Last weekend I rode Amtrak’s California Zephyr across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the decommissioning ceremony of the lovely hilltop campus of the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, where I studied many years ago. In the end, I earned an M.A. from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, not an M. Div from PLTS. But the time I spent in and around PLTS was formative in my life and in my imagination.
I remember days when silent fog enveloped the campus and ice water trickled down the trees in this holy hill. There are three towering redwoods planted here almost six decades ago by eminent Lutherans. These redwoods were taller than I remembered: now, they tower.
With a welter of buildings and a lot of grounds, the campus had high maintenance costs and a decreased number of students studying for the ministry. A move downhill had been discussed for years. The decommissioning was bittersweet for everyone – current students, long-absent alums, staff, faculty, and Board members. It was wonderful to walk one last time the shaded paths between the buildings, to worship in the chapel where so many seminarians learned how to do liturgy. On the other hand, knowing it was the end of an era and that this spectacular location was going to to be forever lost to us cast a somber shade over the day.
Following the last worship service in the PLTS chapel, the altar was stripped and the school banner, processional cross, and other liturgical items carried by hand to the new PLTS downtown Berkeley campus – a downhill walk of 3.7 miles, less than that for some of us who set out later but caught up by the expedient of going straight down incredibly steep Marin Avenue. The procession looped along a less steep way lest anybody trip and arrive too soon downhill!
The Seminary is now housed on the second floor of an up-to-date office building in downtown Berkeley across the street from City Hall. Here it is near the center of gravity of the Graduate Theological Union consortium of seminaries, and close to urban challenges and opportunities and the front lines of social justice. The new space has been thoughtfully designed and appointed.
Encountering the new space after, we found each office and functional space, including the sacristy, the kitchen, the fire escape stairs, and a window facing City Hall, adorned with a heartfelt and quirky blessing. Like this one:
Areas of Potential Protest
Oh God of all activity,
bless those citizens
who exercise their rights of free speech
by protesting around city hall.
May they be as peaceful as possible
and may law enforcement officials
be as expeditious and as prudent as possible
in the carrying out of their duties.
Oh, and protect the glass windows of this building
and other adjacent buildings.