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placeholder April 1, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA

The GTU Bibliographical Center in the late 1960s was not a library, but a catalog, reference collection and cooperative that performed specific functions for the member schools' libraries. A new building was constructed in the 1970s.
Courtesy photo

GTU at 50 work of a sacred character

My thoughts on this Golden Jubilee have drifted to time and tide. St. Paul spoke of "the acceptable time." William Shakespeare placed on the lips of Brutus, "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads in to fortune." Dr. Martin Marty of our day — Chicagoan, Lutheran, professor, columnist — has added specificity: "Not until mid-20th Century was it possible for most of Protestantism to take a second look at the means for overcoming problems of disunity."

An index of his historical observation was the creation in Geneva in 1948, almost exactly mid-century, of the World Council of Churches. The organization included mainline communities, with Anglican and Orthodox participants as well. Catholics remained cautious, present only as observers. Yet Rome at that time encouraged its bishops to promote ecumenism and appoint suitable priests for study and participation in the movement.

In a decade, modest words spoke of "the beginnings of discussion among several San Francisco Bay Area schools, leading to an exchange of scholars and the sharing of library resources."

In the same decade in another part of the world came Pope John XXIII, elected in October 1958, proposing in January 1959 a Council, one of whose purposes would be to serve Christian unity.

Bay Area conversations by 1962 announced a conclusion: "The experiences have proved so promising that a common doctoral program was agreed upon and incorporated under the laws of the state of California as the Graduate Theological Union." The convener of the group modestly exclaimed that it was "the pooling of our poverty."

Along with modesty went a persuasive prudence. The three years of conversations had made autonomy of institutions venerable if not sacred. The perspective was one of flexibility and adaptability. "All of these institutions cannot be related in equal proportions or in one pattern." Furthermore, "Identity of each institution was to be broadened rather than diminished." Two presidents would declare, "The Union does not attempt to accommodate religious differences … An ecumenical thrust that would violate rather than encourage would be wrong."

Prudence edged toward wisdom. Educational opportunity long established at the University of California in Berkeley situated itself more mutually agreeable to the Graduate Theological Union than some might have expected. Gratification was expressed: "The recognition of the Union by the University of California, strongly secular in its reputation, is a major breakthrough for religion and theology as an educational discipline … a recognition which has too often been lacking."

Two professors from Boalt Hall initiated their own response: "The problem of the place of theology in the university has to be faced. The dialogue of our intellectual community is not complete without the participation of theology … Ideally this discipline overtly and forthrightly should resume its historic university role."

The vision was even more encompassing, "The GTU has a role in society and in the course of history which may rightly be termed crucial … The theme of the Graduate Theological Union goes beyond the ecumenical movement and beyond interfaith programs to strike a much more profound chord in the life of the human family … The unity among theological scholars is far from being a matter of greater educational pleasantness."

Tonight we celebrate the heritage of the years, men and women representing faculty, administration, trustees, alumni, people of interest and support. Through years we have been aware of the sacred character of that work. Many, including the bishop in Oakland under whom I served, have associated the enterprise with the Spirit of God. With the assistance of a fourth century monk may we place ourselves tonight within that Spirit.

Spirit of the living God, good beyond all that is good, fair beyond all that is fair, in whom is calmness, peace, concord — bring us into the unity of love which to your divine nature may bear some likeness.

We are grateful tonight for the joy of remembering, the gratification of achievement, the fruitfulness of friendships and scholarly collaboration. We seek the renewal as expressed by the psalmist of the face of the earth and the strengthening of our conviction to embrace this your holy work. Amen.

(Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins was bishop of Oakland from 1977-2003. He delivered this welcome and invocation at the GTU's Golden Jubilee Banquet at the St. Regis Hotel, San Francisco, on Feb. 28.)

 
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