Honoring Earl Palmer & Following God in a Windy Place

In the mid-Seventies when my husband Steve and I came to Berkeley, the one word of advice we received from all of our Christian friends was, “Go to Earl Palmer’s church!” and some added, “The church that looks like a Pizza Hut.”

Steve and I were not Presbyterians then, but have been so ever since. Earl’s preaching shaped us and our sons. Forty years ago when we moved to Berkeley, Earl was captivated by the vision a young scholar of ethics, David Gill, had for a school where Christians could take graduate-level classes about Christian faith. Earl brought the Reformed tradition’s commitment to the “priesthood of all believers” and much encouragement to David’s shaping of New College Berkeley. In the 40 years since New College’s founding (including the 25 years since Earl left the Berkeley pulpit), he has taught for us every year, on subjects ranging from biblical books, such as Romans, Revelation, John, Acts, James, and this year on the Psalms; on New Testament themes of love and encouragement; and on great people of the faith, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C. S. Lewis. We have soaked it in and will continue to do so! On Saturday April 7th, Earl will offer a seminar on The Gospel of John!

Forward, Outward, Onward

Now and then my husband and I find ourselves wanting to revisit films that linger in memory to refresh if not entirely recreate the inspiration or pleasure they once offered.  One on my list as 2018 begins is the 2000 film Pay it Forward.  In that story, as many will recall, a disheartened teacher challenges his students to devise and carry out a creative philanthropic project.  A twelve-year-old boy takes on the assignment with elfin imagination:  Upending the common wisdom of “paying back” what you owe, he sets out to discover what might happen if, instead, one were to pay it forward to someone else.  So if someone does you a favor, you might do a similar favor for a third party, moving the original kindness along into widening circles of influence.  

Advent Greetings!

Dear Friends,

Advent greetings! Usually we send a Thanksgiving card to you, but we’ve been sending out notes of Thanksgiving for months now as we’ve celebrated New College Berkeley’s 40th anniversary. We continue to celebrate and to be thankful. 

Some Christian traditions—like the Eastern Orthodox and the Celtic—observe a 40 day season of Advent which encompasses our time of Thanksgiving in the US. It’s a penitential season, like the 40 days of Lent before Easter, in which the faithful fast and pray while cleansing their hearts for the feast day of Christmas.

BENEDICTION for New College Berkeley's 40th Anniversary

In this month of American Thanksgiving, we give thanks to God in the words of these prayers offered on the occasion of New College Berkeley’s 40th Anniversary.

O God, we pause in our journey of 40 years at New College Berkeley to thank you for accompanying us along the way and for inspiring these visionary founders, leaders, supporters, and students to make this a special place of learning and discipleship. Our work is not done, but we pause to recognize that this has been an enterprise built upon deep and abiding faith in you.

Celebrating 40 Years of Ministry

My wife, Siggie, and I had the pleasure of serving as co-chairs for the New College Berkeley 40th Anniversary celebration. Thanks to the many people who helped make this event such a success!

Photographs from the evening are here. A slideshow of NCB’s history is here

I’ve talked to several people who attended and they were without exception impressed with the gala event. The venue at Scott’s on Jack London Square was delightful, the table settings were gorgeous and the staff was attentive and efficient. People loved the food, and the way they served over 220 people all at once is beyond me. Attendees said they were excited to be part of this celebration and pleased to see people from many different periods in NCB’s history.

Above All, Trust in the Slow Work of God

By God’s amazing, slow, and steady grace, the community of New College Berkeley celebrates our 40th anniversary this year! In April 1977, David Gill and Ginny Hearn drove to Sacramento and filed the incorporating documents for this new school in Berkeley, the culmination of years of visionary and strategic work by David, Earl Palmer, and others. For forty years this ministry has been fostered and fortified by a large community of faculty, staff, trustees, and program participants as it’s navigated the changes of history and culture.

As our fall programs begin in Berkeley and around the Greater Bay Area, we rejoice and we remember.

Film Helps

  By some reckonings, only eleven countries in the world are currently “conflict-free.” Everywhere else civil war, rampant gang killings, foreign invasions, or oppressive police states threaten citizens’ lives. In many war zones, most of the victims are children (half of the 100,000 civilian casualties in the recent battle for Mosul, for instance); they die not just of the violence perpetrated around them, but of diseases caused by contamination where water and sewage systems have been destroyed, or by political sanctions that make medication and emergency services widely unavailable. We hear the word “war” so often, it is hard to sustain either the moral outrage or the lively compassion it ought to awaken in us.

God's Light of Hope and Love

"The light in your home has changed so much since we first got together last fall,” observed one of the graduate students at our final gathering for group spiritual direction. The living room was flooded with a soft evening light, which lingered in the space. I was surprised that this engineering graduate student would notice such a thing, and yet it seemed to reflect the increasing attentiveness to God’s presence each of the students had experienced over the months of our gatherings. Within the complexity of their studies, issues on campus, issues amongst the Christian student groups, and issues in the greater world, there was a growing sense of abiding in Jesus’ love over the months. Yes, it was the light in a home’s living room, but—more importantly—the Light of the Loving God in our midst was aglow.


A few weeks ago about a dozen of us were sitting around a large wooden table in Susie Lipps’s welcoming home in the wine country. Sharon Gallagher and Susie were leading us in a Wine Country Memoir-Writing Retreat, prompting us to reflect on different topics. For example, the vineyards are like communities, the particular members sharing soil, sunshine, and flourishing. They wondered how we have experienced community in our lives.  

  Not surprisingly at a New College Berkeley retreat, my mind went to that community. These days the staff and trustees of the ministry are meeting frequently as we plan the 40th anniversary celebration on September 30th, at which our longtime friend Mark Labberton will speak.

Finding God in All Things

Almost everyone who participates in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius has a conversion experience. For the past 3 years New College Berkeley has been offering this 30-week “retreat,” based on the “19th annotation” to Ignatius’ record of his own conversion experience, and I’ve been privileged to direct this retreat at Byron United Methodist Church where I serve as pastor.

Room at the Table

When they arrive, they leave their phones in a basket by the door and grab a bite to eat. We light a candle that's in the center of the table within our circle, a reminder of God in our midst. We pray for God to enlighten us.

 "How are you, and what's true for you right now?" This is the question we start with, and one evening I had them illustrate their answer by choosing an item to place on the table. The person who chose a photo of a compass said she felt a growing certainty about the road ahead. Our "camel" felt burdened. Our "lone wolf" was worried about the future—would leaving Berkeley after graduation mean unwelcome solitude?

Continuing to Grow and Dare

It's hard not to pay attention to Brené Brown, whose most recent book is Daring Greatly (NY: Avery, 2012). She has several TED talks that are among the most popular ever. She's also done those PBS special series that usually go to the pre-eminent psychology person of an era (years ago it was John Bradshaw).

What Brown is most known for is her research on vulnerability; in fact the subtitle of this current best seller is How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I was preparing a project that included the subject of vulnerability, so I decided to give it a read. The popularity of the book hit me when I went to two bookstores and found it sold out.

Listening to God in Circles of Prayer

The new year has begun in a deluge of rain in the Bay Area—with even a few minutes of hail and snow in Berkeley on January 23!—and a new administration in Washington.Spring programs are beginning at New College Berkeley, and some are continuing into the second half of the academic year.

Our spiritual direction groups and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises groups are mid-way through their nine-month journey. So far in these groups we’ve witnessed new life coming, the passing of loved ones and loved identities, the healing of relationships and health, responses to a new president elected and inaugurated, and a host of challenges and blessings held before God in a covenanted circle of praying friends.