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A New Year Update from PSR President Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy



Dear DSF Community:


Greetings from “Holy Hill!” That’s what we affectionately call our neighborhood in Berkeley, CA, which is home to the largest theological consortium in the world. Pacific School of Religion, which was founded in 1866 as the first seminary west of the Mississippi, is a founding member of the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of nine schools and 11 centers that represent the breadth of the Christian tradition and world religions.  


PSR has been proud to partner with the Disciples Seminary Foundation for decades. We were excited this past fall to celebrate the appointment of Rev. Dr. Christy Newton as DSF’s new Executive Director. As an alumna of PSR who has served on our faculty and partnered with us in field education, we know first-hand the many gifts and commitments she brings to this work. We are grateful that our most recent MOU captures our continued partnership in support of DSF students and also captures PSR’s commitment to give advanced standing to students who complete DSF’s Certificate and Diploma Ministry Studies programs (CMS and DMS). This is an expression of the vision of a “stackable” approach to education that strengthens pathways for leaders to pursue their callings and preparation with increased flexibility and accessibility.


PSR is leading the way in theological education through its people, programs, and place.


People: PSR shares the commitment to ecumenism and diversity that are core to DSF. We are a majority people of color community from our board of trustees to our faculty, staff, and students.  With the opening of our academic year this past fall, we were delighted to announce that this last incoming class was not only the largest in over six years but the most racially diverse in the school’s 157-year history. Nearly 70% of the students in the incoming class identify as people of color. While the number of students who are taking courses in person and living on campus has been increasing each year since we returned to campus as the COVID-19 pandemic began to ebb, we also expanded our reach, with students taking courses from over 30 states and abroad. PSR has also seen yearly enrollment increases in our Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program while M.Div. enrollment across schools in the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), PSR’s accrediting body, has experienced year-over-year declines. Our students come from a wide range of Christian traditions and religious backgrounds and are pursuing preparation for pastoral leadership, chaplaincy, and transformative work in the world. Similarly, our faculty is one of the most diverse in theological education and includes seasoned senior members and dynamic junior scholars and activists. In addition to our partnership with DSF, PSR also has a formal relationship with the United Church of Christ and is authorized by the University Senate of the United Methodist Church to prepare students for service in that tradition.


Programs: PSR is expanding access to theological education by developing a first-of-its-kind learning platform and interactive diverse collective of spiritually rooted leaders. Prototyped through our Ignite Collective and The Project K (www.theprojectk.org), our innovative concept attracted two major grants from Lilly Endowment Inc.: a $5 million Pathways to Tomorrow grant to build the platform and collective and a $1.25 million grant to fund an educational and community-building program designed to help congregations adapt to changing social and cultural contexts and to reimagine the church in ways that deepen faith and transform community. We have expanded our commitment to public engagement on key topics, including the rise of religious nationalism, environmental justice, and the role of faith in transformative leadership. You can visit our website and navigate to the news section to see some of our latest podcasts and opinion pieces. 


Place: We leveraged some of our campus property to nearly double our endowment while retaining a significant footprint on Holy Hill, where we are creating a “learning village” that will shape a distinct and embodied theological education for our students. Together with a growing number of partners, we are building an inter-generational, multi-disciplinary learning community that includes two anchor on-campus partners, the Fung Institute at UC Berkeley and Berkwood Hedge Middle School. Like PSR, these organizations are led by people of color and are committed to education for social change. 


I am grateful for the opportunity to share in leadership at PSR with a remarkable board, faculty, staff, and partners. I am an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and while my ministry began and my love remains with local congregations, I have served most of my ministry at the intersection of faith communities, education, and social change. I am originally from Guatemala and have lived and worked in four countries and several states. I am married — for 30 years as of this last December — to Dr. Karla Suomala, a Hebrew Bible scholar who now leads a consultancy focusing on closing the digital divide for older adults and people with disabilities. We are the proud parents of two college students. Our oldest, Dawit, is now a junior at Howard University in DC, where he completed a minor in Political Science and is pursuing a nursing major. Our youngest, Meheret, is a second-year student at Cal Poly Humboldt, where after beginning in Marine Biology has now switched to Religious Studies — the family business! I love to read, run, travel, and hike, and I volunteer regularly including my service as Chair of the board of Church World Service (CWS) and co-founder and convener of La Colectiva, a group of Hispanic-Latine executives at seminaries affiliated with the Association of Theological Schools.


 

Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy has served as President of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA since January 2015. A committed pastor, a nationally recognized higher education and immigration leader, and a sought-after speaker, David leads at the intersection of faith, higher education, and social change. He has dedicated his life and ministry to innovation and access in theological education and leadership formation and regularly contributes a faith perspective to the national conversation on immigration, including speaking at a congressional briefing, immigration consultations with both the Obama and the Biden White House, engaging in a series of public conversation with various State Attorneys across the country in an effort to reframe our national conversation about immigration. Among his volunteer commitments, he serves as Chair of the board of Church World Service, one of the largest ecumenical development agencies in the world, and is co-founder and co-convener for La Colectiva, a group of Latino/a executive leaders at ATS schools.

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