From the July 14, 2020 Update:
In light of the latest trends and developments related to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Commencement 2020. Instead, the class of 2020 will be invited to participate in Commencement 2021. This decision was made in light of the current state of the pandemic across our nation, the geographical spread of our graduates, and the decision by Hope College to begin their academic year on August 17, thus impacting our use of Dimnent Chapel. Planning is underway so that the Class of 2020 will still be uniquely celebrated next May.
June 11, 2020: Update from President Theonugraha
Greetings! I trust that you are doing well. These last couple of weeks have been incredibly tough for our nation. While our country and the world continue to grapple with COVID-19, we are also now grappling with issues of racial injustice and inequality. The murder of George Floyd has set off a collective awakening and response for our nation. At the same time, we continue to live in a polarized and divided country. More than ever, the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross–the perfect display of God’s love and justice, and the message of reconciliation are powerful reminders for our day.
I am writing today with two updates about our plans to resume on-campus work and education.
Assuming the State of Michigan deems it safe, we hope to resume both work and school on campus on the dates indicated below. In preparation for the return to on-campus operations, the seminary will meet all State guidelines to protect the health of employees and students.
Summer 2020: I am pleased to announce that the seminary is preparing for employees to return to work on-campus after our region moves into Phase 5 in the MI Safe Start Plan. We are waiting for the State to confirm a date, but anticipate a return in early July. Employees who would like to continue to work remotely may do so for the month of July.
Beginning on August 3, in order to adequately prepare for the academic year, all employees are asked to return to work on campus. This is assuming we are in, and have remained in, Phase 5. Requests to continue working remotely will be evaluated and accommodated on a case-by-case basis and will reflect doctor’s recommendations.
More information about WTS’ Return-to-Work plan will be communicated by Rayetta Perez in the coming days.
Fall 2020: I am pleased to announce that we are planning to re-open our campus to students for the Fall 2020 semester with classes beginning as scheduled on August 31.
We will share more information about all health and safety procedures in ongoing communications throughout the summer. While opening for the Fall will require us to be creative with classroom set up, community spaces, and various daily or occasional gatherings, I am confident that we can make the necessary adjustments to fulfill our mission while protecting the health and safety of employees and students.
Through it all, WTS will remain WTS–a Christ-centered, caring, Christian community that prepares Christians to lead God’s church in mission. Through it all, we will continue to prioritize the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and love for our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable among us.
Thank you all so much for your continuing service and dedication to WTS. I am grateful to God for you.
Thursday, April 2 Update from President Theonugraha:
Dear Western Theological Seminary community,
These past few weeks have been incredible and unprecedented as our nation and our world respond to the dynamic and unfolding public health crisis surrounding COVID-19. Much has happened, and I am writing today to provide an update.
But first, I want to begin by saying thank you for all the ways that you have rallied together to pray, to care for, and to support one another. Thank you, students, for all you have been navigating with changes that impact work, family, and school, and for bearing with us as we make ongoing adjustments to our learning and work. Thank you, faculty and staff, for going above and beyond in this season. Thank you, alumni and friends, for your prayers and well-wishes. I also want to give a special shout-out to our Friendship House friends–thank you for your prayers for us and for including me in your virtual hang out time. I have seen the Western community come together in ways small and large to uphold one another, and for that, I am grateful. Thank you.
In light of current recommendations, advisories, and executive orders, I am providing the following update:
- In-residence classes will continue online for the remainder of the Spring Semester.
- DL Intensives in May will meet online.
- Doctor of Ministry cohorts scheduled to meet in May will be postponed until a later time.
- The seminary will continue operating remotely until at least April 13, or until the expiration of the Michigan “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order.
- All internal Seminary-related events have been canceled for the remainder of the Spring semester, including Doxophilia, the Student Council Spring Banquet, the President’s Club dinner, and Alumni Day.
- Finally, the May 2020 Commencement will be postponed. We are exploring options at this point and will update you when our plans have been confirmed. Please note that the granting of diplomas and certificates of fitness for ministry is not dependent on the timing of Commencement.
I am deeply saddened because this semester is not unfolding in a way that any of us ever imagined or expected. I am grieving the loss of in-person fellowship, daily chapel and prayer, and simple things like hallway conversations and spontaneous laughter with one another. Our in-residence students are missing coming together daily as a learning community. Our distance learning students are missing the joy of connecting during intensives. Our Doctor of Ministry students from Brazil and the Hispanic Ministry Program students are missing their first trip to campus in May to conclude their studies.
Most of all, I am especially saddened for our graduating students, who are completing their time at Western in this manner. Seniors, I know that you are grieving. At this time, please hear these two statements from my heart. First, I am so sorry. I am sorry that we are not able to celebrate your accomplishments in May as we had planned. Graduating from seminary is an incredible achievement. We are so proud of you. Nothing can take away what you have accomplished. Second, I promise we will celebrate with you. As soon as we are able, we will celebrate with you. It won’t be on the day that we had hoped for, but we will celebrate with you. We have received a variety of opinions from a representative group of graduating students, most recommending that Commencement be postponed until late summer, if possible. We are not ready to provide specific information at this time but will update you in the near future so that appropriate plans can be made.
Friends, many people, myself included, have described the times we are in using these adjectives: unprecedented, unimaginable, incredible, beyond belief, never before, anxious, and fearful, among many others. Those descriptions are true. We never expected any times like these.
But I also know this to be true. We serve a God who can do immeasurably more than all we can ask for or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. Let us continue to put our faith and trust in Him, our firm foundation, and our refuge in times of trouble.
Monday, March 30 at 5:18 P.M.
Please know of my gratitude for you for all the ways that you have been flexible and understanding as we move our in-residence courses online and move to remote operations as a seminary. I know that the last couple of weeks have not been easy and have required a lot of extra work. I also know that many of us have been personally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and are finding ourselves needing to care for parents, children, relatives, friends, and neighbors. Please know that Esther and I, as well as Isaiah and Nora, are praying for you daily. We are grateful to God for you.
We continue our remote operations this week under the Stay Home, Stay Safe order from Governor Whitmer. I am sure that many of you, like me, are looking for signs that the curve is flattening and that our health care systems are receiving the support and supplies necessary to care for those who are ill. We are waiting for the day when tests are readily available and accessible to those who need them the most. At times, it seems that our situation is dire with no signs of improvement. As someone said this morning, “the longer this goes, the harder it gets.”
So, at this time, please allow me to encourage you to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Please take the time to care for your family, friends, and neighbors. Please be sure to root yourself in the infallible and inspired words of God, our firm foundation.
Previously, we have also informed you that we will make a decision about classes and events for the rest of the semester by April 3rd. Our goal is that by this Friday, we will make a decision for events through May 31. This includes classes for the remainder of the semester, Commencement, DL Intensives, Doctor of Ministry cohorts, and any other related activities and events. We have already canceled this year’s President’s Club dinner and Alumni Day.
In this season, the words of Psalm 130, our lectionary psalm for yesterday, seem incredibly timely. “Out of the depths, I cry out to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Ps. 130:1).
At the same time, I am grateful for the good reminder of our alumna, Marcia Bosma (’19), who reminded me in this Lenten season that we belong to a God who suffered deeply, who hung on a cross crying out to the Father “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, and a God who has descended literally to the depths of the earth. But our God descended into hell so we may have life. So we too join with the psalmist in saying, “I wait for the Lord; my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Ps.130:5).
Friends, let us put our hope in the Lord, for his love is unfailing.
Monday, March 23, 2020 at 2:01 P.M.
WTS Update: Stay Home, Stay Safe
As you have heard by now, Governor Whitmer has signed Executive Order 2020-21, “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” directing residents to remain at their places of residence (with limited exceptions) to the maximum extent feasible through at least April 13, 2020, at 11:59 pm.
Please allow me to urge you to follow this order to the maximum extent possible.
In that same spirit, we will also begin to restrict access to Western Theological Seminary except to those who perform critical infrastructure operational work. Please note that the definition of “critical” is very limited for an educational institution (ie. those who are responsible for operations of equipment, ensure security, process transactions, or facilitate the ability of others to work remotely).
What does this mean for us now?
1. If your work qualifies as critical infrastructure operational work, your supervisor will let you know. We will publish this list publicly, as required by the Executive Order, and we anticipate the number of people to be very low.
2. If your supervisor has not let you know, assume that you will need to work remotely through at least April 13. Please do your best to come to campus today (or at the very latest, tomorrow, but please, today, if possible) to pick up any materials that you will need in order to work remotely until the Executive Order is lifted. If you do come to campus, please maintain a 6 feet physical distance from another person at all times.
3. Community Action House will continue to host Community Kitchen on our campus. They have an exception from the EO.
Colleagues, I know this is hard, I know this is sad, and I know this is anxiety-provoking. This is not the way that any of us envisioned the Spring semester unfolding. I miss all of you. But we must rally together and support one another, and this is one of the ways that we can do so. We will feel less lonely when we see each other working remotely, together.
So many visitors have remarked on the wonderful community that we enjoy here at Western, “This place is special.” This place is special indeed. Let us embody that spirit of community during this time even while we are physically apart.
And, amidst it all, let us hang on that old, old promise. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps. 23)
With much prayer and gratitude,
Monday, March 16, 2020 at 1:44 P.M.
WTS Update: Shifting to Remote Operations
Dear Western Theological Seminary Community,
Yesterday evening we received confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in Holland, MI. The Center for Disease Control also released interim guidance discouraging in-person gatherings of 50 or more people. This morning, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closure of dine-in facilities by Monday, March 16 at 3 pm. Hope College has also announced plans to shift to remote operations beginning Tuesday, March 17.
In light of these developments, Western Theological Seminary will also shift to remote operations beginning Tuesday, March 17 for at least the remainder of the week. We are making this shift in order to protect the health of our community, to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, and to fulfill our institutional responsibility and civic obligation as an institution of higher education.
What does this mean?
- Beginning March 17, only employees who have been notified by their supervisors should report to campus. We are striving to maintain seminary operations during this time, so different areas may have different needs throughout the week. Supervisors will notify you if your presence is needed on campus.
- If you need to come to campus in order to make necessary preparations to work remotely, please enter and exit through the main front entrance only. The entrance door will be locked, so you will need to use your seminary key to enter the building. Hand sanitizer is available for your use upon entering the building.
- If you have meetings scheduled this week, please transition to remote meetings immediately.
- The in-residence graduation photo shoot scheduled for Thursday, March 19 is canceled. Megan and Carla will be in touch about rescheduling after spring break if it is possible.
- At this time, all non-essential seminary sponsored travel is suspended until at least April 13. Essential travel is defined as travel that is absolutely necessary to maintain seminary operation, can only be completed by the traveler’s physical presence, and does not expose the traveler to unacceptable health hazards. All essential travel must receive prior approval. Please email Rayetta (firstname.lastname@example.org) who will coordinate the approval process.
Furthermore, per CDC guidance, older adults and people with underlying chronic conditions should stay home as much as possible during a time of community spread. Additionally, we know that for many of you, your primary responsibility at this time will be to care for your family–your spouse, your children, your parents, and your relatives. Please know that we will support you during this time. Additional guidance regarding payroll and benefits will be forthcoming.
This is a highly fluid and dynamic situation with many unknowns and uncertainties. Therefore, we will announce plans for operation by noon every Friday until we are ready to resume on-campus operations.
Friends and colleagues, one of the strengths of our seminary is our strong community and fellowship. There was a sense of sadness last Friday during Chapel as we realized that we do not know for certain the next time we will gather around the Table as a community. We are experiencing a sense of loss as we maintain a responsible radius from one another.
At the same time, I firmly believe that overcoming the spread of the novel coronavirus requires our collective efforts to work together and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I am reminded as well that in the early Church, Christianity grew in part because Christians–whose hope rests in our resurrected Lord–stayed during times of plague in order to care for and minister to the sick.
Therefore, at this time, please allow me to encourage us all to trust in the Lord, our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1). Allow me as well to encourage us to care for one another, to volunteer our time, if it can be done safely and responsibly, and to love our neighbors, so that others may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Sunday, March 15, 2020 at 10:24 PM
COVID-19 Update: WTS Campus Closed Monday
Dear WTS Community,
In light of today’s news of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Holland, and the high likelihood of community spread, Western Theological Seminary will be closed on Monday, March 16.
Please note: At this time, there is no link between the confirmed COVID-19 case and Western Theological Seminary.
This is not an easy decision, but one made out of an abundance of caution, guided by the desire to limit further community spread, to give us the opportunity to further clean the campus, and to give us time to make a plan for the coming days.
This is a highly dynamic situation, so we are grateful for your understanding. In the future, we will strive to make an announcement about next day campus opening or closing by 8 pm in the evening and will do our best so that this does not become a nightly occurrence. In the meantime, please know of our gratitude for your understanding and patience.
Thursday, March 12, 2020 at 12:36 PM
Seminary and Cook Library Business Hours
Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,
As a follow up to the email communication from Felix this morning, and the information posted on the WTS website, I am writing to confirm that the seminary will remain open during regular business hours, 8am – 5pm Monday – Friday.
Effective Friday March 13, Cook Library will be open on a reduced schedule, 8am – 4:30pm Monday – Friday. The library will not be open in the evenings or on Saturdays.
Updates or changes to these hours will be posted on the WTS website.
Grace and peace,
Thursday, March 12, 2020 at 10:20 AM
WTS Response to novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
Dear Western Theological Seminary Community,
Your health and safety is our paramount concern, even as we remain committed to fulfilling our educational mission in the midst of the current pandemic.
Yesterday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that there are two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan and declared a state of emergency. Additionally, Governor Whitmer encouraged higher education institutions in Michigan to transition to online learning opportunities and to avoid large gatherings.
In response to the Governor’s announcement, the seminary has taken the following actions to prioritize student and employee health and safety while continuing to meet our educational commitments.
Classes, chapel, and campus events will be held as scheduled through Friday, March 13.
From March 16-18, all classes, chapel, and other campus events are cancelled. This break will provide time for faculty to prepare to teach all classes in a distance learning format effective Thursday, March 19 through Friday, April 3, when spring break begins.
The status of the pandemic will be closely monitored and assessed during the coming weeks. By April 3, the seminary will communicate either a return to campus for in-residence classes following spring break on Monday April 13, or the continuation of the full distance learning format for classes.
Seminary-sponsored events during the March 16-April 3 time period are cancelled. The Osterhaven Lectures, In-Step Doctor of Ministry cohort, and the Preview Day for prospective students later this month will be rescheduled.
Communication about the status of events after April 13 will be ongoing. Please check this page for updates.
During March 16 – April 9, faculty and staff are expected to work, and may work from the office or from home. Staff who would like to work from home should explore that possibility with their manager.
Also during this time, business travel will be reviewed on a case by case basis with cancellations made as needed. Faculty, please communicate travel for speaking engagements and conferences with Dr. Kristen Johnson. Staff, please communicate travel plans with your manager.
No personal travel will be restricted, but we encourage the community to exercise caution and stay up to date on all travel guidelines.
All community members who plan to travel during this time are asked to complete the travel form on this page so the seminary may assist you upon return. Travelers should be prepared to self-quarantine if necessary after return from a high risk area.
This is a developing situation and the leadership team is working hard to address questions as they arise. Thank you for your patience.
It has been said that fear is as contagious as any virus that we could contract. Please let me be clear. We are not engaging in these efforts out of a sense of fear or trepidation. Rather, we are responding out of deep care for the health of our community and out of a deep sense of institutional responsibility and civic obligation as our nation and our world attempt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In all these things, we live as a people who declare together with the Psalmist, “our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:2).
Please join me in praying for all who have been diagnosed, are caring for loved ones, or mourning the loss of loved ones during this time. I urge you to continue to monitor your own health and follow the guidelines provided by the CDC and in previous emails.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ sustain us.
Wednesday, March 11 at 8:30 PM
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update, March 11, 2020
Dear WTS Community,
By now you have heard that Michigan has confirmed two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19–one in Oakland County and one in Wayne County. Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer encouraged all higher learning institutions in the State of Michigan to move to tele-learning/ online learning wherever possible.
We also received words tonight that Hope College will be closed tomorrow and will move to a remote learning format until April 13. Grand Valley State has canceled classes until March 15 and will move to a remote learning format until at least March 29.
Over the past two weeks, we have monitored the spread of the virus and have prepared our responses. I’m grateful for the work of Kristen Johnson, Rayetta Perez, John Brogan, Kyle Small, Megan Rice, and David Becker. We are continuing to evaluate our range of responses and will communicate further developments in the coming days.
Please know that the health and safety of our community is our highest priority. We also seek to participate responsibly and to contribute appropriately to stopping the spread of this novel coronavirus. Our prayers continue for all who have been afflicted and have experienced deep and personal loss as a result of this pandemic.
Tuesday, March 10 at 11:23 PM
UPDATE: Coronavirus Confirmed in Wayne and Oakland Co.
Dear WTS Community,
The State of Michigan just confirmed two cases of coronavirus—in Wayne county and Oakland county. We will continue to monitor the situation.
At this time, if you exhibit any of the Covid-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), please stay home. If staying home causes difficulties, please reach out to us so that we can assist you.
Tuesday, March 10 at 10:44 PM
WTS Update re: Coronavirus
Dear WTS community,
Good evening. I trust that you are doing well.
As you know, Western Theological Seminary has and will continue to closely monitor the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). You may have heard that Hope College is monitoring a student. As of this writing, the State of Michigan still has not had a positive test for this virus. As Dean Kristen Johnson and Rayetta Perez mentioned yesterday, we are tracking the virus and how other institutions of higher education are responding as well as what the Department of Education and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending.
One Request: Please permit me to emphasize the communication that was sent out last week.
Students, if you are sick, become sick, or show any potential signs of illness that concern you, we encourage you to stay home even if it means missing class. You can communicate directly with your professors.
Professors, please be understanding if you hear from students who need to miss class because of illness or potential illness. Also, be attentive to any symptoms you may have and make alternate arrangements for teaching if needed.
Staff, if you are sick or become sick, and have concerns about the paid time off you’ll need to stay home and recover, contact your supervisor or Rayetta.
Thank you in advance as we care for the good health of our community even as we pray and care for those who have been afflicted.
As we attend to the realities and implications of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), we wanted to let you know that we continue to closely monitor the situation. We are tracking the spread of the virus and how other institutions of higher education are responding as well as what the Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending.
At this point, everything is running and moving forward as usual, although we continue to ask you to monitor your own health and be cautious if you have any symptoms.
As we think about the potential impact on our community, we are considering in residence courses, chapel, public lectures, Cook Library, the May intensive, commencement, faculty, staff, and student travel, the gathering of DMin cohorts, and the intercultural immersion trip to Nicaragua scheduled in May.
Please let us know if you can think of other aspects of our community life that need to be considered or if you have any questions or concerns along the way.
No case of COVID-19 has been reported in Michigan. If a case is positively identified and determined to impact West Michigan, you will receive appropriate communications from the seminary as guided by the Ottawa County Health Department. Rayetta attended a meeting at the Health Department last month to learn about their plans to respond effectively if needed. We also have convened an internal team which is discerning how the seminary can prepare for and respond to the coronavirus should that become necessary.
The best way to prevent the spread of all respiratory illnesses is to avoid being exposed and to stay home if you are sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends these everyday preventive actions including:
Note that hand sanitizer dispensers are located at the reception desk, on the library circulation desk, and near the entrance to the chapel.
Please join us in praying for good health for our community and families, and healing for those who are sick.