Last month, Willamette University officially welcomed CST to the community and students began coursework on both the Salem and Claremont campuses. The welcome at Willamette included the planting of three olive trees as a symbol of friendship, a welcome ceremony with state and university dignitaries, new student orientation, a welcome event and CST Sunday at Salem First United Methodist Church, an alumni/ae “flash” gathering, and more. At Claremont, incoming international and doctoral students were welcomed with orientation, convocation, and a reception. New students on both campuses were also invited to dinner with President Kuan and his spouse, Valentine Toh.

In Salem:

On Thursday, August 22, Presidents Kuan and Thorsett along with WU Chaplain, Rev. Dr. Karen Wood, planted three olive trees as a symbol of friendship. Rev. Dr. Wood said, “Trees are incredibly important to us here, and a number of visitors have planted trees in the past (Wilma Mankiller, Chief of the Cherokee Nation, and Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Laureate, amongst others). So, the idea of planting trees to mark this new relationship was a natural. The three olive trees planted in front of Ford Hall symbolize peace and friendship as our two institutions enter into a new relationship.” Rev. Dr. Wood said a blessing for the trees and for CST and WU.  President Kuan and CST faculty also participated in WU’s Convocation on Thursday.

On Friday, August 23, CST was warmly welcomed by WU, the city of Salem, and the state of Oregon with a welcome ceremony and reception. The ceremony began with introductions by President Thorsett, and a welcome by Mr. Alfred ‘Bud’ Lane III, the Vice Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Other speakers included Mr. Tobias Read, Oregon’s State Treasurer and a WU alumnus; Mr. Chuck Bennett, the Mayor of Salem and a WU alumnus; Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Greater Northwest Area of the UMC; Rev. Dan Pitney, the Senior Pastor of First UMC, Salem; Rev. Dr. José Francisco Morales, Acting President of the Disciples Seminary Foundation and a CST alumnus; and Provost Carol Long of WU. The ceremony also included music from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Chamber Singers. You can watch the entire ceremony here on our website.

On Sunday, August 25, the First United Methodist Church of Salem and Rev. Dan Pitney invited President Kuan to share during both worship hours and during coffee hour, and also invited CST’s Director of Alumni/ae Relations and Annual Giving, Rev. Les Lungren, ’97, to set up an information table for congregants to learn more. President Kuan not only discussed CST’s future and expressed his gratitude to the congregation but also took time to encourage and cultivate a culture of call among parishioners He shared, “Since 1885, Claremont School of Theology has been pushing the boundaries of theological education and pioneering innovative approaches to the study of God and the healing of generations, and we are delighted to be here in Salem,” and extended an invitation for congregants to listen for God’s still, small voice and to answer that call at CST. Some of his talk was captured by Rev. Lungren and is on our Facebook Alumni/ae page. Professors Andy Dreitcer, Wm. Andrew Schwartz, and José Francisco Morales were also in attendance, as was President Kuan’s spouse, Valentine Toh. Rev. Dr. Morales also shared with the Disciples at the Salem First Christian Church the same morning.

On Sunday evening, Rev. Lungren hosted a “Flash Alumni/ae Gathering” at The Grand Hotel in Salem. Alumni/ae from 1965 through 2019, along with President Kuan and Professors Morales and Schwartz, attended. Rev. Lungren said, “I loved hearing stories of life and times at CST from so many different generations, and I was encouraged by their enthusiasm about having CST in the Pacific Northwest.”

On Monday, August 26, CST’s Associate Dean of Student and Community Life, Lea Appleton, organized the inaugural new student orientation in the Putnam University Center of Willamette University. Provost Carol Long was there to welcome the students, and that evening President Kuan and Ms. Toh hosted a dinner for students much as they do annually in Claremont.

And then the courses began! Professor Andrew Dreitcer taught the inaugural class, Formation: Spiritual Practices. Professors Frank Rogers, Marvin Sweeney, Philip Clayton, Andrew Schwartz, and Duane Bidwell also began teaching at WU last month. Dr. Bidwell is in Salem but teaching online this semester. Drs. Clayton and Schwartz are rotating between the two campuses, and Dr. Sweeney is utilizing our new synchronous classrooms where students are on both campuses learning simultaneously.

When asked about his course, Dr. Dreitcer shared, “The course begins with five half-day intensive sessions in which students are immersed in engaging in and reflecting on spiritual practices from a variety of sources. Each person becomes a member of a small group in which they tell their spiritual life story. After everyone returns home, the course becomes a kind of ‘in-life retreat’ for them. That is, every week the students engage in spiritual practices from their own spiritual practice traditions and from those of other practice traditions; they pay attention to what they are experiencing in those practices and how those experiences connect to their daily lives; they explore readings from a variety of cultural and religious expressions of spiritual practice; and they reflect on all of this with the other members of their small group through online conversations and video meetings. In fact, the intensive itself seems like a very focused retreat to me. The students are so willing to explore practices that are new to them. They are so insightful in sharing what they have experienced, and so thoughtful in reflecting on how their learnings might help them in their roles as spiritual leaders. I am always moved by the depth and wisdom of their reflections.”

Salem First United Methodist Church also hosted the new students for lunch on Wednesday, August 28.

In Claremont:

Christine Whang, CST’s Assistant Dean of Student and Community Life, and her team welcomed our incoming international students as well as our incoming doctoral students. Orientation included all the ordinary expectations of an orientation along with an adventure in the Claremont Village and dinner with President Kuan and Ms. Toh.

On Wednesday, September 4, CST’s final Convocation in Claremont, followed by a reception, took place in Mudd Theater. Faculty members donned their regalia; President Kuan welcomed and encouraged students, and thanked staff and faculty for their hard work and loyalty over the last two years. Dr. Jade Aguilar, Willamette University’s Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies, gave the keynote address.

She invited those gathered to broaden their understanding of the word “orientation,” and in closing, she said, “Maybe it has been years since you were a student, and that will take some reorientation. Maybe it has been years since you have read the texts of your faith and that will take some reorientation. Whatever it is, here you are. You are on your way to becoming ministers, educators, artists, non-profit administrators, and counselors. Welcome. The world is waiting for your messages of love and compassion. They are waiting for you to get oriented and to help steer others. I can’t wait to see what you all accomplish.”

Dr. Aguilar also joined students on CST’s campus for lunch on Wednesday and shared in a Q and A time with them, addressing concerns raised about CST’s move to Salem.