Interviewing Mako Fujimura, 2018

By Jeff Munroe, Executive VP

What if you spent a few months staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and decided not to come back to work? The seminary recently made it possible for me to step into retirement, and I gladly did.

Nobody knows what the full impact of the pandemic will be on our school. (We thank God that no one on the faculty or staff has gotten sick.) Now, as the seminary is discerning its new normal, a number of us have been offered early retirement, and some positions have been cut.

As a result, I find myself saying goodbye, and because of the uncertainty of the moment, my final message to you is an exhortation to keep supporting Western with your prayers and financial gifts. Your help is needed now more than ever. I know from the inside that it’s not just an empty platitude to say “you really do make a difference.” It happens to be true!

My other message is unqualified gratitude. I attended WTS in the 1980s. I highly doubt that anyone then could have predicted that I would return decades later as a member of the administration. In fact, one former staff member was so stunned by this development she said, “You? I don’t believe it. You were a rascal.”

That rascal came back and was enormously privileged to be part of this wonderful community for the past eight and a half years. It’s been a joy. I still can’t get over the esteemed Dr. I. John Hesselink becoming my friend (as a student I looked at him with equal measures of awe and terror). I overheard him tell someone I was his “protégé” a few years ago, and my head swelled. I accompanied him in his late 80s to not one but two Detroit Tigers games. Our conversation in the car kept switching between the relative merits of Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, the Dutch politician-theologian Abraham Kuyper, and the finer points of both the double play and double predestination. One of my other most cherished memories is of the morning President Tim Brown and I took Dr. Hesselink out for pancakes (and another theological discussion) at Jackie’s Place a few short days before he died.

And speaking of Tim Brown, did anyone ever have a more encouraging boss? We had great times together traveling to places like Iowa, Florida, Arizona, and California on behalf of the seminary, and plenty of other great times just talking things over sitting in a booth at Russ’ Restaurant. I’ve never met anyone quite like Tim. I would tell him bad news, and before the conversation was over he’d somehow turn it into a chance to give me a compliment.

reading a poem during Community time, 2019

I’m extraordinarily grateful that I was a part of a very good decade at our school, a decade of strong growth and expansion. We experimented with creative ways to deliver theological education, we embraced multi-ethnic ministry training, and we transformed the campus into a state of the art learning center. I’m grateful for an association with WTS that began in 1981, almost 40 years ago! Western is a special school and I simply would not be who I am without it.

Now the school faces challenges as difficult as any in its long and storied history. President Felix Theonugraha is a smart and highly committed leader. I am absolutely convinced we have the right person in the right job for this moment, but he cannot rise to the challenges of this extraordinary time alone. He needs your help, but more importantly, our students need your help. Take this last piece of advice from a reformed rascal:  stick with the seminary and build up future leaders for Christ’s church!