Wes Granberg-Michaelson, author of several books including “Future Faith: Ten Challenges for Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century” sits down with Kyle Small to discuss his start in public theology, his latest book, and walking the Camino De Santiago together this summer. For 17 years, Wes served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and has long been active in ecumenical initiatives such as the Global Christian Forum and Christian Churches Together. He is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine.
Wes Granberg-Michaelson, author of several books including Future Faith: Ten Challenges for Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century sits down with Kyle Small to discuss his start in public theology, his latest book, and walking the Camino De Santiago together this summer. For 17 years, Wes served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and has long been active in ecumenical initiatives such as the Global Christian Forum and Christian Churches Together. He is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine.
Senior M.Div. student Ruth Estell may be what’s called an “old soul,” but don’t be fooled by her mild manner.
Born to RCA missionary parents and raised in Taiwan, Ruth came to the States to earn her undergrad and graduate degrees from Wheaton College, and then returned to China to teach English.
After ten years, she heard about an opportunity to work and live in a home for children and adults with disabilities in Taiwan. She jumped at the chance to do more ministry and Bible teaching.
In Taiwan, Ruth volunteered to teach an English Bible study in a men’s maximum security prison—with no guards in the room.
“At first I wasn’t so sure,” she admits, “but I ended up loving it. The men were very respectful and appreciated that I was willing to come there.”
She saw God at work, even witnessing some men get baptized and grow in their faith.
Ruth planned to take over for the director of the group home in Taiwan, but after a year and a half, the woman grew inexplicably hostile toward her.
Ruth started to believe the negative things her teammate was saying about her, and for the first time in her life, she doubted if God really loved her. She found herself in a downward spiral emotionally, spiritually, and physically. After praying about what to do, she knew she had to leave the mission field.
She returned to the U.S. to live with her mother, who had retired to Zeeland, MI. Their family had spent many summers on furlough in the RCA mission houses in Holland, so Ruth knew a lot of people in the West Michigan area.
“When I came back, I thought I was done serving God forever,” Ruth admits.“I would have been content to do whatever just to pay the bills.”
However, many people who knew her story were praying for her, and many reached out with love and support. Some shared their own stories of being hurt by brothers and sisters in the church.
A lot of healing took place, and Ruth realized that she still had a deep desire to serve God in her work. As she began to feel a call to chaplaincy, she knew she would need a Master of Divinity, and that led her to Western Theological Seminary.
Two and a half years later, Ruth is on track to graduate this May. She hopes to work as a chaplain in a retirement home or hospital.
“I am a third culture kid,” she says, “and Chinese culture respects the elderly, so perhaps that infiltrated my heart. I love the elderly.”
Two of Ruth’s internships have been at retirement homes, but she also completed a year of church ministry and one summer term of Clinical Pastoral Education at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where she worked with children and adolescents and at a women’s addiction recovery residential house.
“My abilities and confidence have grown,” she shares. “Children and adolescents are very honest. I have dealt with a lot of anger but also some very honest questions. You don’t always have the answers, but you can be there and listen to them.”
This year, Ruth is interning at Holland Hospital, where God is growing a love for the stranger in her. Many times she can only have one or two conversations with patients before they leave the hospital.
Ruth is part of a group of musicians that WTS professor Dr. Carol Bechtel is teaching to play the harp. At the hospital, Ruth plays the harp therapeutically—a ministry that can touch some patients and families in a special way.
“One lady I visited was very formal when I went in as the chaplain. I could tell she highly respected the clergy,” recalls Ruth. “She thanked me for coming and asked me to pray but didn’t have much to say. Later I came in just to play the harp, and soon she started sharing about her diagnosis, how she was feeling, her family… More pastoral care was done when I wasn’t there as the ‘official’ chaplain.”
Other times, patients are unresponsive or restless, and the harp music puts a calm over the room and the family. Sometimes the music frees people to have a good cry.
“I can’t answer ‘Why would God let this happen?’ or ‘Why don’t I feel God’s presence?” but I can acknowledge feelings and encourage people to reach out to God,” Ruth says. “Sometimes I run out of words, and then the music lets them rest in that.”
If people come from a Christian background, hymns remind them of times God spoke into their lives. Recently a dying patient began singing along to the hymns Ruth was playing on her harp, creating a beautiful moment that touched the family deeply. Later they asked her to play at his funeral.
Being able to play the harp for people is a “tool in my tool box,” Ruth says. “It’s just another way to care for people.”
Ruth is also grateful for Dr. Suzanne McDonald’s classes on “Aging and Dementia” and eschatology. These classes have helped her to establish a theological foundation and to understand how to care for people at the end of life.
“What I like about Western is that it’s not all about heady, intellectual knowledge,” she shares. “The professors realize they’re preparing us for serving actual people. It has kept me humble.”
Thinking ahead to graduation, Ruth says, “I think chaplaincy will be a good fit for the passions and gifts God has given me. Retirement home, hospital, hospice…I’m open to wherever God might lead.”
On May 4, Rev. Joseph Ocasio arrived in Holland to begin his role as director of Hispanic ministry programs for WTS. Rev. Ocasio comes to us from Phoenixville, PA, where he served as director of admissions for the University of Valley Forge. Along with managing the institution’s enrollment, Joseph participated in developing diversity strategies to promote cultural engagement among faculty, staff, and students.
Previously, Rev. Ocasio launched the Hispanic Leadership Center at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. In that capacity, he organized student leaders to develop many campus events promoting cultural connections, and he built bridges with Latino/a churches to provide a pathway toward completing an associate of ministry degree entirely in Spanish for Hispanic pastors and leaders.
While in Florida, Rev. Ocasio was the pastor of John 3:16 Christian Church, a bilingual church in Lakeland. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God serving within the Spanish language districts.
Joseph and his wife of 27 years, Myra, are proud parents of four children and have three grandchildren. Whenever possible, Joseph enjoys playing golf, road biking, martial arts and hiking. Rev. Ocasio earned a bachelor of science degree in church leadership and an MA in ministerial leadership from Southeastern University. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florida with a specialization in management and marketing. Currently, he is in his second year pursuing a doctorate of education in educational leadership from Gwynedd Mercy University.
Western’s strategic plan calls us to “participate in Latino/a theological education.” Led by Rev. Ocasio, our first initiative contextualizes our current Graduate Certificate in Urban Pastoral Ministry (GCUPM) into a program specifically aimed at preparing and empowering Hispanic women and men to lead the church in mission.
This certificate is comprised of 24 credit hours, including courses in biblical studies, church history, theology, leadership, urban ministry, and the ecclesial concerns of the Hispanic Church.
This summer Western will launch two simultaneous GCUPM cohorts. One will commence in June with nearly 30 Pentecostal pastors and leaders.
The other cohort is launching in partnership with the Reformed Church in America’s Classis of the Americas. The GCUPM will provide the necessary professional, personal, spiritual and academic preparation for individuals seeking an appointment as Commissioned Pastor of the RCA. The educational and formation experiences this program provides will incorporate the ten competencies for ministries championed by the Commissioned Pastors Advisory Team (CPAT) and the Pastoral Formation Coordinating Committee (PFCC).
The seminary community is enthused about these new developments and looks forward to sharing news of other aspects of the Hispanic Ministries Program in the future.