A benediction and a charge for Frank Yamada

May 23, 2017 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

Editor’s note: Rev. Dr. Frank Yamada has served as President of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago since 2011, leading the seminary for six years before accepting a new call that begins this summer. Frank is moving to Pittsburgh to serve as Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). He will begin that role on July 1. Lee Hinson-Hasty traveled to Chicago to be with Frank for a send-off and to deliver a toast to his leadership at McCormick and very best wishes for his new position. The toast Lee delivered is printed below. 

Some of you know that Frank was ordained to ministry of Word and Sacrament by the Presbytery of Chicago to teach Hebrew Bible on October 1, 2006, only a little more than 10 years ago. That was a Sunday, and not just any Sunday, it was World Communion Sunday, a day which celebrates our oneness in Christ with all our sisters and brothers around the world.

Others of you know that what was World Wide Communion Sunday was first celebrated at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Frank and Michelle’s soon-to-be home town) almost a century ago in 1933 soon after their pastor, Hugh Thompson Kerr, had served as moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

Psalm 124 that we prayed today was one of the lectionary texts on October 1, 2006, Frank’s ordination date. I do not know if it was a part of his service that day, but it was read by millions of Christians that day around the world who gave thanks for “the maker of heaven and earth.”

Sometimes the lectionary is a providential prompt that points backwards and forwards and I think it was on Frank’s ordination day… and today when we celebrate the gift he has been as a faculty member and President of McCormick Theological Seminary, a cross-cultural, urban, Reformed, and ecumenical seminary of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

As a theologian, scholar, and teacher Frank has spent lots of time on Genesis 1-3, the creation stories and I know why, I think. It’s because the imago dei that Frank reflects most clearly is one who makes things, creates things and is creative. When he serves as partner in life or in ministry or as a mentor, a colleague, friend, scholar, leader, or chef Frank takes the ingredients he has nearby and makes something wonderfully new, vibrant, and lovely. Those who have been with him in a board meeting, classroom, or watched him win a McCormick Iron Chef competition… you are my witnesses. If you have shared a meal with Frank, you also know this…. Eating is a joy for and with him.

I’m here to say thank you from the bottom of our stomachs and our hearts for those who have served with him on the PC(USA) General Assembly’s Committee on Theological Education where he now serves as moderator and chair and the ecumenical Forum on Theological Exploration, where Frank has served on the board since 2016 and I have served as chair… an organization that seeks to nurture the next generation of diverse leaders for the Church and the theological academy.

Frank’s training as a fearless scholar and a chef serves him well in leadership. He has stepped into some unfamiliar kitchens, so to speak, and found the ingredients and tools he needed to feed the needs of God’s people then and there. Whether it was a meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency only months after his inauguration as president, the General Assembly itself in 2014 and 2016, the Special Committee on Funding Theological Institutions, or most recently as chair of COTE itself. When others perceive danger, Frank’s steady hand and steadfast faith, reminds everyone “our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”

So to celebrate this day, I have a commemorative gift from the Presbyterian Foundation. First, a circular casserole dish handmade in Louisville, Kentucky at the famous Mary Alice Hadley pottery. NC Chef Vivian Howard says that “The goal of the casserole is to feed the hungry and heartbroken.  …When you don’t know what to say, a casserole says plenty.” Casseroles are comfort food, warm and creamy, but with distinct flavors too. That’s sort of what I and maybe all of us need today, even you, comfort. I did not, however, cook a casserole for you, but I did enclose a bag of stone ground grits.

Frank, I know you love the way food expresses culture and is connected to the earth. The grits are from me, part of my southern culture. Vivian Howard says “Grits are like collard greens and fried chicken in the South. Everyone has their “unique” way of preparing them, and they believe their method is the best.”  I know you will be cooking up something new and inspiring others to do the same!

So, here’s my benediction to McCormick and to Frank and Michelle, both a blessing and a charge.
When you are hungry and heartbroken, share your recipes with others and be blessed by others recipes.  Don’t be afraid to go into familiar and unfamiliar kitchens and cook with old and new friends. Continue to take risks and elevate the ingredients you have at hand. And circle up around pots, tables, dishes, and causes that give you and other new life along the holy pilgrimage.

Finally, know the One who is Creator and Creative Force, Cook and Contents, the Maker of heaven and earth, is with you every step, every choice, every new place you go alone or with others.