Paramount, CA

What is a church when the building is closed? Emmanuel Reformed Church in Paramount, CA has multiple buildings and properties open 6 to 7 days a week. They use their buildings to provide spaces for worship, after school care, Celebrate Recovery, sports teams, food distribution, an art center, and to support families managing their finances. The buildings have been a significant part of their ministry but, due to the pandemic, they’ve had to close. 

Victor Luse, his wife, and young children had never gone inside an Emmanuel Paramount building, but last year they met the church on the street. In late November the family saw a group of people outside lighting a Christmas tree. They were singing in English and in Spanish, the Luse Family’s first language. The family stopped and watched. They met the pastor, Ken Korver, and made their first connection to this group of people striving to love God and their neighbors.   

Pastor Ken shared that people have been watching the outdoor services from their porches, alleyways, and even the car wash. A woman he’s never met posted on social media that listening to the choir music ringing through the neighborhood lifts her spirits. 

The buildings are not Emmanuel Paramount. What is a church when the building is closed? It is the people in the street who the Luse family and the rest of the neighborhood are now encountering right where they live.

If your congregation is ready to reimagine local mission, consider applying for the Churches in Mission Cohort hosted by Western Theological Seminary. Find more out more at westernsem.edu/churches-in-mission.

 

Compton, CA  

“If your church burned down today, would the neighborhood care?” This is the question Pastor Rafer Owens wrestled with shortly after Faith Inspirational Church was planted in 1995. He had lived his whole life in Compton, CA and Pastor Owens loved his neighborhood. At the time, his family name was most prominently linked to a gang created in the 1970s by his brother. Rafer hoped to change the legacy.

While his brother went to prison for murder, Pastor Owens became a Deputy Sheriff and, a decade later, a pastor as well. In 2006 his understanding of ministry shifted when Emmanuel Reformed Church, located nearby in Paramount, began service projects in Compton with a bold vision for the neighborhood. In his role as sheriff, Pastor Owens had the responsibility of showing up to Emmanuel Church’s first gathering in Compton. He didn’t anticipate the passion they shared for his neighborhood and the partnership between their congregations that would emerge.

Today, Pastor Owens and his church are working toward healing and redemption. After being released from prison, Rafer’s brother had a career as a bus driver and serves as an usher at Faith Inspirational Church. 

When Pastor Owens reflects on whether the neighborhood would care if his church burned down, he says, “If the neighborhood doesn’t care that means you’re not present in the neighborhood.” 

Now, they know every single person by name who lives on the six blocks that surround their church building. They regularly knock on doors and ask what people need. “Jesus met the need.” Pastor Owens reminds people, “Ninety percent of the time, Jesus was in the street. And then ten percent of the time he was in the synagogue. I tell people all the time, ‘We’re not Churchans. We’re Christians.’ We do what Christ did, that means ninety percent of the time we need to be outside.”

If your congregation is ready to reimagine local mission, consider applying for the Churches in Mission Cohort hosted by Western Theological Seminary. Find more out more today.

(Johnson City, TN)

Two years after losing her husband, single mom Amy* heard about a local church offering free oil changes. She and her husband were in debt before he died, and now, the stack of unpaid bills continued to grow. The trailer where she lived needed repairs. She couldn’t afford an oil change, so she went to the church, First Christian in east Tennessee.

 This is where she met Pastor Kathy Smith, the Community Outreach Director. Since then, widows and young moms like Amy have been energized by the now annual outreach event. Pastor Smith says the best part is the connections and conversations that take place between the women while their cars are given oil changes and looked over. They share a meal together and they share their stories.  

 When Pastor Smith considers the work that First Christian Church is called to do, she immediately thinks of Amy, showing up to that first oil change. Now, Amy is active in the congregation and frequently looking for ways to serve others. Through the relationships First Christian Church has built in local partnerships like these, the congregation continues to grow and be formed by the voices and presence of those they first set out to serve.   

If your congregation is ready to reimagine local mission, consider applying for the Churches in Mission Cohort hosted by Western Theological Seminary. Find more out more today.

*name changed to protect privacy

As you observe Advent this year, we invite you to join Words of Hope and Western Theological Seminary with daily devotionals on Advent and the spiritual act of waiting. Click here for daily devotionals during Advent, or search for “Words of Hope” wherever you get your podcasts!

ABOUT THE SERIES:

Waiting is an uncomfortable experience. At best, it can be painfully boring, and at worst it can be full of uncertainty and fear. It’s hard to wait for what we most desire. The longing and waiting of Advent became even more pronounced this year as we long and wait for vaccines and effective treatments for COVID-19. While we are uncertain of the pandemic’s full impact, we remain certain of our hope in Jesus Christ.

In our featured series, we invite you to think about waiting in a new way. The season of Advent is a season when we wait, not just for Christmas, but for Christ himself, and as we wait for Christ, we are invited into fruitful participation in God’s work in the world.

ABOUT THE WRITERS:

The “Gift of Waiting” is written by a group of faculty and staff from Western Theological Seminary:

Felix Theonugraha: President
Jeff Munroe: Retired Executive Vice President
Kristen Deede Johnson: Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Professor of Theology and Christian Formation
Andy Bast: Director of Development
Jill English: Director of Admissions
Chuck DeGroat: Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality
Gretchen Torres: Administrative Assistant for Master of Theology and Hispanic Ministry Programs, International Students Assistant, Receptionist
J. Todd Billings: Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology
Katlyn DeVries: Writing Assistant and Girod Assistant
Sue Rozeboom: Associate Professor of Liturgical Theology

The Words of Hope Podcast is written and produced by two time WTS graduate, Adam Navis (M.Div ’06, D.Min. ’16)

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.