The Rev. Philip W. Butin has resigned as president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, effective Jan. 31, 2010, to return to pastoral ministry.
Prior to coming to the seminary in 2002, Butin was pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I will always be deeply grateful for my years of service to SFTS,” Butin said in an Oct. 5 announcing his decision. “God has enabled us to accomplish a great deal together. SFTS has a bright future as it continues to clarify and pursue its unique identity and mission in a time of rapid change in theological education.”
SFTS trustee George Abdo, who was board chair when Butin became President recalled, “When Phil Butin arrived in 2002, the Board charged him with interpreting afresh the Seminary’s mission to teach critical theological reflection, spiritual discipline, and the skills and arts of ministry. Phil tirelessly and persistently championed the Seminary’s
mission under the watchwords, ‘whole leaders for the whole church.’”
Butin faced a number of existing challenges, including $10 million in debt incurred to repair buildings damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake and significant issues related to accreditation.
Under Butin’s leadership, the seminary’s debt was cut in half and SFTS vice-president for institutional advancement Peter Crouch said Butin collaborated to raise $27 million for operations and more than $10 million for the seminary’s endowment.
In the last year, the global financial meltdown forced SFTS, along with most educational institutions, to make some painful cuts in staff and program. Butin alluded to them in his letter to the SFTS community.
“In recent months, we have been obliged to make a series of difficult economic decisions in order to secure the seminary’s core mission,” he wrote, “decisions that have been painful and discouraging for everyone. People whom we love and programs that we have been proud of were affected, and that is a grief that we all share.”
Butin also expanded strategic partnerships between SFTS and South Korean alumni, congregations and seminaries, and oversaw the move of the seminary’s southern California campus from Claremont to Pasadena.
And Dean Elizabeth Liebert expressed her appreciation for President Butin’s service, particularly his commitment to gender equality. “He strengthened the gender balance of the faculty and administration,” she said, adding that “during his presidency, the triad of spiritual formation, critical theological reflection, and the skills and arts of ministry became an organic part of the SFTS way of being.”
Current Board Chair Peter J. van Bever said the trustees expect an interim president to be in place by January 2010, allowing Butin and the yet-to-be-named interim president to implement a smooth and intentional transition.
And then it’s back to his first love — pastoral ministry — for Phil Butin. “I am more convinced than ever that there is no higher calling than serving God’s people directly in pastoral ministry,” he wrote, adding that he is in conversation with several pastor nominating committees.
“I am eager to continue to offer my gifts and energy in new ways in the service of God’s purposes for the Presbyterian Church (USA),” he continued. “It will be a joy and an honor to be back on the cutting edge, sharing the joys and concerns of God’s people, preaching and teaching, helping a specific congregation to hear and respond to God’s call to participate in God’s mission of self-giving to the world.”