Distinguished Alumni/ae

The Distinguished Alumnus/a Award is bestowed annually upon an extraordinary Claremont School of Theology graduate at Alumni/ae and Friends Day. This alumnus/a should be living the mission and values of CST; being agents of transformation and healing in churches, local communities, schools, non-profit institutions and the world at large. They are working to bring peaceful coexistence and collaboration with other cultures and religions.

Do you know a CST alumnus/a that has inspired you or their community? Nominate them for the Distinguished Alumnus/a Award. It just takes a few minutes to say how much you appreciate that person. Nominate them today!

Download Nomination Form

Nominations are accepted from anyone; alumni/ae, faculty, students and friends of CST and must be received by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, January 20.

Please direct nominations and/or questions to Noemi Ortega at nortega@cst.edu, (909) 447-2545 or mailed to Claremont School of Theology, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.

The Alumni/ae Council will meet in January to select the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus/a. Their selection will be announced in February. The Distinguished Alumnus/a will be honored during Alumni/ae and Friends Day on March 13, 2014.

Previous Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipients


Rev. Larry W. Hixon, Th.M. ’59

After graduating seminary in 1959, Larry served as the Associated Pastor at Pasadena Christian Church before his calling to lead in the Bella Vista/Eastmont Parish. Just one year after starting in his new parish, Larry developed a community center whose purpose was to serve the needs of the Hispanic community in Eastmont. The community center became a hub of ministry to and with the people living in the area, offering tutoring, family counseling, language classes, boys and girls clubs, and the site of a Headstart program. Larry successfully launched Eastmont as an effective community center that today, forty years later, is continuing its vibrant ministry in East Los Angeles.

While serving in Eastmont, Larry also partnered with the Rev. Dennis Short founding the Unity Walk, an event bringing Disciples of Christ congregations together from across the Pacific Southwest Region to raise money for the Community Center and other justice oriented ministries. The first of these walks was held in 1971 and was 25 miles long, raising over $15,000 and eventually raising over half a million dollars in the years the walk continued.

Following his tenure at Eastmont, Larry became the Associate Director for Christian Rural Overseas Program (CROP), where he increased awareness of world hunger issues and solutions. Larry continued his justice work by serving as the Director of Hope Net, a consortium of several congregations in Los Angeles, whose purpose was to build low income housing and offer job training, health care and other services. Throughout Larry’s years in ministry, and continuing into his retirement, he has relentlessly pursued peace and justice. As a member of the Disciples’ Social Concerns Committee, he has organized communities to take action on civil rights issues, the Vietnam War, poverty, fair housing, sexual orientation and the like. Larry’s commitment to social justice has even gotten him arrested after non-violently opposing environmental devastation. For the past 11 years he has organized and participated in an annual mission trip to both Nicaragua and Guatemala, doing hands-on work with the mission outposts in each country. He just got home from a trip to Nicaragua on January 15th 2013.


Rev. Rob Rynders ’06

Rob grew up in Livermore, CA where he graduated from Las Positas Community College then transferred to California State University Long Beach, where he completed a degree in psychology with a minor in religious studies. From there he found himself at Claremont School of Theology. During his time at CST Rob enjoyed taking classes with Dr. Clayton and Jack Coogan. When we talk about his time at CST he says, “I appreciate all the opportunities that CST has given me.” After graduation he was ordained as an elder in full connection in the Desert Southwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in June 2010. Shortly there after he was appointed as campus minister at Arizona State University. He says he was very grateful and happy with the appointment. He remembers thinking how great it would be to some day be a campus minister. At ASU he works with 50 students each year. They have free dinners with fellowship, discuss philosophy, mission trips and an alternative spring break trip that focuses on community and leadership development. He says the favorite part of his job is that the students, “they allow me to be their spiritual guide, along with God, at a very important time of their lives.” His other projects include work on the Relevance X and Lead conferences for young adult in ministry. He is currently Pastor of City Square Church a progressive and inclusive United Methodist Church in Downtown Phoenix.

He is married to Melissa Rynders ’05, who is also a UM pastor. They have two sons, Zack and Colby. Rob enjoys social media, Oakland A’s and SF Giants baseball and recently finished his first half-marathon.


Bishop Mary Ann Swenson ’75

Bishop Swenson is an outspoken leader on issues of inclusiveness and violence. She was one of fifteen United Methodists who signed a statement in 1996 expressing the pain that resulted from the denomination’s proscriptions against gay and lesbian persons in the church. In 1999 she was featured in the PBS “Religion and Ethics News Weekly.” Her foundational values are those of diversity, team/partnership and justice. She participates regularly in the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders and has been actively involved in the events of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) and Progressive Christians Uniting (PCU). She has been featured on Hugh Downs’ ‘Heroes of Hope” series and continues to pursue the dream of leading the church in becoming a more inclusive community, justice seeking and more perfect in love of God and neighbor.

Bishop was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on July 8, 1947. She was educated and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and graduated from Millsaps College in 1969 with a B.A. in Religion. Mary Ann married Jeff Swenson in 1968. Jeff is a Navy Veteran who served in Vietnam. He has a B.A. from the University of Puget Sound with a major in fine arts. From 1969-72 Mary Ann was the Director of Youth Ministry at Mason United Methodist Church in Tacoma, Washington. She was also active in the District as a Youth Coordinator and served as dean for several camps.

Mary Ann attended the Claremont School of Theology and received her Doctor of Ministry in 1975 with her thesis, “A Synthesis Between Personal Piety and Social Gospel in the Modern Church.” She was ordained deacon in 1973 and elder in 1976. She was Associate pastor of Claremont UMC in Claremont, California (1973-74), pastor of Orchards UMC in Vancouver, Washington (1974-83), District Superintendent of the Puget Sound District in the Pacific Northwest Conference (1983-89), and Senior Pastor of First UMC Wenatchee, Washington (1989-1992).