year reunion—and their 50th wedding anniversary—this year were Hope and Masayoshi Kawashima. They first met at an evening celebration of Japanese culture organized by the seminary. Masayoshi, who grew up in Japan, was invited to cook and provide entertainment.

“They asked me to sing some Japanese songs,” he recalls. “I told them I couldn’t sing without accompaniment.” So someone introduced him to Hope, who played the piano. He learned that Hope’s grandparents had emigrated to the United States from Japan. She wasted no time in recruiting him to organize concerts for patients at a local hospital where she worked as a music therapist.

Hope graduated in June 1964 and the two married a week later. Masayoshi received his degree from the seminary in 1965. “The seminary means a lot to us,” he says. “We are so grateful.”

The weekend began Thursday evening with the annual Faith and The Common Good Lecture, which featured speaker Dr. David Batstone, Professor of Ethics at University of San Francisco. In 2001, Batstone found out that his favorite Bay Area restaurant was the center for a human trafficking ring. This revelation spurred him to take a leave of absence from his career as a venture capitalist and co-found Not For Sale, a nonprofit organization that seeks to end modern-day slavery.

Rather than relying on charitable donations to fund his cause, Batstone promotes an investment-centered model that empowers the people he is trying to help. Not For Sale partners with businesses to employ formerly enslaved people and create products that can be sold at a profit, with a portion of the proceeds going to fund anti-trafficking efforts. To date, Batstone’s organization has helped start eight successful for-profit businesses around the world. He hopes more organizations will move towards this model in attempts to solve today’s most challenging social issues.

On Friday morning, empires—both ancient and modern—were the focus of a lecture by Dr. Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School, who has written extensively on environmental and interfaith issues. She used texts from Ezekiel and Revelation to develop her topic, “Destroyers of the Earth: Prophetic Critiques of Imperial Economics.”

Both John (in Revelation) and the prophet Ezekiel criticized the destructive effects of economic imperialism, Davis said. John’s visions targeted the Roman Empire, while Ezekiel took on nations such as Tyre, which used its strategic location to control commerce and impoverish the less advantaged. Davis drew parallels between the oppressive practices of Rome and Tyre and the consumer-driven economics promoted by large corporations today, contending that both despoil the earth God created. Davis urged Christians to resist all modern forms of economic exploitation to protect peoples’ rights to vital resources.

Next, Rev. Glenda Hope, a 1969 graduate of SFTS, led visiting Alumni and the local community through a sermon titled “You are God’s beloved…Now what?” Drawing on Psalm 139:7–18 and Luke 3:21–22, Hope challenged listeners to spread God’s love outside the walls of the church.

Hope practices what she preaches. She has worked for more than 41 years serving the people of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, an area long plagued by poverty and violence. She and her late husband, Charles, also an SFTS graduate, founded a variety of ministries in San Francisco, including SafeHouse, a place of rehabilitation for women seeking to escape prostitution. Hope’s sermon included stories of several of the women aided by SafeHouse.

Later that evening, a celebratory dinner and dance at the Alumni Reunion gave participants opportunities to share memories and stories. This year’s reunion brought together alumni/ae from 21 graduating classes—from 1951 to 2012. Among those gathered were members of the class of 1964, who were celebrating their 50th reunion, and the class of 1989, marking 25 years since graduation. The seminary looks forward to honoring the classes of 1965 and 1990 at another fun-filled reunion next spring.

Article by Eva Stimson. Originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of Chimes Magazine.