‘There Is Hope’

The Rev. Frank Yamada, the new executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, talks with Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership:

Q: Is there anything you’ve been surprised by in the six months or so since your selection as ATS executive director?

There’s very little that surprises me — that probably has something to do with my faith formation. If I had deeper roots in any one tradition, generations old, I would be more surprised by some things that happen.

I’m pretty enthusiastic when it comes to theological education — and pretty hopeful. I mention that because that’s a surprise for me.

I pay a lot of attention to my news feed and social media, and I’ve almost had to take a break from it sometimes, because it feels like bad news.

It’s very cynical. It’s not hopeful. In the Christian language, we would call this the specter of death.

But one thing that continually surprises me is that in the face of all this, there is hope.

Q: Tell us about your faith journey, and how it influences you as a leader.

I was not raised in any particular church community, but many different traditions — nondenominational, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Episcopal, high church, low church, etc. — informed my Christian discipleship.

I grew up in a family that was nominally Buddhist. I like to say that we were twice-a-year Buddhists — that is, we would only go to the temple/church when someone was getting married or when someone died, which amounted to about two times a year.

I converted to Christianity in 1985, when I was 19. I attended a 20,000-person charismatic, evangelical megachurch in Costa Mesa, California.

… After I did my field studies at a Presbyterian church, [my wife and I] became members, and I entered the ordination process.

During my doctoral studies, I served on staff at a small Korean immigrant church. After I completed my Ph.D., I was ordained as a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

My first call as a PCUSA minster was in theological education. I taught Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, a seminary of the Episcopal Church.

At Seabury, I learned how to pray differently through the seminary’s daily Eucharist and daily offices. After Seabury declared financial exigency in the spring of 2008, I went to McCormick Theological Seminary, where I directed the Center for Asian American Ministries and taught Hebrew Bible before becoming the president in 2011.


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