It has been a wonderful start to my first semester at Western! I have enjoyed the engaging coursework, rich discussion with faculty and fellow students, and connection in the life of the WTS community, particularly through weekly chapel. I can perceive a deepening of my faith as I read, write, reflect, and grow week in and week out. I am grateful for this vibrant, grace-filled community and the opportunity to join its witness to God’s presence in the world.

Jennifer Pavelkaz

Cincinnati, OH

 

Being a student in the GCPM program of this prestigious seminary has been a blessing. It’s expanding my theological knowledge and impacting my life and ministry. The ability to receive classes online and the opportunity to interact with professors and other students is wonderful. I’m looking forward to growing in God’s purpose for my life. I’m so thankful to be part of Western Theological Seminary.

Eliu Martinez

Portage, IN

 

As I was finishing up my degree in theology at Dordt University, I began to consider seminary. Western’s emphasis on formation of the whole person, developing pastor-theologians, the personable staff and faculty, and the beautiful campus in the heart of Holland drew me here. Between class lectures, assigned readings, and interactions with classmates, these first two months have been an engaging learning environment. I am grateful to be here and look forward to the learning and growth still to come!

Anna Christians

Sioux Center, IA

 

My wife Francis and I are so pleased to be here at Western. We planned this 5 years ago and finally made it. We have been blessed since we arrived with the people we have met, the studies and learning, and our teaching church. We are looking forward to growing in relationship with people and continuing our journey on God’s path.

Peter Wilkinson

Temecula, CA

 

 

For more Fall news, read our Commons Newsletter here!

 

The Samuel Williams Scholarship for Scholars of Color.

This full-tuition scholarship goes to a student of color who will enroll full time in the in-residence Master of Divinity program. The student must have a commitment to advance justice and reconciliation and be committed to ministry. The scholarship is named after Samuel Williams, one of the first two African-American graduates of WTS (1951) and the recipient of the distinguished alumnus award in 2000. Over a 39 year ministry spanning the Jim Crow South, urban poverty in California, rural Illinois, and the Dutch community of Holland, MI, Sam was a faithful, caring, courageous witness to the power of Christ to transform lives.

 

 

 

 

The Elsie Wen-Hua Shih Law Award for Excellence in Female Leadership.

This full-tuition scholarship goes to a female student who will enroll full time in the in-residence Master of Divinity program. The student must be dedicated to advancing the leadership of women in all areas of church and mission and be committed to ministry. The scholarship is named after Elsie Wen-Hua Shih Law, the first female student to graduate from Western Theological Seminary (1963). She was a gifted Christian teacher, academic dean, pastor’s spouse, and a dedicated registered nurse.

 

 

 

 

The Boerigter Grant covers both tuition and living expenses for one year and is available for an in-residence M.Div. student. The recipient must feel called to be a pastor in the Reformed tradition. A student of color will receive priority. The grant is named after George Boerigter, a 1966 graduate of the seminary who spent several years as a pastor bringing his business savvy to ministry, and then went into business, bringing his ministerial skills to his work in the marketplace, most notably at his company, SoundOff Signal. George and his wife, Sibilla, are committed to the concept of lifelong ministry, whatever context in which they find themselves.

 

 

 

Apply by January 15, 2021 for full scholarship consideration

Contact our Admissions Team at admissions@westernsem.edu with any questions.

This might sound unrealistic, but it’s my hope:  

I hope I can be part of changing the

pastoral imagination of American pastors.

—Eugene Peterson

Eugene H. Peterson might be best known for his award-winning paraphrase of the Bible, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, but he was also a prolific writer of over 30 books, a Presbyterian pastor for 29 years, and a professor of spiritual theology for six years. Eugene Peterson had an immense influence across generational and denominational boundaries.

After Rev. Peterson died in 2018, his family sought to find a suitable site to steward the Peterson papers and archives and to promote his pastoral theology for future scholarship, the health of pastors, and the Church’s renewed imagination. Earlier this year, Western Theological Seminary was chosen to be that site.

According to his son, Rev. Eric Peterson, “WTS is the school that Eugene exclusively recommended to prospective students preparing to serve the church.” In 2010 Eugene said this: “It is everything I think a seminary needs to be—theologically focused, faculty accessible, personally relational, and God honoring. I never fail to feel at home there with its professors and students.”

Eugene Peterson speaking at the Bast Festival of Preaching, 2014

Eugene Peterson’s relationship with the seminary goes back decades, beginning in the 1980’s when he taught at a Young Life Institute on campus. His friendship with WTS deepened in 1998 when Dr. Timothy Brown invited him to campus as the keynote speaker for the Henry Bast Festival of Preaching. In 2008 he returned to speak at Dr. Brown’s presidential inauguration and in 2014 he led the Bast Festival again.

The newly formed Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination will house Eugene Peterson’s papers within the library archive collection in the Dewitt Learning Commons of Western. The collection will include diaries, thousands of letters, sermons, book manuscripts, Regent College teaching material, and extensive documentation related to the translation of The Message.

The Peterson Center will be a hub where people can contemplate questions that shaped Eugene’s Christian imagination over a lifetime, such as:  Why is an animated, Spirit-infused imagination essential if we are to persevere in living our faith amid the grit and beauty of ordinary life?

Through small, relational cohorts, fellowships, theological reflection, retreats, pilgrimages, public conversations, and artistic collaborations, the Peterson Center will provide space and opportunity to ponder these questions with humility, friendship, and generosity in order to embolden the Church’s hopeful, faithful presence in the world.

“My hope is that these intentional spaces will help a diverse array of Christians cultivate the joyful, creative and steadfast character that the world and church so desperately need,” says Dr. Winn Collier, the newly appointed director of the center.

Dr. Winn Collier, Director

Winn is the authorized biographer of Eugene Peterson, a long-time pastor, and the author of numerous books. With his deep roots in pastoral ministry, his intimate knowledge of Eugene Peterson’s life and ministry, and his own writing and research, Winn holds the right combination of gifts, callings, and expertise to bring this center to life. He joined the WTS community in August as Director of the Eugene Peterson Center and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination.

Eugene & Winn

The relationship between the two men began 16 years ago when Winn realized he and Eugene Peterson shared the same publisher, so he twisted his editor’s arm to give him Dr. Peterson’s address. He wrote him a letter, and they began to correspond. Winn was so determined to meet Eugene in person that when he learned of a spiritual renewal weekend Dr. Peterson was co-leading with his son in Juneau, Alaska, he flew over 4000 miles for the opportunity to have breakfast with him.

“Over huevos rancheros and coffee, I grilled him mercilessly,” Winn says with a grin. “In the years that followed, he became my pastor, writing letters from Montana.”

Their friendship led to Winn being chosen to write the authorized biography of Eugene’s life entitled, A Burning in My Bones, due to come out next March (see below).

Winn has been a pastor for 25 years and was the founding pastor of All Souls in Charlottesville, VA for 12 years. He had every intention of retiring from All Souls, which he describes as “a beautiful community of faithful, honest friends.”

“It was a hard decision to leave, but there were so many signals that this was something God was doing—and the Holy Spirit opened up possibilities so quickly. It certainly seemed to my wife, Miska, and me that this was a clear invitation from God,” says Winn. “It’s exciting and makes me wonder what God has in store here.”

The Peterson archives will be installed at the seminary in early 2021. Later next year, two D.Min. cohorts will be offered through the Center, one exploring pastoral imagination and the other centered on writing. Due to the pandemic, the timing for other gatherings and public offerings remains in flux. Stay tuned!

TO BE RELEASED MARCH 2021

Winn Collier was given exclusive access to Eugene Peterson and his materials to produce this landmark work. Drawing from his friendship and expansive view of Peterson’s ministry, Winn offers an intimate, beautiful, and earthy look into a remarkable life.

Encounter one of the most influential and creative pastors of the past half century with unforgettable stories of Eugene’s lifelong devotion to his craft and love of language, the influences and experiences that shaped his unquenchable faith, the inspiration for his decision to translate The Message, and his success and struggles as a pastor, husband, and father.

NOVEMBER SPECIAL OFFER FROM THE PUBLISHER

Waterbook/Penguin Random House is giving WTS Commons readers a special offer. Pre-order A Burning in My Bones and receive a free trade paper copy of As Kingfishers Catch Fire (by Eugene Peterson).

Limited quantities available, limited time offer ends November 30, 2020.

Both books will be mailed to you in March 2021 when A Burning in My Bones is released.

GO TO:  https://bit.ly/37vJwds

Meet one of the congregations teaching us about Churches in Mission. Grace and Peace is a congregation located on the West Side of Chicago. Over the last decade, they have invested in local mission and provided food to 40 families a week through their partnership with the GAP Community Center. During the initial COVID-19 shutdowns in March, people in the surrounding neighborhoods of North Austin, Humboldt Park, Hermosa, Galewood, and Belmont Cragin quickly felt the impact of lost income and lack of resources.

Pastor John Zayas recognized the pressing needs and reached out to other churches and organizations. Utilizing their partnerships, Grace and Peace began to organize food donations in rising quantities. Through the GAP Community Center, they went from serving 40 families to 400 families in the spring of 2020. Over the summer months they increased their capacity to serve 800 families a week. Now, with the help of government and local partnerships, they are giving 2 to 5 boxes of food a week to 1,200 families.

Preston Hogue, an associate pastor at Grace and Peace, shares how providing food has defined their ministry this year. He notes that Grace and Peace has impacted tens of thousands of lives through the pantry. Grace and Peace was invested in their neighborhood and clear on their mission. It was never in question who they were called to be in this moment. There have been a variety of responses to the pandemic of 2020. In many places there has been an abundance of fear, shutdown, and retreat. At Grace and Peace, Hogue tells us, “We have responded by feeding people.”

If your congregation is ready to engage in local mission and wants to learn from what churches like Grace and Peace are doing, consider applying for the Churches in Mission Cohort hosted by Western Theological Seminary. Find more out more at www.westernsem.edu/churches-in-mission

Meeting a moment in history with innovation, finding blessings

Since March, the entire world has been in a state of flux as the Coronavirus pandemic has ravaged physical bodies, economies, and our mental and spiritual health. On top of that, our nation is coping with natural disasters and a cultural/political moment fraught with division and polarization. Eight months into the crisis, we wanted to know how pastors are holding up, and what God is doing in this moment.

A few of our alumni and friends were pastoring churches in hard-hit areas at the start of the pandemic. The first major COVID-19 outbreak in the United States was in Kirkland, WA in a nursing home very close to the church led by Rev. Dan Claus ‘14. “At the classis meeting in early March, we all decided to shut down for two weeks, thinking we were being aggressive,” he recalls. “By the time two weeks were up, the country was shut down.”

Across the country in Queens, NY, Rev. Thomas Goodhart ‘02 says one of the hardest parts was hearing the constant ambulance sirens in March and April. “We only lost one member to COVID,” he shares. “We have had others who came down with the illness. Every person in my congregation knows someone who has died. Some of us know multiple people.”

For many months while delivering sermons online, Rev. Tom Goodhart had only his dog to keep him company in the sanctuary.

Revs. Ellen ‘19 and Aric Balk ’19 had just received their first call to Parkway Community Church on Long Island three months before the shutdown. Before the Balks even had time to get to know their congregation, they were transitioning everything online and leading through a major crisis.

“Any time there is new leadership, there’s added anxiety and fear of change; that’s just a reality,” Rev. Ellen says, “but this year, everything had to change drastically, and not by choice.”

“At the height of the pandemic here, local hospitals were having to bring in refrigerator trucks to store bodies because the morgues could not keep up,” Rev. Aric says. “We were seeing videos on the news of mass graves being dug less than 20 miles from us.”

On top of the pandemic, some areas were also hit by natural disasters. The church Rev. Alissa Davis ’15 leads in Midland, MI became emergency housing for people displaced by a devastating flood caused by heavy rains and two failed dams in May.

“We had people hauling soggy possessions out of houses, making hundreds of meals, and picking up groceries to deliver to people without power or kitchens,” she recalls. “For a moment, COVID-19 wasn’t much on our minds.”

In Ripon, CA, distance-learning M.Div. students Pastor Brett Dood and Pastor Phil Krygsheld had to make difficult decisions around whether it would be safer for Calvary Reformed Church to worship inside or outside because the air quality was the worst in the world due to smoke from wildfires.

Despite all these challenges and more, pastors are meeting this moment with innovation and even seeing some unexpected blessings come out of it.

WTS board member Rev. Cora Taitt says that an elder at her church in the Bronx told her the church is more connected than it’s ever been before. In addition to services on Zoom and a weekly prayer meeting by conference call, the congregation has a Saturday prayer/conversation time that Rev. Taitt says “has been almost like a support group.” She encourages her racially diverse congregation to be open and honest about their feelings surrounding recent racial tensions and other issues.

“This is a good time to be the church,” she contends. “We’re called to be peacemakers, we have hope—we can offer that.”

Like many churches, BLVD Church in Holland, MI met outside during the summer months.

Rev. Ben Aguilera ‘15 is the pastor of BLVD Church, a two-year-old church plant in Holland, MI that has seen its leadership team step up in new and inspiring ways. They now have 85 people in online discipleship groups, and the church has rallied around practical needs in their community, serving over 3,000 meals with Holland Public Schools and partnering with a local organization to provide PPE kits to immigrant families working as essential workers in the fields and factories.

Many pastors have noted that Zoom and other online platforms are reaching a larger audience than they had ever reached prior to the pandemic. At Rev. Claus’s church, randomly assigned Zoom break-out rooms have helped people connect to those in the church they had not met before. Rev. Goodhart in Queens is seeing his elderly parishioners embrace new technologies to stay connected.

Pastors who have held outdoor services found neighbors willing to stop and observe or ask questions, allowing them to engage their neighborhoods in a new way.

Calvary Church in Ripon, CA helped struggling local restaurants as well as families.

Pastors Dood and Krygsheld in California decided early on they wanted this moment to be one of radical generosity. They purchased around 1,500 meals from struggling local restaurants and distributed them to families in their city, adding about $40,000 to the local economy. Their good deed even got picked up by “Good Day Sacramento.” Then they put together a grant program with other local pastors and non-profits to provide small businesses with up to $5,000 to keep their doors open.

Pastor Brett Dood (in blue) and members of Calvary Reformed Church distributed food to frontline workers in Ripon, CA.

“People started calling us the giving church,” says Pastor Dood. “If we weren’t going through this wild time, God wouldn’t have been able to do these things that have borne a lot of fruit.”

So what practices have kept these pastors grounded and sane? Observing a regular Sabbath, taking long walks with or without a canine companion, rhythms of daily prayer and time in the Word, sharing burdens with others in ministry, and receiving encouragement from supportive congregants are all themes carrying them through.

“When someone takes time to acknowledge that we’re all a little out of our depth and doing our very best, it has lifted my spirits a lot,” Rev. Davis notes.

“Many of our classes at seminary taught us to sit with challenges, to listen well, and to be okay with not having an answer,” recalls Rev. Aric. “All of those things have been important in this season.”

Overall, these pastors are remembering that God is faithful and has carried his church through difficulties in the past.

When the pandemic hit, Pastors Dood and Krygsheld were in the middle of their first distance-learning course—Systematic Theology II with Dr. J. Todd Billings.

“There’s so much focus on the Holy Spirit in that course, and there were so many times during the craziness of the pandemic that would have us depending on our own strength, our own ideas,” shares Pastor Dood, “but the Holy Spirit is really leading and guiding us. It was very comforting to know that God was ministering to us providentially in this season.”

“I’m grateful to Western for giving me a theological foundation to recognize God’s activity in the church and to lean into that,” expresses Rev. Claus.

Please pray for pastors you know during this season—for endurance, for wisdom, for moments of rest, for boldness and courage to proclaim the Gospel to a hurting world, and for the Holy Spirit to continue to grow and guide them. And if you know a pastor personally, please thank them and let them know you see their hard work in this season…it means the world to them!

 

The Western Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a new mission statement for the school. The new mission statement is:

By God’s grace, Western Theological Seminary forms women and men for faithful Christian ministry and participation in the Triune God’s ongoing redemptive work in the world.

The new mission statement acknowledges that as we educate students, it is not we who are ultimately responsible for forming our students, but God. As a learning community, we educate before the face of God. The new statement also explicitly affirms our identity as an egalitarian institution–we affirm and support the calling of women to all levels of ministry, including ordination. Finally, the new mission statement acknowledges the reality that students who attend Western Theological Seminary are called not only to ministry in the church but to a variety of vocations. We stand ready to be used as a conduit by God to form our students to participate in God’s redeeming work, whatever their vocational call.

The Board also unanimously affirmed five proposed strategic priorities:

    • Enhance Student Learning: Enhance student learning by reinvigorating our in-residence community while bolstering our online and distance learning offerings
    • Strengthen Academic Offerings: Strengthen and expand academic offerings to address and anticipate the needs of the Church in the 21st century
    • Focus on the Church: Deepen our focus on the Church through various initiatives, relationships, and partnerships
    • Engage Diversity: Engage the growing racial/ethnic diversity of the United States and expressions of Christianity around the world
    • Ensure the Future: Steward the resources of the seminary to ensure the future health and stability of the institution

The seminary will be developing initiatives under each of these priorities and will present those to the Board at their next meeting in February 2021.

Western is blessed with trustees who are committed to the future thriving and sustainability of the seminary, who are invested in the education of our students, and who are passionate about training leaders for God’s Kingdom. Thanks be to God.

 

We are nearly a month into the 2020-21 school year with good news to report!

A global pandemic can’t dampen our spirits. The work of the seminary continues, and here are several highlights:

  • We welcomed 61 new students to WTS this fall.
  • There is now a total of 345 students in various programs at WTS, following God’s call on their lives.
    • 109 Master of Divinity
    • 30 Master of Arts
    • 71 Doctor of Ministry
    • 109 Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Ministry
    • 8 Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry
    • 1 Graduate Program for Christian Educators
    • 17 non-degree-seeking and audits
  • Our inaugural Friendship House Fellows (FHF) program has begun! The FHF is a 6-year program for individuals with intellectual disabilities who want to explore their ministry gifts within the supportive environment of a community of Christian co-learners.
  • The Doctor of Ministry program kicked off the year with two cohorts meeting in person, one online, and another one (all in Spanish) to be held in Orlando, FL in October.
    • “Disability and Ministry: Imagining More Faithful and Inclusive Congregational Ministries” with Dr. Ben Conner (9 students)
    • “In Step with the Spirit: Leading Global Christian Movements” with Dr. Alvin Padilla (11 students)
    • “Deepening Soul Care and Spiritual Transformation for Mission” with Dr. Chuck DeGroat (13 students)
    • “The Latino Pastor-Theologian: Towards Effective Pastoral Leadership” with Dr. Alvin Padilla & Dr. David Escobar Arcay (12 students)
  • We welcomed Dr. Winn Collier to the faculty of WTS in August. He will direct the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination (more on that later this fall) and will serve as Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination.
  • 37 churches and ministries are participating in our Teaching Church program, mentoring 44 M.Div. students.
  • We launched our very first Connection Week from September 13-21, in which we celebrated the people and ministries that flow back and forth between Western Theological Seminary and the front lines of the local church.

Look for details on these stories and more in the upcoming Fall edition of The Commons newsletter.

The WTS community is saddened that we could not gather together this year to celebrate our 2020 graduates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we hope to be able to celebrate next May alongside the class of 2021, in the meantime we’d also like to share the 2020 commencement bulletin and address from Dr. Tom Boogaart, Dennis & Betty Voskuil Professor Emeritus of Old Testament. The address is titled “Barefoot on Holy Ground.”

Congratulations Class of 2020! Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

 

From President Felix Theonugraha:

Dear WTS community,

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you that one of our Doctor of Ministry students, Bishop H. Javier Patón, has passed away due to COVID-19.

Bishop H. Javier Patón Osco was born in La Paz, Bolivia in 1969.  Though his parents and grandparents were devoted Christians, Javier experienced his conversion as a young man in 1985.

Bishop Patón was called to ministry shortly thereafter when, in 1986, he became a youth leader for the region, and eventually a national leader of the youth movement of the Church of God of Prophecy. He was a church planter and pastor of six churches in his native Bolivia.  As a denominational leader, Javier devoted much time and energy to preparing and mentoring younger women and men for service in the Church. For the last 10 years, Bishop Patón has led the Bolivian COGOP church through unprecedented growth well into 350 local congregations.

After earning his Master’s degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bishop Patón enrolled in Western Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry Program.  His thesis project, under the direction of Professors Eldin Villafañe and Alvin Padilla, focused on the factors leading to the unprecedented growth of the Bolivian Church in such turbulent times in the history of his homeland.  Dr. Padilla served as Javier’s mentor in theological education and remembers him as a quiet and insightful student who exhibited an irenic pastoral presence that inspired others to do great things for the Lord, while underplaying his own accomplishments in advancing the cause of Christ.  In their last mentoring session, Bishop Patón and Dr. Padilla outline the scope of his thesis project and were thrilled at what laid ahead for him and the church in Bolivia.  We trust that the LORD will continue the legacy of Bishop Patón.

Bishop Patón leaves behind his wife of 23 years, Ms Elisabeth Susy y Siles Ballivian, and two children Bryan Javier (18) and Laura Andrea (11).

Please join me in remembering Bishop Patón and in praying for his family.

Blessings,

Felix

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!