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Western Theological Seminary (WTS) is pleased to announce it has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to fund Churches in Mission. The project aims to learn with and from congregations as they discern God’s movement in their neighborhoods.

Churches in Mission will extend the work of the Formation for Ministry office and will be led by Shari Oosting and Dr. Kyle Small. The seminary will deploy the $1 million grant to invite two cohorts of up to 15 churches each to discover the needs in their community, to clarify congregational mission, and to determine how to join the ongoing work of God in their neighborhoods.

Project Director Shari Oosting recognizes the timeliness of this opportunity, “The context of Christian ministry in the U.S. is changing quickly, and we’re thrilled to dedicate the next five years to listening, discerning, and celebrating local mission projects.” Kyle Small, Director of Research and Learning, sees this as an extension of WTS’s partnership with the church, “We love the church, and we desire to prepare leaders for the church in mission. This generous gift provided by Lilly Endowment is WTS’s opportunity to accompany congregations and prepare leaders to discover and join the Holy Spirit’s movement in and through local communities.”

 

I still remember visiting Western Theological Seminary in 2010 on an exploratory trip for Newbigin House of Studies, an educational initiative that had emerged from City Church San Francisco. There was a palpable sense of excitement about a unique relationship between a respected seminary and an important city church. The prospects grew as President Tim Brown secured a significant grant to help fund the partnership. In the Fall of 2011 our partnership was launched in San Francisco in an inaugural event featuring NT Wright. Our first class of graduates from the WTS-Newbigin Distance Learning Master of Divinity program walked last May.

The partnership was designed to train church planters in city settings, and we’re happy to report that we have graduates (and students) planting or serving in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Boulder, San Francisco, and beyond (even Bangkok!). In the years we’ve been together, nearly 40 students benefited from a challenging missional curriculum, with yearly intensives in San Francisco.

The formal partnership, however, has come to an end. While the cost of ongoing funding for an endeavor like this exceeds our capacity, we’ve also learned many things from each other. Newbigin House, led by my good friend Dr. Scot Sherman, discerned that they can serve the church best through a “Newbigin Year” program, making their offerings more broadly accessible. And WTS changed much during its time in partnership. I moved from San Francisco and joined Western’s faculty at the same time as some excellent new colleagues with expertise in mission, justice, disability, and more. Western isn’t the same seminary it was in 2010, and our curriculum and ethos have been changed not only by the influence of these new professors but also by our partnership with the Newbigin House of Studies.

The net gains are huge, and the work goes on as students continue their learning within this unique curriculum. WTS will grant advanced standing with credit to applicants who have completed a new ministry discernment program at NHS called the Newbigin Year. Current WTS students may also take NHS courses for credit toward their WTS programs.

We give thanks for all this partnership has meant.

—Dr. Chuck DeGroat

Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling

Senior Fellow of the Newbigin House of Studies