Words of Greetings at the Inauguration Ceremony of
St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School
October 19, 2015
President Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan
Claremont School of Theology
Your Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Your Grace Bishop Serapion, President Robert Schult, Your Graces Bishop Karas, Bishop Angelos, and Bishop Pavli, Your Excellencies Ambassador Lamia Mekhemer and Ambassador Dr. Sallama Shaker, distinguished guests, and friends….On behalf of Claremont School of Theology, it is my honor to welcome you to our campus and especially to our Chapel. This is a space that has been dedicated, designed and set aside for diverse groups and individuals to connect with the divine.
Ours is a school conceived with hospitality as a core virtue. Our charter explicitly states that while Claremont School of Theology is rooted in the Methodist tradition, it should espouse to be fundamentally ecumenical in nature. It was a grand vision to set forth in the 1950s, as a burgeoning ecumenical movement pushed the boundaries of religious life here in the United States.
Religious diversity had always existed in this country, of course. But never before had dialogue and cooperation across religious traditions been so explicitly emphasized in our public life. To found a theological school with the intent of welcoming students of varying traditions was a bold move, and a risky one. At stake, so the argument went, was the integrity of tradition. Opening a seminary to students of differing traditions ran the risk of watering down the overall experience. Students might come to question the value and validity of core aspects of their own tradition – of scripture, of liturgy, of theology. For many, that idea posed too great a risk.
However, it was risk that inspired the endeavor of higher education as a whole in this country. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded Harvard College with a charter to train “learned clergy.” For them, the idea of relying on a clergy that lacked a proper education to guide the community posed too great a risk to the future of the burgeoning colony.
More than three hundred years later, the founders of Claremont School of Theology believed that relying on religious leadership that was incapable of communicating and collaborating across religious traditions posed too great a risk…for the sake of the Church…and for the world. And so they drafted a charter that placed ecumenism at the very heart of this School.
The Puritans of the 17th century could never have imagined the radical diversity that defines American religious life today. Similarly, the founders of Claremont School of Theology would have found this gathering today rather unlikely. As Dr. Michael Saad is fond of pointing out, even six weeks ago, when representatives of Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril Theological School and Claremont School of Theology first met, we could not have imagined this.
That is why we gather today thankful for a God that is far more imaginative than we are. It is why we celebrate the common bond we share across our traditions that lifts up the Holy Spirit in its creative and mysterious capacity to transform our hearts and to transform our world.
Over its nearly six decades of history, Claremont School of Theology has learned that there is nothing to lose in opening its doors to students and partners of a wide diversity of traditions. Quite the contrary, in fact. It has been our experience that exposure and engagement with traditions different from one’s own result in greater depth and clarity of belief and practice. The fruit of that experience is our alumni, many of whom are at the leading edge of interreligious engagement in their respective denominations and traditions.
This past May, we graduated our first class in a Master of Divinity program that prepares students for interfaith chaplaincy. That inaugural class of three included one Muslim, one Christian and one Jewish graduate. All three are working faithfully in institutions to meet human spiritual need, no matter what form or tradition it may take.
We are so honored to welcome the Coptic Orthodox community as our newest partner in our ecumenical endeavor. And it is such a blessing to mark the beginning of our relationship with such an auspicious gathering, and the presence of His Holiness. We look forward to witnessing the ways in which this relationship will grow and develop over time, and the richness it will bring to the lives of students who will share this campus in pursuit of their respective callings to Create a Difference for the World We Live In.
There is too much at risk for our churches…and for our world not to support such inspired callings together.
Again, thank you very much, Your Holiness, for gracing and blessing our campus and our chapel with your presence.