Each year the Society for Pastoral Theology gathers on the third weekend in June for the Annual Meeting and study conference. Last March, the members of the SPT Steering Committee made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Annual Meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Society members grieved and lamented the loss of our annual gathering, what for many of us is a “homecoming.”
At our Zoom meeting on Monday, June 8, the Steering Committee expressed how our grief is now compounded as we mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless more. Always in rhetoric, if not always in practice, SPT has been committed to inclusion. We acknowledge, however, that diverse leadership and membership is not sufficient to end sexism, racism, or any other of the oppressions that we as a SPT have discussed and opposed. In recent years we worked toward becoming a more anti-racist Society. There is far more work ahead.
 The members of the Steering Committee lament that we cannot join together in person this year to continue the work of rooting out the evil of white supremacism that yet reigns in our guild and our larger society. We lament that we cannot gather to address how we as pastoral theologians and as a Society need to respond to the systemic racism and police brutality plaguing the United States. We lament that we cannot gather for our Annual Meeting to explore issues of “Borders,” the heart of our 2020 conference theme. We lament, and yet we look ahead.
 We look ahead with hope to our 2021 Annual Meeting that will convene at the Renaissance Marriott Hotel in Montgomery, Alabama. We look ahead to learning about the ways each of our members is using their theological acumen and scholarly platforms to eradicate racist systems in our nations. We look ahead to discussing how we are working to dismantle the white supremacism so commonly manifested in Western Christianity. We look ahead, and yet we lament.
President’s Letter
Dear Society for Pastoral Theology Family,
On Saturday, June 6, my family and I joined a peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and lamented by calling out the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery as a rallying cry for equity and justice. After the march around the main streets of Pasadena, we took a knee for the duration of eight minutes and forty-six seconds that George Floyd’s neck had been asphyxiated by a white police officer. At three years old, it was my daughter’s first protest. She asked, “Mama, what are we doing? Why are we walking?” How do you explain to a three-year-old this process of lament that solidly stands against and demands the dismantling of the systems and structures of racism and white supremacy that perpetuated centuries of heinous atrocities? As limited as it is, my husband and I described it with a metaphor of a pandemic. Different than a “germ” metaphor we used to describe the shutdown of the global world for the last few months, we explained this pandemic of racism is much greater in years, scope, and destruction. And to root it out, we need to commit to the call of God for justice and equity at personal, interpersonal and institutional levels – a long obedience in the right direction.
I can say with confidence the interruption of COVID-19, which was rightly overshadowed by the protests to end the greater pandemic of racism coalesced to make this year like no other year. No one expected that the culmination of my tenure with the Steering Committee as the president of the Society would require the difficult decision to cancel our 35th Anniversary Annual Meeting. Even as I write this letter, I wish we were meeting together to engage in deeper, more nuanced conversations about these two pandemics with you, my colleagues. Our gathering was to have taken place in San Diego with the theme, “What is a Border” and include a visit to the US-Mexico border as an immersive engagement to explore the geographic boundary, among other borders. Once again, I’m grateful that we had the cadre of members who were ready and posed to share their pastoral theological scholarship through the Persons of Color Pre-Conference, plenary, panel response, society luncheon, work-in-progress, workshops, study groups, and special interest groups. Thank you for your generous willingness to share in this way. The society’s interest and commitment to the theme is evident and the Steering Committee and I would encourage our colleagues who were scheduled to participate in this year’s conference to submit your presentations in writing to the Journal of Pastoral Theology.
Further, the Steering Committee formed two specific task forces in anticipation of our June gathering: the By-Laws Revision Task Force and the 35th Anniversary Celebration Task Force. The By-Laws Task Force was comprised of Nancy Ramsay, Roslyn Karaban, and Sophia Park. This group of dedicated members worked on the revision and were to bring their suggested changes to the Business Meeting during our Annual Meeting. However, since we did not meet in person, the Steering Committee has made the decision to postpone the work of this task force. Instead, we opted to wait for an in-person meeting in order to principally hold a forum to discuss the revisions prior to their adoption. The 35th Anniversary Celebration Task Force was comprised of Beth Toler, Ahyun Lee, Lee H. Butler, and Jeanne Stevenson Moessner. This group thoughtfully and creatively looked at finding ways to highlight and celebrate our history: past, present, and future. The task force members promptly brought their brilliance, creativity, and vigor to this charge. We look forward to our next in-person meeting, when both of these task forces will pave our way forward with a much-needed revision of the By-Laws and much-anticipated anniversary celebration.
Finally, I want to express my profound gratitude to the members of the Steering Committee: Jill Snodgrass, Cedric Johnson, Jim Higginbotham, and Phillis Shepphard. Together, we took on the massive work of not only prepping for the Annual Meeting, but also a new website, and other essential adjustments during COVID 19. Jill single-handedly got our tax-exempt status reinstated, worked tirelessly with a web design company the Steering Committee selected, and consistently offered transparent financial reports. Cedric clearly and aptly communicated all relevant information in winsome and timely fashion as our corresponding secretary. Jim took on the initial crafting of the conference theme, compiled the lists of all past Steering Committee members since 1985, and represented JPT as a liaison. Phillis often gave us pause with her insights and constantly pursued diverse considerations with, “But what about” statements. Heidi Park (incoming member of the Steering Committee) volunteered to come on prior to her term when Phillis resigned from the committee due to the increasing requirements of her expansive professional commitments. It goes without saying, without the work and support of everyone on the committee, the work of SPT could not continue. It has been my honor and privilege to work in tandem with these members.
Members of the Society for Pastoral Theology are invited to vote on the election of new members to the Steering Committee. Given the resignation of Phillis as explained above, the Nominating Committee, chaired by Ryan LaMothe with Craig Rubano, Lee H. Butler, and Karen Craven as members, submitted two names for the Steering Committee:  Hee-Kyu Heidi Park (replacing my post) and Ayo Yetunde (replacing Phillis’ post). In addition, the members of the SPT are charged with creating a new Nominating Committee to replace the outgoing members of the Steering Committee in 2021 (Jill Snodgrass and Cedric Johnson), which will be chaired by myself. Self-nominations are welcomed. Please be aware that individuals serving on the Nominating Committee cannot themselves be nominated to the Steering Committee. A formal election will be held later in the summer.  Members can access the voting link in the Society Resources page through Membership Portal.
Now, as I end my time as the president of the Society, allow me to share this Franciscan Benediction:

May God bless us with discomfort at
easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

so that we
may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at
injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

so that we
may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears to
shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger, and war,

so that we
may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to
believe that we can make a difference in this world,

so that we can do what others claim cannot be
done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. Amen

Until we meet face-to-face next,

Rev. Kirsten Sonkyo Oh, PhD
President for Society for Pastoral Theology
Professor of Practical Theology
AzusaPacific University

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