Being watched and being seen are two very different things. Watching bores down on the outside. Seeing senses the inside.
The Rev. Scott Hamilton Adams, Cal Lutheran’s new university pastor, is a see-er, not a watcher.
And wants us to do the same.
On Sept. 22, when Cal Lutheran celebrated the International Day of Peace, Adams led the weekly Thursday University Chapel service. During the customary “passing of the peace” when people hug/greet/welcome one another, he said, “I ask you to tell someone, ‘I see you. I see you.’”
The people in the pews, some wearing masks, bumped elbows, shook hands and embraced as usual. They also spoke, somewhat hesitantly at first, that three-word phrase.
Adams continued: “So many of us, in our world and in our lives, are not seen. And we can at least come into this space of gathering and community … and let others know that we intentionally and authentically see one another … . That’s what peace and love and community really are all about.”
It’s also what Adams is about, and a large part of the reason he was selected to be the new university pastor.
“We felt that Reverend Scott would reinforce the university’s goals of strengthening our community and making all members not only ‘feel’ but ‘be’ welcomed,” said the Rev. Melissa Maxwell-Doherty, vice president of Mission and Identity at Cal Lutheran, former university pastor, and a member of the search committee that chose Adams. “He seemed to grasp where the Cal Lutheran community was at this moment, signaling that he would engage all of us in a pastoral, personable way.”
As Cal Lutheran’s spiritual leader, the university pastor provides support, care and counseling to students, faculty, staff and administrators. Or as Adams says, he offers “the ministry of presence: being present, available and accessible.”
“Rev. Scott,” as he is known, officially was installed on Oct. 28 by Bishop Brenda Bos, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Southwest bishop. Adams is the university’s first Black pastor and the first non-Lutheran to hold the post. He takes over from the Rev. Scott Maxwell-Doherty, who retired as campus pastor after more than two decades of service at Cal Lutheran. Adams was selected by a search advisory committee of faculty, staff and students, representing numerous departments. Before finalizing the job description, the committee met with Cal Lutheran community members and administered surveys to learn what people wanted and needed from a new pastor.
Melissa Maxwell-Doherty said the breadth and depth of Adams’ talents and experiences made him stand out from the four finalists who were brought to campus for on-site interviews. He has worked in both university and church settings; “he is a gifted theologian who engages in interfaith and ecumenical ministry,” she said. “He is also a powerful speaker and preacher.”
Adams comes to Cal Lutheran from Baltimore, where he served as assistant director of interfaith and ecumenical ministries at Loyola University Maryland and senior pastor of Heritage United Church of Christ.
He holds a Master of Theology degree from Duke University’s School of Divinity, a Master of Arts degree in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from James Madison University in Virginia. He is also a certified executive coach, and he trained as a medical chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Adams said his family always has been “steeped in faith.” His grandparents founded a church in Baltimore decades ago. He was not, however, a regular churchgoer as a child, and he rarely attended worship as an undergraduate college student.
In graduate school, Adams had what he calls a “theophany” in a bookstore.
Initially, he was interested in earning a master’s degree in computer programming. “But I was really struggling with the content,” he said. While at a bookstore searching for a beginner’s book about computer languages, he felt drawn to the store’s religion and history aisle.
“Something in my spirit just said, ‘This is where you need to be,’” he said. “So, I picked up a huge hardback study Bible and took it home. I had a voracious appetite, hunger and thirst for what I was ingesting.”
He gave up computer programming and decided to go to seminary instead.
“At that point, I got on a fast track. Once I finished seminary, I started a church with my wife. Our early work was done from our home living room, and it just continued to grow,” he said. Eventually, he saw campus ministry as the ideal fit for the two sides of himself: the academic and the pastoral.
When Adams initially flew out to California to interview for the Cal Lutheran position, he knew it felt right, except for one thing: He couldn’t imagine moving so far away from his family.
But his wife, Tanya, and sons, Scotty and Ray, told him they wanted him to take the job because they knew it would fulfill him. “That, to me, is the epitome of love — the willingness of my family to sacrifice having me physically at home,” he said. His family will stay on the East Coast at least until Scotty finishes high school, and in the meantime, they FaceTime each other several times each day.
Adams is committed to diversity, openness and an interfaith, multicultural approach to ministry.
“I want to create spaces of belonging and safety for people to be who they are, whatever their faith tradition, as well as for nonbelievers and those with individual and group identities who are marginalized in society,” Adams said.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one of his heroes, inspires his overall vision for Cal Lutheran: “And that is the hope — to see beloved community manifest in the world where everybody is accepted for who they are, and to see that we all in this community see ourselves as interdependent and interconnected. Each of us needs one another to survive.”
Many of his previous accomplishments include ecumenical and interfaith efforts, which he will carry on at Cal Lutheran as well.
“When you learn the stories, experiences and perspectives of others, it really opens you up and broadens your worldview to become more in tune with the understanding that we are a universal human family,” he said.
During the Peace Day chapel service at Cal Lutheran, for example, readings came from the Koran and Old Testament, and Adams spoke during his remarks about “shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace.
In the Hebrew context, he said, shalom literally means “wholeness … completeness … unity. And peace for humanity is only possible in shalom through authentic relationship … It can’t be produced simply by inhabiting the same space at the same time. We’re all here together, but if we aren’t connected, we won’t have the fullness of what peace really is.”
Adams admitted that he doesn’t spend a lot of time doing extracurricular activities because he’s “primarily working all the time.” But for leisure, he loves to read, especially nonfiction books, the denser the better. And during the pandemic, he picked up a new hobby: cooking, which he connects to his vocation.
“A chef doesn’t necessarily prepare food with all of the meticulousness and love that she or he uses to prepare the food they eat themselves,” he said. “They prepare it for others, as a way of showing their love for others through what they’re creating. I find that’s true especially when it comes to preaching. I am investing my time and preparation so I can deliver something to others that will nourish, strengthen, and say ‘I love’ from my time of preparation into proclamation.”
When you see him on campus in his colorful bowtie and shirt, be sure to say hello. He will see you in return, in ways deeper than you know.
Karen Lindell has been a newspaper, magazine and website writer and editor for more than 15 years, including work at the Ventura County Star, L.A. Parent magazine, Los Angeles Times, Ojai Valley News, VC Reporter and Ranker.com. She lives in Pasadena.