PSR president announces retirement

August 17, 2009

Bill at deskWilliam McKinney, president of Pacific School of Religion since 1996, announced today that he will step down from his position at the end of the coming academic year, June 30, 2010. “This has been a hard decision to make, because I love my job and I love Pacific School of Religion,” said McKinney. “This feisty little theological school has a special role to play in the renewal and transformation of contemporary Christianity, and I feel very optimistic about PSR’s future.”

McKinney, 63, informed the Berkeley seminary’s board of trustees a year ago that he and his wife Linda were considering retirement, and he officially informed the board last May of his decision to do so in 2010. He said he wanted to make the news public now, before the beginning of the school year, so that the seminary would have ample time to find a replacement.

An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a sociologist of religion, McKinney was born in Massachusetts and earned his BA from Colby College in Maine, his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts degrees from Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, and his PhD from Penn State. Before coming west, he served as dean at Hartford Seminary for 11 years.

When he became president in 1996, PSR was going through difficult times, both financially and in terms of the relations among the board of trustees, the faculty, and the students. In McKinney’s first years as its leader, the seminary’s financial problems were smoothed out, as were frayed nerves on campus. PSR mounted a successful capital campaign at the end of the 1990s, and opened two pioneering centers in 2000: the PANA Institute (Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacific and Asian North American Religion), and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, the first such center at any theological school. McKinney has been a leader in helping the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley—with its nine theological schools, including PSR—adjust to the changing landscape in theological education in the 21st century.

Sharon MacArthur, pastor of Sycamore Congregational Church in El Cerrito, CA, said: “As a PSR alum and member and now chair of the Board of Trustees, I am deeply aware of the gratitude all of us owe Bill McKinney—for his thoughtful and intelligent leadership, for his energy, and for his boundless commitment to the institution we all hold dear. His 14 years as our leader will rate as one of the longest and strongest tenures of any president in PSR history.” MacArthur added that the board has already formed a presidential search committee and is beginning the process of hiring a new president. “It’s a task we plan to have completed before Bill leaves next June,” she said.

Scott Hafner, former PSR board chair and an instrumental figure in the founding of the seminary’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, said that “Bill models much of what is best about New England: no nonsense, a sharp mind, extreme practicality, and an absence of showy falseness. But also, over the past 13 years, he’s learned some of what’s best about the West, including finding expression for the more emotional side of the human spirit.”

Once he leaves PSR, McKinney, the author of American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future (1987), The Responsibility People (1994), and Studying Congregations (1998), hopes to complete writing projects that have been postponed over the past decade.