“At Western Theological Seminary, we’re not just given information about ministry, rather Western looks to form us for ministry. One of those avenues of formation is a summer placement in a ministry context. This summer I am working with the Sacred Sector of the Center for Public Justice, a program that equips faith-based non-profits in better fulfilling their mission in the world.” -Trey Tirpak, M.Div.

Student council president Trey Tirpak (M. Div.) is spending the summer learning and applying nonprofit best practices at the Reformed Church in America

Written by Meg Biallas Henry, Director of Communications at the Center for Public Justice

GRAND RAPIDS, MI. (JULY 18, 2019) — This month, Western Theological Seminarian Trey Tirpak joined the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) as a Fellow with the Sacred Sector Fellowship initiative. He is included in a cohort of 12 seminarians who have been selected for this initiative. The program kicked off with a five-day intensive training in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there, he will spend the remaining nine weeks consulting with the Reformed Church in America. Tirpak will advise the church about the practices most conducive to fully living out their faith-based mission.

Sacred Sector Fellowship is an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, a Christian civic education and public policy organization. The week of training included seminars led by Sacred Sector Director and Acting CEO of CPJ Chelsea Langston Bombino, Sacred Sector Program Manager Virginia Creasy, Founder and Senior Director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance Stanley Carlson-Thies, Gatherings of Hope Senior Program Officer Khary Bridgewater, Urban Church Leadership Center Director Julian Guzman, Standards for Excellence Institute Director Amy Coates Madsen and 2018 Sacred Sector Fellow and Public Justice Review Editor Kerwin Webb.

“I am eager to see what this year’s cohort will accomplish. Our Fellows are diverse in their experiences, goals and missions for the future,” said Bombino. “I am confident that this year’s cohort will be equipped to strengthen the faith-based nonprofit sector, and I am hopeful that our curriculum will help them further their vocational callings.”

Sacred Sector Fellowship equips current or recently-graduated seminarians with the skills and experience to lead within the faith-based nonprofit sector. The program provides emerging leaders with a holistic framework to integrate and thoroughly embody their sacred missions in every area of nonprofit governance. Fellows receive training in public policy, organizational best practices, and strategic positioning.

Trey (back middle) at the RCA’s Seminarian Seminar 2019 with his boss, Dr. Monica Schaap Pierce (middle row, second from right).

Tirpak said of his experience this summer, “I am honored that I have the opportunity to work with Dr. Monica Schaap Pierce, the Ecumenical Associate for the Reformed Church in America. I’m also profoundly grateful for the formative experiences I have weekly with Sacred Sector, which will help me imagine all that Christ’s church can be in our ever-changing North American world.”

A unique part of the Fellowship includes special resources from Standards for Excellence®, a national initiative that promotes ethical practices and accountability in the nonprofit sector. The Center for Public Justice, through Sacred Sector, is a replication partner of the Standards for Excellence® program. The Standards for Excellence code covers the following areas of nonprofit operations: mission, strategy and evaluation, leadership board, staff and volunteers, legal compliance and ethics, finance and operations, resource development, and public awareness, engagement and advocacy. CPJ launched the Sacred Sector initiative in February 2018, thanks to a grant from Templeton Religion Trust. Along with the fellows program, Sacred Sector also runs a six-month learning community for faith-based non profits.

Sacred Sector, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, is a learning community for faith-based organizations and emerging leaders within the faith-based nonprofit sector that seek to integrate and fully embody their sacred missions in every area of organizational life.

The Center for Public Justice is an independent, nonpartisan organization devoted to policy research and civic education. Working outside the familiar categories of right and left, conservative and liberal, we seek to help citizens and public officeholders respond to God’s call to do justice.

As stated, Sacred Sector was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton Religion Trust.

Photo: 2019 Sacred Sector Fellowship cohort. Tirpak is back row, third from left. Back, left to right: Babasola Fateye, Philip Tabler, Trey Tirpak, Steffani Bates, Tricia Bosma, Nathaniel L. Carter, Jr., Thomas Schliep, Adam Ramirez, Lyonel LaGrone, Jr., Desiree McCray. Front, left to right: Mary Li Ma, Timothy Music.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Alvin Padilla and Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson as they embark on new roles within the senior leadership team of WTS.

Dr. Alvin Padilla is now the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Director of Advanced Degrees. Since joining WTS in 2016, Dr. Padilla has been a creative and innovative academic administrator, launching the Hispanic Ministry Program and revamping the Doctor of Ministry program. Combined, the two programs now account for 28% of the student body.

In his new role, Dr. Padilla will explore additional strategic partnerships to attract prospective students to Western, while providing leadership to the Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry programs. Dr. Padilla’s experience in international theological education and his position as a Commissioner for the Association of Theological Schools make him uniquely qualified to develop programs that are responsive to ministry in the 21st century.

Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson has been appointed the Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs. Dr. Johnson came to WTS in 2013 to teach theology and Christian formation, and she has proven to be an exemplary scholar and an accomplished theologian, author, and speaker.

In 2017, her book, The Justice Calling, was named a book of the year by Christianity Today. In 2018, Christianity Today named Dr. Johnson one of 10 female theologians poised to impact theological education and the church in the years to come. Dr. Johnson has presented at research institutions such as Princeton University, Michigan State University, University of North Carolina, and University of Virginia, as well as many Christian colleges and universities.

An ordained elder in the Reformed Church in America, Dr. Johnson frequently speaks and teaches at various congregations across the United States and is passionate about furthering theology that impacts the local church.

In her new role, Dr. Johnson will provide wisdom and leadership to the academic affairs of the seminary, and she will continue to represent Western in significant and impactful ways through her writing and speaking.

“I am looking forward to working with Dr. Padilla and Dr. Johnson as part of the senior leadership of the seminary,” says President Felix Theonugraha. “These appointments will strengthen WTS for the season to come as these two talented individuals use their gifts to the fullest to further the mission of Western.”

The appointments are effective immediately.

Above image: Tom with the newly minted “Dr. West” at the Free University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands after Travis successfully defended his dissertation, May 29, 2018.

Six Things I’ve Learned from Tom

By Dr. Travis West

Over the course of Tom Boogaart’s 32-year tenure as a faculty member at Western Theological Seminary, he spent thousands of hours teaching, shaping the hearts and minds of hundreds of students. He taught with and supported dozens of faculty colleagues, helped design and implement several curricula, served under three presidents, and devoted his life to one seminary and its mission.

His career demonstrates what is possible when a person’s vocational ambition does not lead them to seek greener pastures elsewhere, but rather to sink roots deeper and deeper into the soil of the place where they are, enabling a mutually beneficial relationship.

This is one of Tom’s many legacies:  his wise, intentional, prophetic, playful, and thoughtful presence shaped the character and identity of the seminary, even as the seminary (its students, faculty, staff, administration, curriculum, worship, and community life) shaped and influenced him.

I first got to know Tom when I was taking Biblical Hebrew I as a second-year M.Div. student in the fall of 2005. The first session of that class changed the trajectory of my life forever (more on that later), and Tom has been a mentor, colleague and friend ever since.

In the space that follows I describe six things I’ve learned from observing and listening to Tom over the years. The number is arbitrary, and I could have picked others (indeed, it was painful to select only six!), but these feel central to who Tom is and what he tried to teach throughout his long and meaningful career.

1. Coram Deo describes the soul of Western Theological Seminary.

Tom and I spent the better part of a year discussing the “soul of Western Seminary” over weekly lunches at Hope College’s cafeteria. Over soup and veggie quesadillas I listened to Tom talk about how formation and a sacramental impulse have always marked WTS at its best. At WTS, the heart of Reformed theology is not just an affirmation of the sovereignty of God, but an invitation into the presence of the sovereign God, which theologians call coram Deo.

In Tom’s words: “The defining characteristic of God is love, and God, the sovereign of the universe, lowers the scepter and invites us into God’s presence. This theology is deeply personal, relational, and devotional.”

Those lunches changed the way I think about God, the role of a seminary curriculum, and my responsibility as a professor.

2. The horizon of biblical scholar ship is the life of the Church.

On the first day of my Hebrew class in 2005, Tom made an impromptu appeal to our class to consider that we may be called to interpret the Old Testament on behalf of the church (as opposed to interpreting it on behalf of the academy, or one’s position within it). Never in my life had I considered pursuing a Ph.D. or being a professor. And yet, as I listened, I felt an overwhelming sense of calling to respond. The call was so clear that I went home after class and told my wife, “I think I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I hadn’t even learned the Hebrew alphabet!

Tom’s commitment to the church as the horizon of biblical scholarship literally changed my life and has informed my own teaching and research in significant ways.

3. Metaphors Matter.

Tom taught a different and refreshing way to relate to the Scriptures.

Traditional exegesis develops tools that a student can apply to dissect a biblical text for meaning. Implicit in the metaphors of “tools” and “dissect” is a belief that the Bible is a dead object that we—the living subjects—cut up and analyze to discover its meaning.

Instead of what could be called “cadaver exegesis,” Tom offers the metaphor of hospitality of the heart, in which the interpreter encounters in the Bible a living and active subject. The goal is to make room in one’s heart for the Word of God, that it might speak a word, by the power of the Spirit, and so form us into the image of Christ.

Another powerful metaphor is of “steeping ourselves” in the Scriptures. As a tea bag transforms hot water into tea, so the Word of God permeates our being, transforming us into the pleasing aroma of Christ.

4. “Know what you see rather than see what you know.”

The great Abraham Heschel coined these words in his landmark study The Prophets. Heschel is saying that the easy thing to do with the Bible is see in it a confirmation of the beliefs you bring to it—seeing what you know. Rather, what is required for faithful exegesis is deep knowledge of self, so that you can bracket your assumptions and biases and thus see the Scriptures as they are, instead of as you would prefer them to be—to know what you see. Tom taught me that self-knowledge is essential for faithful interpretation of the Bible.

5. A professor’s first commitment is to his or her students.

Tom performs with students and staff at the Hebrew enactment of “Jonah: Standing before the Face of God”, December 2018

Tom stands in a long line of WTS professors who embody this by working in their offices with the door open, attending daily chapel and community time, and inviting students into their homes. Tom never got caught up in the foolishness of professors being “better than” their students or even necessarily “smarter than” (degrees aren’t a reliable sign of intelligence).

He empowered me to teach with him as a student, then gave me some of his classes after graduation. His belief in my ability to teach was instrumental in developing my ability to teach. He has done this for others as well. He does not cling to power or control but knows that shared ownership with deep trust is the key to success.

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

When I first met Tom, he was a professor—and therefore not a person. Over time I came to realize that, even though he is full of Gandalfian wisdom and was WTS’s most senior employee, he is still just a kid in a 69-year old’s body. He is a jokester and loves to play. The Hebrew class he made possible is an example of this, which has play built into its DNA. A student recently described the class as “kindergarten on steroids.” And I think that’s a good thing! It is not an understatement to say that both the academy and the church are in desperate need of not taking themselves so seriously.

Western Theological Seminary is what it is today partly because of Tom Boogaart. The same could be said of me and many of his students and colleagues. Tom’s passion, wisdom, insight, storytelling, playfulness, integrity, ingenuity, creativity, commitment to justice, and collaborative spirit are qualities that I hope characterize WTS, the church, and my own ministry long into the future.

Dr. Travis West is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at WTS

At a Glance:

Tom A. Boogaart

Professor, Encourager, Sage

Born 5/23/1950 Grand Rapids, MI

Married Judy Rietema on January 2, 1970

Children: Tom (Sophie Chatel), Rebecca (Jon Cooper), and Jeremy. Eight grandchildren.

 

A.B. Calvin College, 1972

M.Div. Western Theological Seminary, 1975

Ph.D. University of Gronigen, 1981

Service to the church:

(1981-83) Professor, Central College, Pella, IA

(1983-84) Professor, Exeter College, England

(1984-86) Professor, Central College, Pella, IA

(1986-2018) Professor of Old Testament, Western Theological Seminary

The WTS community is grieving the loss of Jeanette Ramos Schipper, Admissions Administrative Assistant, who passed away suddenly on Thursday, June 20. Our hearts are broken and go out to her husband Matt and their children. Please lift up Jeanette’s family in prayer at this time.

If you would like to pay respects, you are invited to join the family as they gather for a Memorial Service, celebrating her life and legacy. The service will be held ‪at 3:00 pm‬ ‪on Saturday, June 29, 2019 ‬at Calvary Reformed Church, 995 East 8th Street, Holland, MI. The Rev. Drs. Denise Kingdom-Grier & Blaine Newhouse will co-officiate the service.

Immediately following the Memorial Service, participants are invited to join the family to honor Jeanette’s artistry, her advocacy, and her son, Austin (a 2019 high school graduate).

Jeanette held a special place in so many spaces and touched the lives of so many people. If you were among those influenced by her work and life, we hope that you can join us.

Brian Vriesman’s ministry can be summed up in two words: lifelong impact. By doing ministry in one place for 34 years, he left his mark on generations of followers of Jesus.

One man band leading worship with youth, 1985

While numbers don’t tell the whole story, they give one tangible measurement of the impact Brian has made for the Kingdom of God. With Brian as its pastor, Twin Falls Reformed Church grew from 102 households with 380 people to 516 households with 1,959 people. Along the way, he led 56 staff members—whom he treated like family, invested in, and challenged to maximize their effectiveness.

Church and faith impacted Brian’s life from its start. His father, Dick Vriesman, was a pastor of six RCA churches, and his mother, Nel, served alongside her husband as the organist in each church. Dick instilled in Brian a love for God and a heart for people, which ignited his passion to help others. Nel gave Brian a love for music and worship, which led him to join Youth for Christ, where he travelled to different churches as part of a music group. This is also where he met his wife-to-be, Lori.

Brian attended Hope College (where he was a standout basketball player) with the intent of becoming a social worker. One summer as a counselor at Camp Geneva, he felt God calling him into ordained pastoral ministry. He realized that in the church he could maintain long term relationships with those he was trying to reach.

Brian’s favorite roles: Husband, Dad & Grandpa, 2018

After graduating from WTS in 1979, Brian’s first call was alongside his uncle, George Muyskens, as the associate youth pastor of Peace Reformed Church in Eagan, MN. Together they taught a Bible study called Crossways, which became foundational in Brian’s ministry.

For two years Brian led his Minnesota youth group on mission trips to Idaho called “Operation Spud,” where they helped an RCA church with children’s summer ministry. Another Idaho RCA church took notice and reached out to Brian and Lori. Feeling strongly that God had used the mission trips to prepare them to leave the Midwest, the Vriesmans accepted the call to Idaho. In 1984 Brian moved his young family across several states to become the associate pastor at Twin Falls Reformed Church. There he continued to make an impact on youth and took on increasing responsibilities in preaching, teaching, and church leadership. In 1989 he became the senior pastor of TFRC, a role he would serve in for 29 years until retiring in 2018.

Fun with slime, VBS 2015

The American church landscape in the 1990s was marked by worship wars, but because of Brian’s leadership, TFRC never had those wars. Brian remained faithful to worship in the Reformed tradition, yet he brought a never-ending stream of creative thought and energy to worship at TFRC, such as team teaching, reading Scripture from the center of the room, promoting community by putting tables in the worship center, and having TFRC write their own book of psalms. As aspects of worship changed, he didn’t want anyone “left behind,” so he always explained the “what and why” of the changes. After adding a contemporary service in 1989, TFRC shifted to one blended worship style in 1996, which continues to be the way they worship.

Brian created 193 sermon series and preached 1,204 sermons. Through all this creative energy, God used him to make a visible impact on the TFRC community. Weekly worship attendance grew from 281 to 810. He baptized 391 infants and 228 adults.

Brian envisioned a church campus that would maximize TFRC’s ministry. During his tenure, the church embarked on four building projects. TFRC moved from a small location downtown to 25+ acres on the outskirts of the city. Brian didn’t know it at the time, but God had placed TFRC in a strategic location. Originally, the new church campus was in the middle of nowhere. Now, it’s in the middle of dramatic community growth. Expansion increased TFRC’s worship capacity as well as its ministry to children, youth, and adults.

Brian loves bringing people to a deeper understanding of the Bible. When he first arrived at TFRC he began teaching Crossways, the two-year Bible study he led with his uncle in Minnesota. He taught it for 34 years, and more than 350 people expanded their knowledge and love for God’s Word.

Always breaking new ground—TFRC Worship Center, 2002

A study trip to Israel dramatically affected Brian’s teaching, passion for discipleship, and desire to follow Jesus. He longed to bring the Bible to life to his congregation by bringing biblical culture and context to TFRC. He traveled to Israel three more times, and through his influence, 100+ people from TFRC went to Israel to study the land and culture of the Bible.

On his first trip he had gained an appreciation for “standing stones,” which inspire people to ask, “What is that stone for?” (which then leads to a teaching opportunity). Brian established five standing stones on the TFRC campus, and they remain there to this day.

Brian passionately sought to make an impact throughout the world in the name of Jesus. His love for missions was evident before he came to TFRC through his involvement with Youth for Christ, Camp Geneva, and his “Operation Spud” trips. He took TFRC on mission trips to Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, and went with teams to Thailand and Malawi. He helped launch several local non-profits: Magic Valley School of Performing Arts, Mustard Seed Thrift Store, and the Mustard Tree Wellness Clinic. Because of his love for mission, TFRC has 29 partners in mission on five continents and seven countries and gives over $250,000 to missions each year.

Brian stands out wherever he goes—Ministering to Thailand Ahka people, 2014

Throughout all these amazing accomplishments, Brian’s greatest impact simply comes through who he is: a down to earth, humble guy. His youthful playfulness makes him fun to be around. He goes the extra mile. Brian genuinely loves and cares for everyone he encounters. Above all, Brian is deeply passionate to become more like Jesus. It was an honor for both of us to work with him!

by Rev. Chuck Swoboda (Lead Pastor)

and Lori Ann Lee (Co-Director of Worship)

Twin Falls Reformed Church

“Passionate Pastor Preaching to the People, 2018” (Brian loves alliteration)

AT A GLANCE:

Brian Lee Vriesman

Preacher, vissionary, leader

Born 11/28/1953 Prairie City, IA

Married Lori Wolters on June 4, 1977

Children: Nicole, Kim, Brett, Kelly

Six grandchildren

 

B.A. Hope College, 1975

M.Div. Western Theological Seminary, 1979

Service to the church:

(1977-78) Youth Intern, Peace Reformed Church; Eagan, MN

(1979-1984) Associate Youth Pastor; Peace Reformed Church; Eagan, MN

(1984-89) Associate Pastor; Twin Falls Reformed Church; Twin Falls, ID

(1989-2018) Lead Pastor; Twin Falls Reformed Church; Twin Falls, ID

By Jeff Munroe, Executive Vice President

My call to ministry came while I was a student at Michigan State University many decades ago. I was very interested in joining the staff of Young Life, a vibrant youth ministry I had been involved with as an adolescent and which had a training program aligned with Fuller Theological Seminary in California. I thought I would go there until I met the regional director of Young Life in Michigan in the winter of 1981. He suggested that I become part of the Young Life staff in Holland and take classes at Western Theological Seminary.

I had hardly ever heard of Holland. I knew nothing of Western, Hope, or Calvin, and certainly had never heard of those two rival gangs: the RCA and CRC. My initial invitation was to come to Holland for a visit. I vividly remember meeting John Hesselink and Gene Heideman at the seminary and community members like Lars Granberg, Ray Smith, Glenn Van Wieren, and Jerry Nienhuis, who, with their spouses, were the backbone of the local Young Life committee.

I liked it all so much I came to Holland, started working for Young Life, and enrolled at Western. I was not alone—my friend Tim Jenkins came with me and did the same things that first year. (Tim is still my friend—now he’s Dr. Timothy Jenkins, Dean of Students at Valparaiso University.)

The connections between Young Life and Western were already in place. Both Dr. Eugene Osterhaven and Dr. I. John Hesselink had taught classes for Young Life at their summer institute in Colorado Springs. Other students followed Tim and me, and over time the connections became stronger and stronger.

After 29 years with Young Life, I joined the staff of Western in 2012. I’ve since been joined by Dr. Ben Conner, another long-time Young Life staff member, who now teaches on our faculty. There are several other points of contact: Dr. Suzanne McDonald taught theology to a couple hundred Young Life staff in January in Florida; President Brown teaches and preaches for Young Life every year at their Area Director School; Western is one of a handful of seminaries that are formal training partners with Young Life; and several dozen Young Life staff from all around the country transcript courses through WTS.

On top of all that, four local Young Life staff members received degrees from Western on May 13. Eric Zoodsma and Paul Knapp both received M.A. degrees, Josh DeHaan received an M.Div., and Kevin Eastway earned a D.Min.

Kevin’s doctor of ministry project focused on developing a spirituality of fundraising for Young Life. I was privileged to be one of the advisors on his exciting project and spent time helping him understand both the history of Young Life as well as analyze its current realities. Kevin is going to present his work to Young Life’s president and members of their mission leadership team this summer.

It’s hard to believe all the kingdom-centered relationships that have sprung up since that summer day in 1981 when Drs. Hesselink and Heideman welcomed me to Western’s campus. I praise God for all of them and the fruitful partnership between Western and Young Life.

PICTURED ABOVE:

Kevin Eastway, D.Min.

Western Great Lakes Associate Regional Director

Josh DeHaan, M.Div.

Lakeshore Area Director

Eric Zoodsma, M.A.

Grand Rapids SouthWest Area Director

Paul Knapp, M.A.

Southwest Michigan Area Director

Photo: Dr. Brown introduces Felix Theonugraha, the next president, to the distance learning students on campus for Intensives in May.

Back in 2008 when Dr. Timothy Brown was told he had been selected as the next president of Western Theological Seminary, he thought of The Pilgrim’s Progress and Christian’s exclamation: “I rejoice and I tremble!”

Over the last 11 years, those words proved prophetic, as there were days of celebration as well as sleepless nights bearing the weight of presidential responsibilities.

The month he took office, July 2008, the stock market tumbled 1500 points. By the end of that year, the WTS endowment had lost 30% of its value. At the next Board of Trustees meeting, the new president—with only seven months in office—was told to trim half a million dollars off the budget. He did so, making many painful, difficult decisions.

“That year Nancy and I had dinner with Max and Esther DePree,” Tim recalls. “I remember kind of crying in my soup, ‘Nobody likes me!’ and Max said, ‘You know, Tim, boards don’t hire presidents to be popular, and they rather like it if they’re not.’ Well, that jolted me to my senses!”

After that, as Tim describes it, “The Lord took over in terms of our balance sheet.” Donations to the seminary rose, even in the midst of a recession.

That time of trembling led to rejoicing. Dr. Brown led the effort to raise funds to transform the John R. Mulder Chapel. Completed in 2012, the chapel is a beautiful artistic expression of our worshipping community’s theological values.

Later, he led the Development team in raising $27 million for a combined building and endowment campaign, which resulted in a totally renovated campus with a new learning center.

“I have thrilled to relationships with donors,” Tim says. “There is nothing more satisfying than casting a vision of what we’re doing, asking friends to help us, and hearing them say yes. The whole seminary is different now, thanks to them.”

Tim Brown’s dream from the beginning was simple: “I wanted us to flourish as an evangelical, Reformed seminary.”

At the urging of Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, Tim became the first WTS president to join the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents. This positioned WTS into a wider network of relationships that has helped build the school’s profile across the world of theological education.

Tim has kept connected to the inner workings of a church in a unique way. Every Saturday morning he talks with his son Jon, the pastor of Pillar Church, and they go over Jon’s sermon for the next day. Tim loves that.

With his love for the spoken Word, he has kept his own heavy preaching schedule through the years. He especially enjoys preaching on college campuses and interacting with prospective students. He has continued to teach preaching classes while president and looks forward to jumping back into the classroom full-time with both feet.

“As I say to students, here is the exciting part: there are people you can reach that no one else can. You have a unique personality, way of speaking, and skillset the Lord wants to use for a particular purpose! Take that seriously. I’ve always thought my job as a professor of preaching was to find out how each student can preach—what’s their style?—and then release him or her. It’s fun!”

Dr. Brown will be on sabbatical during the fall semester, preparing for his return to teaching. He will also travel and enjoy time with his wife, Nancy, who has been such a wonderful, supportive partner through all the years.

His advice to the next president?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep the center focus of your life the center focus. Don’t let that change! Embody the role and the office in a way that is appropriate and in line with you. Be yourself, we are all behind you. Don’t try to be anyone else but who you are.”

TIMELINE

2008 Timothy Brown is appointed president

The stock market drops and the WTS endowment loses 30% of its value

Ridder Church Renewal begins in partnership w/ the RCA and CRC (over 130 churches have since participated)

2009 In February, the library floods; in June the lower level of the DeWitt Theological Center floods and is under 3 feet of water

2010 Faculty Fellows program launched to increase faculty diversity (six scholars come in the next 8 years)

2011 Newbigin House of Studies partnership begins with M.Div. focus on church planting

2012 John R. Mulder Chapel renovated

New M.Div. curriculum

Entire revamp of corporate identity; new look for Western

2013 Gordon H. Girod Research Chair in Reformed Theology established and filled by Dr. J. Todd Billings

Master of Arts program launched

Five new professors and six new staff join WTS

Lilly Endowment, Inc. awards seminary $500,000 grant for preaching initiatives and $250,000 to address economic challenges facing future ministers

2014 New strategic plan developed

First director of Friendship House hired

Partnership with Institituto Biblico Ebenezer established

2015 Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry launched

2016 Alvin Padilla begins as Academic Dean and V.P. of Academic Affairs

BOT approves 25M capital campaign ($15M building; $10M endowment)

Summer Institute on Theology and Disability hosted at WTS for the first time

Henry Luce Foundation awards WTS $425,000 to expand work in disability and ministry

Luxcast launched (first WTS podcast)

2017  Hispanic Ministries Program launched

2018 First six graduates of The Friendship House

Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Ministry re-envisioned, three new focus areas

First two Nouwen Fellows arrive (scholars in disability studies)

Successful completion of Our New Day campaign with over $27M raised

Grand Opening of new construction/renovation (Cook Library, DeWitt LearningCenter, Haworth Leadership Center)

COMMENTS FROM CURRENT STUDENTS:

  • I am grateful for the deep love Tim has for WTS and the way he is a cheerleader for the people that make up this community.
  • He has a deeply invitational presence that seeps out of his personality, his preaching, and his presence.
  • Tim Brown loves sharing what he is passionate about in hopes that others may share those passions.
  • President Brown has helped me develop a deep love for God’s Word.
  • President Brown genuinely wants all students to succeed.
  • Tim Brown has called out divine gifts in me that I didn’t recognize.
  • I appreciate that President Brown is always among the students—at chapel, community time, and around the seminary.
  • Tim has encouraged me to hone my gifts and use them for the glory of God.

A NOTE FROM THE PRESIDENT:

This will be my last “Note from the President” before leaving this office officially on June 30. I have made my living speaking words—words in classrooms raising up new leaders for the last 24 years, words in pulpits of dozens of RCA congregations encouraging them to be all they can be in Jesus Christ, words in faculty and staff meetings sitting with great teachers and administrators who make Western Theological Seminary what it is, and words in board meetings with wise and generous men and women who have freely offered up their wisdom and wealth to lead us in becoming one of the finest seminaries in North America. Yet, right now the only words that I can think to say are “thank you a thousand times over.”

It has been a great honor to be the president of Western Theological Seminary, and now I am eager and grateful to be handing it all over to Dr. Felix Theonugraha, currently the Vice President for Student Life and University Ministries and Dean of Students at Trinity International University. He, like Barnabas in the book of Acts, is “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” He is a wise and experienced leader who loves the Lord and is passionate about raising up future leaders for the work of the gospel in the church and in the world. I bless the Lord for him and am eager to return to the faculty to support him and our school in any way necessary.

From the bottom my heart, “thank you!”

 

Western Theological Seminary is saddened to learn of the passing of former president, Rev. Marvin Hoff. May he Rest In Peace and rise in glory. Please see the full obituary from Marvin’s son David below:

Marvin Hoff, who dedicated his life to ministry in the Reformed Church of America and the church universal, died on May 26.

Rev. Hoff served as the president of Western Theological Seminary from 1985 to 1994 and was the pastor of churches in Hawthorne, N.J. and Palos Heights, Ill. He also held executive positions for the Reformed Church of America supporting overseas missionaries and the denomination’s General Synod from 1969 to 1981.

In addition to his service to the RCA, he supported the development of the churches and seminaries in China and throughout Southeast Asia in his service to the Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia (FTESEA), starting as a trustee in 1969, then as a part-time executive director from 1977 through 1994. From 1994 until his retirement in 2006, he was the foundation’s full-time executive director.

Starting in the early 1980s, his work for the FTESEA focused on supporting seminaries in China as they re-opened after the country’s Cultural Revolution. Because the government had destroyed books decades earlier, the FTESEA’s initial support was to provide books for their libraries. Working in partnership with his wife, Joan, they purchased and shipped books to schools and published and distributed journals that advanced theological support throughout the region.

Rev. Hoff travelled to China annually to visit seminaries, attend celebrations, and participate in conferences until his retirement in 2006.

“He is a true teacher and a great friend of Asia,” Sientje Merentek-Abram, then the executive director of the Assembly of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia, wrote in a collection of essays celebrating Rev. Hoff’s career. “He always put himself at the background in helping the schools.”

Rev. Hoff considered his tenure at Western Seminary as a great honor to carry on the legacy of the professors who prepared him for ministry. He earned a B.A. at Central College in Pella, Iowa, an M.Div. at Western, a Th.M. at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Doctorandus from the Theological University in Kampen, the Netherlands.

He also served as the stated clerk for the Holland Classis.

In retirement, he also enjoyed cheering on his favorite sports teams, whether it was the Bears, Bulls, and Cubs in Chicago or the Hope College football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball teams.

He and Joan also dedicated their time and energy with their grandchildren, attending countless concerts, sports games, theater productions, scouting events, and taking them to playgrounds, water parks, and sporting events. His grandchildren all share his enthusiasm for a good meal, especially the ice cream for dessert, and enjoyed his colorful commentary while watching sports on television.

Rev. Hoff is survived by his beloved wife, Joan; his daughters, Jean Hoff of Chevy Chase, Md. and Mary Hoff-Robinson and his son-in-law Hugh Robinson of Westmont, Ill.; his son, David Hoff and his daughter-in-law Sally Davis of Arlington, Va.; and six grandchildren, Gretchen “Rozie” Hoff, Carolyn Hoff, Jonah Davis-Hoff, Ian Davis-Hoff, Nate Robinson, and Bella Robinson; his brothers, Roger and Ron Hoff, and their wives, Diane and Sue; and five nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Arend and Mildred Hoff, and his beloved grandson, Isaac Wilkens Hoff.

The family is planning a memorial service on June 7 at 11 a.m. at the St. John Lutheran Church in Joliet, Ill., where Rev. Hoff lived until recently.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Reformed Church in America to support a new mission to support dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Ethiopia. Donations can be made at https://www.rca.org/give/ethiopia-john-hubers; please check the “in memory of” box. Checks can be sent to: Terri Boven, Finance Dept., Reformed Church in America, 4500 60th St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512. Please include “Marvin Hoff/John Hubers” in the subject line.

Former WTS President Marv Hoff (center) with the faculty in 1989.

The Henry Bast – Timothy Brown Preaching Chair

Many people have asked if there might be a way to honor Dr. Timothy Brown and the completion of his presidency with a gift. Yes, there is!

Our Board of Trustees has approved expanding the name of our preaching chair from the Henry Bast Preaching Chair to the Henry Bast – Timothy Brown Preaching Chair. The original name was established in the 1980s in honor of Dr. Henry Bast, former professor of preaching at the seminary.

Now is the time to honor both their legacies with a gift to fund the Henry Bast – Timothy Brown Preaching Chair. In so doing, you are giving future holders of the chair the resources to creatively build on the preaching foundation both Henry Bast and Timothy Brown have built.

Dr. Brown believes the Word of God is living and active and does not return empty, and he teaches his students how to preach through a process of dwelling in scripture and memorization. Quality preaching is a primary indicator of congregational health, and Dr. Brown has given 24 years of his life to that cause at Western.

You may donate online (choose “Bast-Brown Preaching Chair” from the drop down menu) or send a check made out to Western Theological Seminary (memo line: Bast-Brown Preaching Chair) to 101 E. 13th Street, Holland, MI 49423.

Thank you for impacting future generations of preachers!

by Jeff Munroe

Executive Vice President

I zoomed in 400% on the above picture of Dedication Day so I could see who was in it. I never imagined doing so would make me cry, but it did.

The tears welled up because of the stories of the people in the picture. On the top rung, in the middle of our excited students, is a friend bearing two kinds of cancer. Not far from her is another friend who has lost two sons. No one should have one kind of cancer, let alone two. No one should lose one son, let alone two. But there they are, standing and smiling, making the party complete by being there, and it made me cry. One of the young men from the Friendship House is not far from them. And there’s a student from Taiwan, another from Canada, and still another from Honduras shoulder to shoulder with a couple of students from Grand Rapids. The beauty of that choked me up, too.

You can’t miss Academic Dean Alvin Padilla in the middle of the photo, along with several of our faculty. Not far from Alvin is Vern Sterk—WTS alum, missionary, professor—who lives now in a wheelchair after a bike accident. Across the way is Gordon Laman, another WTS alum and missionary, who lives with such quiet dignity despite profound challenges to his eyesight. What good and faithful men Vern and Gordon are. On the other side I see two women I adore, both of whom are widows, and more tears came as I thought about the deft grace of their lives. Towards the back is a former board member who came from New Jersey just for the dedication, and not far from him is an alum who has been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. And then there’s Mary DeWitt, whose dear husband Jack died before this project was completed.

“There are no ordinary people,” C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory. “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” I see holiness abounding in this picture. Our new space has been sanctified by the sacred stories of those who blessed us with their presence on December 6, 2018. The new learning center is wonderful, and students love it. But no matter how beautiful, it’s just steel and wood and glass until holy people inhabit it. Thank God for the great cloud of witnesses that surround our students every day in that space.