This past week, Fuller Seminary announced they are going to move from their campus in Pasadena to a new location in Pomona.
I learned of the final decision only a couple hours before, though there had been talk of this for a while, so it was not entirely new to me. It’s been something I’ve been praying about with so many others for a while.
While this is obviously very transforming for those attending or working at the Pasadena campus, it’s also very important one for distance students, alumni, and scattered persons of interest (like remote faculty)
The decision means that counter to decisions made about a decade or so ago, Fuller now will view itself as a dispersed campus with a physical presence in Pomona (and to a lesser extent in Houston).
There will be significant investment in the local Pomona campus, and attention paid to local students, but the design and investment will maximize online learning and other modes in a way that hasn’t been done as much before.
In effect, in this way, Fuller is repositioning its vision of how it best trains students, ministers, missionaries.
That’s not the only important element for those connected to Fuller or interested in its role. In moving, Fuller is re-asserting its vision for why it trains students, ministers, missionaries. The Pasadena neighborhood it is now in has become significantly gentrified in the last couple of decades. It has gone from a relatively diverse, low-income area with old homes, old apartment complexes, old restaurants, to being a high-end shopping and living neighborhood.
Fuller was intended to be a place that trained ministers in the midst of an urban environment. It was intended to be in close proximity to churches, missions, and social causes, so that students could have ready access and so these could keep Fuller constantly aware of the call of Christ in our contexts.
In its current location, with its current transformation, Fuller is in the middle of an unaffordable neighborhood (condos next door sell for $825,000), and increasingly caught in the tensions of political forces that talk about affordability while encouraging maximizing new income. Everything has changed and Fuller’s financial position keeps it from being able to fulfill the changes, transitions, in a creative way.
Pomona is a very different place. I should know, I grew up not far away from Fuller’s new location.
I didn’t live in Pomona but visited it regularly as it was a larger city with all the benefits of movie theaters, etc. that my towns didn’t then have. It had a reputation of being poor, with a high crime rate, etc. Lots of gang activity. It hasn’t changed.
It exists on the eastern border of LA county, far from any benefits you might think about when you think about Los Angeles. It has more desert temperatures, and no access to any water. You can get to decent skiing or the ocean in about an hours drive (depending on traffic) but that’s still a distance.
It’s in part of the 909, a widely ridiculed zip code in Southern California, the symbol of hicks, ne-er-do-wells. Meth central, low-culture. I have a 909 area code on my cell phone still, so I’ll let you decide where I fit in those categories.
In short, Pomona is still what Fuller’s Pasadena neighborhood used to be. The expected new location is not in a flashy part of town and the city is one of the least desirable places in LA County.
There are some nicer neighborhoods in the city to be sure, and some good institutions, so the city has its bright points, but they’re still pretty dim as far as an overall reputation. Even its major university, Cal Poly Pomona, is considered the lesser sibling to the ‘real’ Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo (even though both are good schools).
Why am I sharing this less than stellar portrait of Pomona in an email that started off by sounding like it was selling the move? All because Fuller is asserting its mission as dedicated to being in the midst of ministry, mission, and social action.
When the realities of needing to move became clear, one option was for Fuller to do what a lot of other institutions have done, which is move out to the suburbs, or a rural location, leaving the area for where property and growth could be easily developed. The leadership at Fuller decided very early on not to do that. They wanted to see Fuller continue to fulfill its historic heritage.
Pomona fit for all kinds of reasons. It’s in a season of renewed civic leadership, a big fight against corruption and a big interest in revitalization that Fuller can help with.
Pomona is getting excited about itself and wants to see good things happen and has leadership that really can see these good things happen. It will never be a trendy place like near the beaches or Pasadena, but it can easily become a nice place, filled with diversity, opportunity, livability, active ministry.
Indeed, while Pasadena has increasingly seen Fuller as a bother, Pomona leaders are ecstatic as they see Fuller’s reputation as a benefit for their city, and Fuller’s presence a way of energizing a new era for Pomona.
How’s that for an Evangelical reputation in our day and age?!
Fuller is going to where it is being highly welcomed, in a very diverse city that has had a lot of troubles over the years. When I first heard Pomona mentioned as a possibility, I was honesty giddy. That’s my home region (my family has been in eastern LA county for generations), and I know exactly how Pomona and Fuller can find a healthy future together.
Fuller is, in this move, investing in new patterns of education while reaffirming its historic commitment to engaged theological education that trains women and men for service in God’s kingdom.
It’s not retreating, its advancing, with expanded funding and possibilities going toward developing what this means in our era and future eras.
Needless to say, I’m excited. It really does seem this is a work of the Holy Spirit in its initiation and its continued progress. Even local papers seem to agree. (Indeed that’s my local paper all growing up!)
I don’t honestly know what my role will be with the future campus as I only have another year on my contract, and was sent to Sacramento back in 2015. Southern California is still my “home” but my work life isn’t entirely up to me these days.
That said, we all will benefit from Fuller’s intent to be true to Christ’s calling and committed to its 70 year mission in ways that match the needs of future generations.
For those of you who haven’t followed the news elsewhere, here’s Fuller official site for its future plans: fuller.edu/future