Fuller's fifth president Dr. Mark Labberton was inaugurated on November 6, 2013
"This is a moment."
It is a moment of significant transition for Fuller Seminary . . . of unprecedented change in higher education . . . of dramatic and profound change in the church . . . of extraordinary turbulence in institutions across the globe.
But, says President Mark Labberton, "If God is God, and if God has spoken in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, then none of this personal or global reality lies beyond God's arms."
Dr. Labberton offered these words in his message to the community at the Service of Presidential Inauguration held Wednesday, November 6, at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena. And it was indeed a moment—a moment of inspiration, celebration, and joyful splendor as Fuller Seminary officially installed Mark Labberton as its fifth president.
Approximately 2,000 people from countries across the globe descended upon Pasadena to honor Dr. Labberton and celebrate their commitment to Fuller Seminary at the Wednesday morning service and two additional inaugural events. Over 50 delegates representing other academic institutions were also in attendance.
First United Methodist Church, its interior bathed in pastel colors as light filtered through magnificent stained glass windows, was filled to overflowing as the Service of Inauguration began. The clear call of a trumpet launched a "Festival of Flags" to initiate the service, in which 129 students carried flags representing the 129 countries in which Fuller alumni currently serve.
Edwin Willmington, director of the Brehm Center's Fred Bock Institute of Music, led a choir from the Fuller community accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra in a performance of his composition "Jubilate Deo!"—a spirited, drum-punctuated piece with an African flavor that further conveyed Fuller's international character.
Fuller faculty and honored delegates then processed to the front of the sanctuary, their varied regalia producing a tapestry of royal blues, rich reds and gleaming gold.
Following more gifts of music from Dr. Willmington, a reading of Psalm 8 by Janet Labberton, and prayers and litany led by a diversity of members of the Fuller community, Fuller board chair Clifford Penner led the formal vows inaugurating the new president.
"It is with great joy and a great sense of history that we have come together this morning to install Mark Labberton into the office of the presidency of Fuller Theological Seminary," he declared.
As he concluded the inaugural vows—with the statement "I, therefore, as chair of the Board of Trustees, do formally and officially declare you, Dr. Mark Labberton, to be installed in the office of the president of Fuller Theological Seminary"—the sanctuary erupted with the sound of applause as attendants rose in a standing ovation.
A time of anointing and prayer for the new president followed, with noted pastor, speaker, and longtime Fuller friend Lloyd John Ogilvie asking all in the sanctuary to reach out their hands in a blessing: "To communicate to Dr. Labberton your love, affirmation, encouragement, and support," he urged in his sonorous voice.
Elizabeth Sendek, president of Biblical Seminary of Colombia, prayed for Dr. Labberton in the Spanish language, and Fuller Professor of Theology and Ethics Hak Joon Lee spoke his prayer in both Korean and English.
"We celebrate and uphold Mark Labberton as the one you have called for such a time as this," prayed Joy Moore, associate dean for African American Church Studies at Fuller.
"Have This Mind Among You," based on the Apostle Paul's charge to the church in Philippians 2:1-11, was the theme for Dr. Labberton's inaugural message as well as for the service as a whole. As an introduction to his sermon, the Fuller choir and orchestra performed the musical anthem "Let This Mind Be in You," composed specifically for the inauguration by Dr. Willmington and student Andre Castillo.
Paul gave his exhortation to the church in Philippi in the midst of a sea of challenges, just as we face a sea of challenges in our own turbulent times today, Dr. Labberton said in his inaugural message, and we can learn much from his charge.
First, we learn that we must "remember what's first"—God's extravagant, self-giving love. Second, "make what's first primary"—not only acknowledging God's preeminence but living it out, with a willingness to let him lead us into "risky places of compassion, mercy, and justice."
Third, we must "make what's primary pervasive"—loving the world around us generously and sacrificially, laying down whatever powers and prerogatives we've been given. In the eyes of the world, said Dr. Labberton, "Will we simply live what we say we believe?"
"A seminary that nourishes the church needs to take very seriously the call to verbal witness as it also takes seriously the call to enacted, embodied witness," he urged, "which together is the reality of the proclamation of Word and act, act and Word as one whole seam."
"God invites us," he concluded, to be agents of salt and light who "will demonstrate the vivid reality of a God who, in mystery, has poured out his life for the world—and says to you and to me, 'Now come. Follow me.'"
After his message, Dr. Labberton was presented with four symbols of office representing principles to which the Fuller community is committed: the presidential medallion, a Bible, presidential stole, and a globe.
A triumphant, united singing of the hymn "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" concluded the service, with a visibly moved President Mark Labberton then offering his benediction from Ephesians 3: "Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond anything that we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, both now and forevermore."
Following the ceremony, an international luncheon with food inspired by Korean, Chinese, and Hispanic cuisine was served on the Arol Burns Mall at Fuller's Pasadena campus. Guests mingled in the warm sunshine and enjoyed the delicious meal accompanied by live music.
Fuller Seminary's inaugural events began Tuesday evening with an evening of worship and film centered on the theme and film "Praying the Hours." Read more about this powerful evening event here.
Events concluded Wednesday afternoon with an academic symposium titled "Windows on the Church in the World: A U.S. and Global Panel," featuring a range of panelists addressing the joys and challenges of living as God's people in today's world.
To read Board Chair Clifford Penner's declaration of Fuller Seminary's purpose and see a transcript of Dr. Labberton's inaugural vows, go here.
To learn more about the presidential symbols of office and what they represent, visit this page.
Read the newly released edition of Theology, News and Notes, centered on Dr. Labberton's inaugural theme of "Have This Mind Among You" and featuring both his inaugural speech and articles from a diversity of faculty members on the theme.