Fallen from Babel

San Francisco Theological Seminary

Inclusive Conversations, Newborn Babies, Dominican Seminarians, and Speaking in Tongues. Visiting San Francisco Theological Seminary and the wonderful aftermath that followed.

What is this place that lives on a hill looking over God’s creation? Could it be heaven? I always knew that the land surrounding San Fran was beautiful, but my God I was not expecting this. Nestled in the mountains of Marin, in the tiny town of San Anselmo, there is a modern day castle where theologians and future ministry professionals live and learn. I walked into Inquirer’s Weekend at SFTS expecting to hate it. My preconceived notions were put to the test.

Different Voices

Looking at the prospective students that I was a part of, this group in particular has been the most diverse than any of the other seminary tours to date. What is interesting to note is that the diversity was not just in skin color but also in age and most prominently in denomination. This weekend was free of the word “Montreat*,” and signaled the fact that only a handful of Presbyterians were present. Being a Presbyterian Seminary (and also being Presbyterian myself) it was apparent how different our denominational schools of thought are. It was good to see how other denominations handle non-common conversations and coexist in a fully loving if not always fulling understanding relationship with one another.

Allocentric Listening

Fully giving yourself to listen.
~Rev. Dr. Jana L. Childers, Dean

Sitting amongst the current students of Theology II, taught by Rev. Dr. Gregory Love, we covered a lesson on the justification of grace by faith alone. That is, to discuss that we are accepted into the kingdom of God not by our actions but by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (and the proclamation of that sacrifice). I expected this conversation, and the one that followed at the Beer and Theology group, to be full of communally accepted norms in understanding grace. Had the preachers I grew up with walked into that classroom, there would have been shouts of “blasphemy!”

I have internally been exploring, for several years now, the concept of universal reconciliation, the idea that everyone is going to heaven regardless of faith, sin, religion, creed, proclamations, or heart. This is to ask, do we need to claim Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior? I know many non-christians whose actions outperform my own (and my contemporaries). What of them? Do they not belong in heaven? This is of course a giant rabbit hole as faith vs. works tells us that our belief is the ticket to heaven, not our actions. Then again Jesus tells us that what we do for the least of these, we do for him (Matthew 25:40). Furthermore Jesus made the sacrifice for us, so that we don’t have to perform an action… isn’t proclaiming a faith an action? I digress, this is a longer conversation in the making (truly I tell you what will come of the future). Sitting in this class was the first time in my life I heard someone else make similar assumptions in a public setting. There were no lightning bolts, the earth did not quake, no fire engulfed the room. Then we prayed.
It is only Christianity that cares about what you think, Other religions care about what you’re doing.
~Rev. Dr. Gregory Love

I can’t remember at which point exactly, but one of my fellow prospective students got the happy news that she was a grandmother. If you know me then you know my obsession with babies. I contained my squeal to a pitch only dogs could hear and made sure I saw a picture during one of our meal breaks. Welcome to the world April Elizabeth.

The Dominican Experience

Within five minutes of introducing myself to the Assistant Director of Admissions (Kristin Dableo-Martel) I found out that I would not be the only Dominican on campus. To think that in all these years of living in San Francisco, just across the bridge there was another.


Jhanderys shared with me, over several smaller conversations, her experience of being the only hispanic student on campus. Unfortunately she is in her last year so if I attend I would not get to live and learn with her. Connecting on Facebook, I was introduced (by one of her friends) to the organization CANACOM (Caribbean And North America Council For Mission). This org connects the PC(U.S.A.) to churches in the Caribbean including The Dominican Republic and Cuba. The wheels in my head are turning.

Our first dinner on campus was catered by a Puerto Rican restaurant (in white-ass Marin?) and so I ate (for the first time in years) tostones (fried plantains) and platanos maduros (fried sweet plantain). I had to explain what the food was to several of my fellow pre-seminarians. I am never the expert when it comes to food, it was weird.

Speaking in Tongues

The weekend was short compared to the other visits and concluded with the group taking the ferry to San Francisco. Since I am local I went into my normal Sunday morning routine and worked/attended City Church in the Mission. This church belongs to the Reformed Church in America (RCA) which has a different theology than the PC(U.S.A.). They are still working their way through LGBTQ “issues” and though they don’t quite land where I am, or anywhere near where the PC(U.S.A.)’s progressive legislation stands, I value that they are having the conversation and moving forward in positive directions.

This church is also housed within a PC(U.S.A.) hispanic congregation (Iglesia Presbiteriana De La Mision). With a difference in language there is no crossover and the only interaction I have with my people (the hispanic folks) is saying hello as I clean up after the City Church service. Being that this was the first Sunday since the election, and with fears running high in the hispanic community, there was a joint prayer service held in the time between the two services. People showed up, the Iglesia folks arrived with their kids, the City Church folk stuck around with their kids. Donuts were served (a regular occurrence) and people started praying. At first it was English, then Spanish, everyone taking careful turns to speak in order then it was an overlapping array of languages and prayers. I closed my eyes for a moment and wondered: What if this wasn’t just a special occasion, what if this was the everyday?

I feel a certain tug in my heart to explore what it means to be Presbyterian and Hispanic. These last few weeks have given me interesting insight into the church’s history with my people and I see the division (or lack of inclusion) that is still present today. My home church of Mission Bay is a wonderful community but even there I am one of a handful hispanic attendees. Something needs to change, perhaps it needs to be me.

Next Steps

I am done visiting seminaries this season and might consider visiting a few more next season (Jan/Feb). Experiencing Austin, Columbia, and now San Francisco I conclude that I could live and learn at any of these institutions. We get out of our education what we want from it and all of these would offer an amazing opportunity to grow in my understanding of faith and our place in helping each other through this world. Aligning with organizations such as CANACOM and the Hispanic Summer Program, there is opportunity to fill in the gaps of my future experiential education.

I am still waiting for the first stamp of approval from the Presbytery of San Francisco, to be labeled as an “Inquirer,” which would qualify me for certain scholarships and to be officially considered in the ordination process [in the PC(U.S.A.) world]. The main office in Berkeley is currently in a transition (why is everyone in transition?) and so it has been slow moving even though all of my paperwork has been in place for over a month.

Patience.

Is a virtue, or so I have been told.


*Montreat: One of three national conference centers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Everyone I have met who grew up Presbyterian won’t shut up about it.

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