ESPAÑOL (Scroll down for English)

El lunes el 18 de abril a las 6:00-9:00 p.m., Western Theological Seminary y el Instituto Bíblico Ebenezer (IBE) están patrocinando una conferencia sobre la violencia doméstica. La conferencia se llevará a cabo en Western Theological Seminary y se presentará en español.

740d56510108e4a928d9f4bb54d51d7e_f1813IBE es un instituto de formación teológica hispana , con sede en Chicago y es administrado en Holland por la estudiante de WTS Gretchen Torres. Desde octubre de 2014, WTS ha sido la sede del instituto, la cual ofrece las clases cada lunes por la noche para más de 30 pastores latinos locales.

La violencia doméstica ha sido un problema social por generaciones. Existen familias en las Iglesias que sufren de violencia doméstica. Algunos pastores y líderes de la iglesia tienen dificultad para responder a este problema o fallan en su intento de proveer el cuidado pastoral que desesperadamente buscan las víctimas debido a prejuicios, mitos, ideas erróneas y falta de educación sobre el tema.

Esta conferencia presentará prácticas pastorales que comunican y promueven las promesas que forman parte del concepto teológico del reino de Dios. Los participantes aprenderán maneras efectivas de responder a la violencia doméstica por medio de un ministerio informado, esforzado y sensible que transmite fortaleza para responder a este problema.

Rev. Dr. Castillo Portugal sostiene que el ministerio del cuidado pastoral no solamente involucra a los líderes de la iglesia sino también a todos los miembros de la congregación. En su opinión, “La iglesia permanece activa en el mundo cuando sus miembros comparten tanto alegrías como tristezas y practican el ministerio del cuidado pastoral con quienes lo necesitan.”

Rev. Dr. Dynna E. Castillo Portugal es profesora invitada en Western Theological Seminary. Es profesora adjunta en las áreas de cuidado pastoral y liderazgo educativo en Luther Seminary y Bethel University (ambos en St. Paul, MN). Terminó sus estudios de Ph.D. en cuidado pastoral en Luther Seminary en el 2014. Su disertación se enfocó en el ministerio a mujeres víctimas de violencia doméstica en México. La Dra. Castillo Portugal es ministro ordenado del Templo Evangélico Getsemaní en la ciudad de México.

No se requiere inscripción (registro).



On Monday April 18 from 6:00-9:00 p.m., Western Theological Seminary and Instituto Bíblico Ebenezer (IBE) will be co-sponsoring a conference on domestic violence. The conference will be held at Western Theological Seminary and will be presented in Spanish.IBE is a Hispanic theological training institute, headquartered in Chicago and administered in Holland by WTS student Gretchen Torres. Since October 2014, WTS has hosted the institute, which holds classes each Monday night for more than 30 local Latino pastors.

a9329a9f05ca14ffad44e5b0398b5439_f1811Domestic violence has been a social problem for generations. Families in the church also struggle with it. Some pastors, church leaders, and caregivers struggle or fail to provide the pastoral care that victims desperately need due to misunderstandings, prejudices, assumptions, myths, and lack of education on this issue.

This conference will introduce faithful practices that communicate and promote the promises embedded in the theological concept of the kingdom of God. Participants will also learn effective practices that convey sensitive, educated, courageous, empowering, and strengthening ministry in response to domestic violence.

Rev. Dr. Castillo Portugal believes that pastoral care is not just the ministry of the church leaders, but also of the congregation.“It is sharing both in sorrow and joy,” she says. “When the church is active in the world, pastoral care and counseling is part of the ministry that the church offers to those in need.”

Rev. Dr. Dynna E. Castillo Portugal is a faculty fellow at Western Theological Seminary. She serves as adjunct instructor in the areas of pastoral care and educational leadership at Luther Seminary and Bethel University (both in St. Paul, MN). She completed her Ph.D. in pastoral care and counseling at Luther Seminary in 2014, with her dissertation focusing on ministering to victims of domestic violence in Mexico. Dr. Castillo Portugal is an ordained minister in the Gethsemane Evangelical Church (Mexico City) and has served there as an associate pastor.

No registration needed.



Marcia Bosma, a first year M.Div. student at Western Theological Seminary, is one of 12 seminary and divinity school students chosen by FASPE (Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics) to participate in a two-week program in Europe this summer that uses the conduct of the clergy in Nazi Germany as a launching point for an intensive course of study on ethical issues facing religious leaders today.

FASPE is an innovative international program for students in five professional disciplines (business, journalism, law, medicine, and religion) designed to address contemporary ethical issues in their chosen fields through a unique historical lens.

“I am honored and excited to engage with the FASPE seminary fellows in interfaith dialogue,” Marcia says. “I also hope to be equipped to wisely and effectively speak truth into the different ethical issues of our day in light of the lessons learned from the Holocaust and the roles clergy played during that time.”

FASPE is predicated upon the power of place, and in particular, the first-hand experience of visiting Auschwitz and other historic sites associated with the Holocaust, where Fellows consider how to apply the lessons of history to the ethical challenges they will confront in their professions.

Pre-World War II professionals in Germany were known and respected internationally. Yet, leaders and practitioners in the professions played a fundamental role in designing, implementing, and enabling the crimes of Nazi Germany. FASPE examines the roles played by professionals in business, journalism, law, medicine, and the clergy in Nazi Germany, underscoring that the moral codes governing these essential professions can break down or be distorted with devastating consequences.

Over the course of 12 days, Marcia will attend lectures and participate in seminars run by leading scholars. The program integrates historical, cultural, philosophical, and literary sources; survivor testimony; and workshops in Berlin, Auschwitz, and Krakow.

FASPE_logoThe 2016 FASPE Seminary program will be led by Rabbi James Ponet, the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale University, and Father Kevin Spicer, the James J. Kenneally Distinguished Professor of History at Stonehill College and author of several publications on the role of Christian clergy in Nazi Germany.

Marcia joins a group of 63 FASPE Fellows who represent a broad range of religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds, and who were chosen through a competitive process that drew over 700 applicants from around the world.

Marcia, who holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Calvin College and a master’s in nursing from Seattle Pacific University, worked as a nurse for 13 years prior to deciding to enter the ministry. Her work providing foster care for a Muslim teenager from Pakistan led her to develop a keen interest in interfaith dialogue.

FASPE Seminary Fellows, along with the Medical Fellows, will begin their program in Berlin on Sunday, June 19, 2016. In Berlin, the program includes museum visits, meeting with a Holocaust survivor, and attending educational workshops at the House of the Wannsee Conference, the site where representatives of State and Nazi Party agencies convened in 1942 to discuss and coordinate plans for the Nazis’ “Final Solution.”


The Fellows then travel to Oświęcim, Poland, the town the Germans called Auschwitz, where they will work with the distinguished educational staff at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Sessions devoted to contemporary ethics will take place in seminar rooms at Auschwitz and at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities. The final leg of the trip will be held in Krakow, Poland, where Fellows will explore the city’s rich Catholic, Jewish, and Polish history.

After the program, each Fellow will submit a final written essay focused on a contemporary ethical issue of his or her choice. Select essays will be published in the annual FASPE Journal, which showcases essays in all five disciplines.

“FASPE is committed to a long-term relationship with Fellows in order to sustain the ideas raised during the program. FASPE fosters an active network of alumni and provides a variety of opportunities for Fellows to exchange ideas and to meet to continue the dialogue started during our trips as they move forward in their careers,” said Thorin R. Tritter, FASPE’s Managing Director.



FASPE works in cooperation with the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, New York City; Jagiellonian University, Krakow; House of the Wannsee Conference, Berlin; and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Oświęcim, Poland. To view a video about FASPE, visit

Lead support for FASPE is provided by C. David Goldman, Frederick and Margaret Marino, and the Eder Family Foundation. FASPE is also supported by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and other generous donors.




Melissa Conner

Friendship House Director


Friendship House Director Melissa Conner has been intentionally ministering to and with people with disabilities for many years, along with her husband, Dr. Ben Conner, associate professor of Christian discipleship at WTS.

Melissa’s passion for those with disabilities began early in their marriage. While Ben worked as a youth pastor and later as a staff member with Young Life in Williamsburg, VA, Melissa worked alongside him as a partner in ministry.

“In Ben’s first job 25 years ago, we had a boy in our youth group with a cognitive impairment,” she recalls. “We loved him as best we could, but we really had no clue how to include him or involve him. There was no training.”

As she got involved in the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) ministry at her church, Melissa heard more about the struggles of kids with disabilities. When her own son needed therapy, her eyes opened further.

In 2005, Melissa earned therapeutic riding certification through PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). Therapeutic riding combined her care for people with disabilities with her life-long love of horses.

“I began to see horses as a partner in serving people. I had never seen them in that light before,” she says.

While Melissa worked at the riding center, Ben worked on the staff of Young Life Capernaum—the branch of Young Life specifically catered towards youth with disabilities.

“He volunteered at the riding center and I volunteered with Capernaum, doing things together as much as possible,” she explains. “We tried to create a community and encourage friendships to extend beyond the isolation felt by a lot of families with disabilities.”

As they interacted with families, Melissa learned that as children with disabilities grow to be adults, often there are fewer avenues for recreation and for friendship. Even churches were not meeting needs of that community.

“That’s when I was compelled to purposely reach out to that population,” she says. “They have the same needs to be cared for in the context of a relationship, with someone they trust, with someone who takes the time to get to know them. They deserve the same chance to be a part of the church, the community of believers, and to grow in their faith. But they need to be reached in a way they can understand and that makes them feel safe.”

The Conners also realized that communities and churches were missing out by not including those with disabilities.

“We felt so blessed by them. Whether someone had a physical or cognitive impairment, they had a unique perspective, friendship and something to give,” Melissa explains. “We were greatly enriched by having people of different abilities in our lives and in our home.”

When the Conners moved to Holland in 2013 for Ben to teach at WTS, they immediately looked for ways to serve the disabled community.FH_Group_1_web

Melissa began serving at Renew Therapeutic Riding center, conveniently located across the street from her home. During her time there, the number of riders has more than doubled, the volunteer base has grown, and a capital campaign was launched and successfully completed. They now have an indoor heated arena and barn for year-round riding, as well as a hydraulic lift for those in wheelchairs or in need of extra physical support.

She also serves on PATH International’s faculty as a lead evaluator and chairs the Riding Certification subcommittee.

In the fall of 2014, WTS hired Melissa to direct the Ralph and Cheryl Schregardus Friendship House, the on-campus residence where seminary students live in apartments with young adults with cognitive impairments.

Last fall, Melissa was invited to join the Friendship House Partners USA board of directors. The non-profit started by Western’s former Dean of Formation, Dr. Matt Floding, helps to spread and implement the model of Friendship House to other communities.

In the past year, Melissa has visited two new Friendship Houses, one at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, TN and the other at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC.

The Friendship House at Vanderbilt is spearheaded by former WTS professor Jaco Hamman. The model of their Friendship House is a little different because the apartments are all one-bedroom and the complex is not on the campus of Vanderbilt. A married couple serves as resident directors to promote community and inclusive living within the house.

At Duke Divinity School, the model is similar to the Friendship House at Western. There are two duplexes, one for men and one for women. The apartments are set up so each friend has a personal room and bathroom, and the three roommates have their own bedrooms and a bathroom to share.

“There is interest in this type of model on many different levels,” Melissa shares. “I get phone calls from people quite regularly. It’s an innovative way of living.”

She is excited for the Ralph and Cheryl Schregardus Friendship House to be featured during this year’s Summer Institute on Theology & Disability in May, and she also plans to enroll in Western’s new Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry program.

“I love that Western is creating this new program. I think it is so important, and I want to be able to promote it and learn from it myself,” she says.

Kyle Meyaard Schaap



Written by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap

M.Div. Middler




It was the first Sunday in Advent, and I was waiting. Waiting for my plane from Budapest to Beauvais, France. Waiting for my bus to take me from Beauvais to Paris. Waiting for the metros and shuttles to take me to the venue where I could pick up my credentials. Waiting for my train to the village north of Paris where I could finally drop off my luggage and unpack.
UN-image1It was the first Sunday in Advent, and I spent the whole day waiting. I was on my way to the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris, where representatives and heads of state from 190 countries would gather to reach consensus on a way to address the challenge of global climate change. I was going there wearing two hats. The first was as a representative of an organization called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA), for which I sit on the steering committee. The second was in my official capacity as a staff member of the Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA).

I have served as Creation Care Coordinator at the CRCNA for almost three years and have continued on a part-time basis while I take a full-time course load at Western. It has been a wonderful fit, enabling me to apply my biblical and theological learning to the tasks of empowering CRC congregations to incorporate an appreciation for creation into their worship, of educating them to be stewards of creation in their everyday lives, and of equipping them to turn their worship and appreciation outward by advocating for environmental stewardship at the local, regional, and national level.

It’s no secret that the conversation around climate change in the U.S. has become deeply polarized, but I’m convinced that, as Christians, this cannot be a good excuse to opt out of it altogether. As predictions of the earth’s future get more and more precise, and as the most vulnerable around the world suffer the effects of a changing climate most acutely, our dual divine mandate to be caretakers of God’s creation and lovers of our neighbor demands that we stand up and participate in the global conversation.


That’s exactly what we were doing in Paris. We had worked for months to organize over 200 CRC members in 35 congregations in the U.S. and Canada to get plugged in to what was happening in Paris. We sent a small delegation of CRC staff and lay members (led by myself and my colleague) to participate in the negotiations, to communicate back to our churches, and to provide a public witness to the watching world that the Christian church does care about climate change and was ready to do something about it.

Our days at the conference were full: writing daily newsletters to our 200+ supporters back home, meeting with other Christian and faith-based groups to discuss strategy, sitting in on negotiating sessions, meeting with U.S. and Canadian negotiating teams, maintaining a social media presence and writing for various blogs.

In the end, the world walked away with a relatively ambitious agreement on a common path forward for addressing a changing
UN-controlroomUSA climate and protecting those around the world whose livelihoods are most threatened.

I’ve often reflected upon the symbolism and fittingness of COP21 taking place during Advent, and my experience on that first Sunday underscored this. I was in Paris because I am waiting; because the world is waiting. Young people are waiting for effective, global steps that will protect the future of our generation and of those to come. Poor and vulnerable nations are waiting for collective action that can help ensure the survival of their people and their land. And while important progress was made in Paris, the church steadfastly proclaims that the ultimate hope of the world’s waiting is not rooted in bureaucratic legalese or governmental announcements; it is in the incarnate Lord of all creation. Precisely because Christ took on the suffering of the world in order to redeem it, the world has hope in the midst of its waiting. This is why the church waits, during Advent and from now until the new creation. We wait because there is something coming worth waiting for. We wait in hope and we wait in action.

We wait in hope for the return of the One in whom all our waiting rests.

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by Taylor Holbrook ‘86

Lead Pastor

Hopewell Reformed Church

Hopewell Junction, NY


I have been preaching pretty much every Sunday since I graduated from Western in 1986. After so many years, preaching no longer scared me…and that scared me. Recently, two events—a cataclysmic automobile accident involving my son and an unexpected invitation to join a group of preachers—revived my passion for preaching.

In the summer of 2013, my son Andrew, a Hope College student, suffered a traumatic brain injury in an automobile accident that killed his friend, who was driving. Medics removed Andrew from the accident in critical condition. Initially, our prayer was that he would live. As that became likely, we prayed that he would open his eyes and wake up from a coma. Then we prayed for what would be behind his eyes when he opened them. The prognosis was bleak.

After emerging from a sixteen-day coma, Andrew learned how to breathe, speak, eat, walk and live again. It was a time of great challenge and amazing blessing. The church displayed all its glory as people prayed and loved and walked with us through the valley of the shadow of death. I had been on sabbatical at the time of the accident, and I returned to the pulpit with a new sense of the urgency of the gospel. I did not want anybody to live or to die without the hope of Jesus Christ.Taylor&Andrew small.jpg

My original call to ministry came in the early 1980s when I was working as a bartender in Colorado among some of the most lost and lonely people in the world. As I served and poured and listened, God called, and I entered seminary with a strong passion for evangelism, compelled to learn how to reach the lost and lonely. But something happened in twenty-nine years of church ministry. I became comfortable and lost some of that evangelistic drive. Andrew’s accident and a deep awareness of all who grieve without hope restored my passion.

About that time, Jon Brown and Brian Keepers, two of the great young preachers in the Reformed Church in America, invited me to join one of Western’s Bast Preaching Groups. I figured they wanted me to bring an older pastor’s perspective and experience. I had no idea what was in store for me: an opportunity to learn (and sometimes to unlearn) and get out of some deep ruts. As I gathered with pastor colleagues, I rediscovered the hopes and fears inherent when one steps into the pulpit. It was thrilling.

Our first focus as a group was to dwell in the word. Western, under the leadership of Dr. Timothy Brown, has become a place where the interiorization of a biblical text is the beginning of sermon preparation. Our group committed to memorizing our texts each Sunday. I was preaching through a series titled, “Psalms in the Key of Life.” These were psalms that lifted me through my son’s automobile accident and were rooted in my soul. The work of memorization and speaking them from memory deepened their place in my heart.

For 29 years I approached preaching as a way to exegete culture and brought the Bible to front-page stories from the New York Times or prime-time television. Now, instead of bringing scripture to something, I dwell in the word of God first. This practice brings me to a place I knew I should have been all along. It was a gift to this old dog that congregants noticed right away. In fact, one trusted friend noted the shift and commented, “Something has happened in your preaching. You really seem to be tapping into the power of God.”

Next, the Dwell group focused on craft: how a sermon is developed and written. I have always resisted writing a sermon manuscript and never committed anything to paper until the last minute. Over the years I’ve had a lot of “Saturday night sweats” and sometimes gave Sunday morning messages that expressed great passion but lacked clarity.

I remember seminary debates with Dr. James Cook, professor of New Testament, as I argued that I was better speaking my thoughts rather than writing them. He countered, “If you can’t write it, you aren’t thinking it,” and I disagreed with him for 29 years. Then our group met with Isaac Anderson, a preacher and writer from Kansas City and adjunct professor at Western. As Isaac illustrated his sermon preparation process, I recalled my debate with Dr. Cook. Isaac described a sign above his desk that says: I didn’t know I was going to write that. That simple phrase invited me into the wonder of manuscript writing, from the power of the first phrase to the clarity of its conclusion. I let the Holy Spirit work in me as my words began to flow. Again, a good friend noticed and said a sermon that opened with an attention-grabbing question had been well-crafted.

We recently welcomed twenty new members into the life of Hopewell Reformed Church. I was so pleased that some of the new members transitioned from an AA group in the fellowship hall to worship in the sanctuary. As I experienced the joy in their journeys, I remembered friends from my Colorado bartending days and why God called me to seminary in the first place. My son’s accident scared the life back into my preaching, and my Dwell Group experience refined my craft, teaching this old dog some new tricks.


For more information on Bast Preaching Groups, visit

Theology degrees at Western Theological Seminary prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of ministry in today’s world.

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Sergio Reyes

M.Div. Middler

Photos by Jeremy Bork


Traveling to the Arizona/Mexico border for an intercultural immersion trip in January hit close to home for M.Div. student Sergio Reyes.

Sergio escaped to the United States when he was 11 years old. Taking nothing but a change of clothes and his favorite toy, he fled his home in Mexico City with his mother, brother and sister soon after his father, a journalist, was murdered.

“Reporters are a threat to corruption because they stand up to it,” Sergio explains.

Stories like Sergio’s are not uncommon among immigrant families—something dramatic happens, causing an urgent need to move away from their home to find a safer one elsewhere.

Sergio’s family was able to get visitor visas fairly easily, especially since his mother was a career nurse. Eventually they received permanent status as resident aliens, meaning they had all the rights of a citizen except the right to vote.Borderlands-fence2016 small.jpg

After finishing school, Sergio started a small business making tacos. In 2001, he got married and started a family. He then joined the Army, serving in a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo before taking part in one of the first units deployed to the Iraq War. He earned his full American citizenship in 2003.

In 2008, tragedy struck. Sergio’s wife was in a terrible auto accident, putting her in a coma. She was permanently brain damaged and remains at a long care facility with little hope of recovery.

Because of the difficulty of being a single parent in the Army, Sergio completed his 9 1/2 year enlistment and got out. Knowing he needed help processing both the psychological trauma of war and the complete incapacitation of his wife led him into the church.

“That’s where you go when you want to get your life straight, right?” he says.

Sergio found that volunteering, serving God and studying the Bible gave meaning to his life again. He decided to enter seminary, earning a Graduate Certificate in Urban Pastoral Ministry in 2015. Feeling the call of God to be a pastor, he returned last fall to enroll in the Master of Divinity program.Borderlands-trail2016 small.jpg

Part of the formation process at WTS is an intercultural immersion trip for all M.Div. students. Sergio chose to go on the BorderLinks trip, which allows students to meet with pastors and non-profits who are serving undocumented immigrants and their families on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Students also meet detainees at a detention center and hear their stories.

“What’s going on at the border is horrible right now,” Sergio says. “Putting names and faces to the problem impacted me very much.”

He met a young man named Dario who was attending the University of Arizona as an undocumented immigrant. There is no federal aid for people like Dario, and yet somehow he managed to find some fringe scholarships.

“Dario lives in a world where he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next week or next year,” Sergio says. “He has parents who are educated, pushing him to go through college and supporting him, but he realizes other people don’t have that.”

As a result, Dario and some friends created an organization to put together scholarships for other students like themselves.

Learning about Dario’s story and the stories of others made Sergio realize his own privilege and what responsibility he has to help others.

As Sergio interacted with people at the border, he was taken aback to hear the hostility expressed on the issue of immigration and the rhetoric used.

“People at the detention center see those crossing the border as criminals, terrorists, drug dealers,” he says. “Yet, on the flipside, I was encouraged to witness the work God is doing. In spite of the big wall, there is a circle of community around it.”

There are people working to put water in the desert so those crossing don’t die from dehydration. Others have set up a tent with medical supplies. Churches have declared themselves sanctuaries and have housed people in their buildings to protect them.Borderlands-Sergio-road small.jpg

“At the border you have people who are the most vulnerable in this situation—people like myself who have left home for safety or who just want a better life and want to work,” Sergio explains. “Around those you have the drug dealers and cartels, and on this side of the border our justice system has an industry of jailing and deporting immigrants. A town in Arizona called Florence has three big detention centers, and that’s all the town is.”

For Sergio, the hardest part about the trip is what to do with it now that he’s home.

“When I am a pastor, I would love to be in a church where people understand what it means to stand by someone as a sanctuary.”

“I would tell everyone to go on a trip like this,” he says. “It’s necessary whether you’re white, black, or Mexican. Latinos are everywhere, but we don’t understand the issues they face, and this is a fundamental piece for a pastor to go through.”

Sergio is already working towards reconciliation in the Holland Latino community. Because “Latino” is a broad term that covers different countries, generations, and documented vs. undocumented, there can be a lack of unity. Sergio has created an organization called Uno en Cristo (One in Christ) to help unify these groups.

He is also working to reconcile Latinos with the majority culture in Holland by empowering and connecting the Latino community through jobs and education in a non-profit called Cultivate Holland.

Sergio sees himself as an asset to the Latino community. He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, but he will do whatever he can to connect people to the things they need and to point them to the ultimate sanctuary: faith in Jesus Christ.

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Dr. Ben Conner

conner-ben.pngDr. Ben Conner, Associate Professor of Christian Discipleship, is spending his sabbatical developing courses for the new Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry (GCDM), particularly the introductory course, “Introduction to Disability and the Church,” and a course related to Friendship House entitled, “Living into Community: Friendship House.”

He will also travel to develop partnerships and recruit students for the new Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry.  He has already encountered much interest and will be following up on those leads.

Dr. Conner will work with Hope College to host the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability on May 23-26. WTS has the opportunity to lead a morning plenary session on how working with people with disabilities is transforming our understanding of theological education.

Finally, Dr. Conner is writing a book for IVP Academic that brings together his interests in disability and mission studies entitled Enabling Witness.

“For the project to be successful, I will need to include the voices of persons with disabilities–consequently, I am initiating and growing in relationships with people with all kinds of disabilities,” he explains. “As a result of this interaction, I am expanding my understanding of the Gospel as I learn about Deaf ways of communicating and relating, disabled understandings of embodiment, challenging normate and ableist biases, and considering how to share in faith with people with significant intellectual disabilities.”


Dr. Suzanne McDonald

lr-Suzanne-McDonald 2014.jpgDr. Suzanne McDonald, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, has a number of speaking engagements, ranging from giving the keynote talk at the annual convocation of the Reformed Institute of Metropolitan Washington to speaking at the Kuiper Seminar for new faculty and staff at Calvin College, helping them to think about the doctrine of election. She will be preparing to give three talks at Covenant College, Georgia, in the Fall for their annual Reformation Day lecture series. This is the first time a woman has been invited to present these lectures.

Dr. McDonald will also present at several churches on ‘Dealing Faithfully with Dementia’ – giving pastors and congregation members some theological and pastoral resources for ministering to people with dementia and those who care for them.

She is finishing up a couple of essays on the doctrine of election and on John Owen’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit and is hoping to map out some ideas for her next major writing project.

She is excited about researching and writing two new courses for the coming academic year. One will be on aging and dementia for the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry. In this course, students will consider how they can walk well with and learn from those who are in the last stage of their earthly lives, and also explore theological and pastoral resources for dealing faithfully with those who suffer from dementia and those who care for them.

The other course will be about the doctrine of creation and “creation care” with a view to helping students to think wisely with scripture and the theological tradition and to explore the kinds of steps that they can take as individuals and in various ministry contexts to act well toward the rest of creation.

“These courses are about issues that are close to my heart, and I’m planning both courses to be a mixture of strong theological and biblical reflection, with guest speakers and maybe some field trips to help us to find hands-on ways to live better into our callings in these areas,” she shares.

The Osterhaven Lecture Series on Theology

February 15-16, 2016

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Katherine Sonderegger
Western Theological Seminary
Mulder Chapel
*This event is open to the public. No registration is necessary*
Monday 1:30 pm
“Mere Monotheism”
Monday 7:30 pm
“The One Triune LORD”
Tuesday 9:40am
WTS Chapel service
Tuesday 1:30 pm
“The Mission of the Divine Son”
The Rev. Dr. Katherine Sonderegger
William Meade Chair in Systematic Theology
Virginia Theological Seminary

In the first volume of Kate Sonderegger’s new Systematic Theology, she observes that “modern Christian theology has shown an allergy to questions about Deity—what God is.

While some modern theologians depict the renewed emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity as the victory of scripture over philosophy, Dr. Sonderegger points to the priority of divine oneness in scripture. There is nothing more scriptural, she observes, than monotheism.

The Rev. Dr. Sonderegger is a priest in the Episcopalian church. She joined the VTS faculty in 2002. Prior to that, she served on faculties at Middlebury College and Bangor Theological Seminary. She is the author of That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew: Karl Barth’s “Doctrine of Israel.”

Dr. Sonderegger is a member of the American Academy of Religion, Kampen-Princeton Barth Consultation, Karl Barth Society of North America; American Theological Society, Society for the Study of Theology, and since 2004 has been the co-chair for the Reformed Theology executive committee.     

She completed her Ph.D. at Brown University in 1990. She previously earned a D.Min. and STM from Yale and an A.B. in medieval studies from Smith College.

Watch the Lectures:

by Jeff Munroe, Vice President of Operations and AdvancementSometimes I feel like I wear as many hats as a hat rack. I have the privilege of being involved in lots of different aspects of Western—from fundraising to continuing education to admissions. One of the hats I most enjoy putting on is implementing the seminary’s strategic plan.I don’t expect all of you to be well versed in the plan. If you are a strategic plan geek like me, you can see the whole kit and caboodle here.There are five different areas of emphasis to the plan and 29 separate goals under the five headings. Although I love to expound at length about each part of the plan, today I want to emphasize one aspect: “Facility Expansion and Renovation for Living into the Vision.” There are two parts of that title I want to unpack. Let me start with the second first.By using the phrase, “Living into the Vision,” we are reminding ourselves that buildings are here to serve the mission and vision of the seminary. We won’t build for the sake of building; we’ll build for the sake of our students. Here’s an example of how this plays out: as you know, Western has made a strong commitment by launching the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry. It is incongruent, then, for us to have entrances and other parts of the building that are inaccessible. We can’t have our buildings saying different things than our curriculum.

There is no doubt our facilities need attention. The main part of our building, created (just like me) when Dwight Eisenhower was President, has multiple heating and cooling issues, is not energy efficient, and in many places is just plain worn out. While that is true, we have even more pressing needs with a newer part of our building. The tower that holds the Cook Center for Theological Research and Beardslee Library has problems. The building opened in 1981, just before the digital technology explosion. Think of it—when that building debuted no one had a personal computer, cell phone, Kindle or iPad, and no one had heard of email or the Internet. Since our library was built, a technological revolution occurred in the way we access information.Library-rain4-July13-2015 web

It gets worse. Within a few years of opening, we began to have water issues in the building. It began flooding after heavy rains. The flooding eventually caused the seminary to stop using the building’s basement. That space, which was originally designed with observation laboratories for teaching pastoral counseling, has been abandoned. Throughout the building, moisture not only comes in through the ceilings and windows, it comes straight through the brick exterior. It is impossible to keep the building humidified in the winter and dehumidified in the summer.

Eleven years ago some of the brick facade of the building started splitting. The problem was rust on the steel frame behind the bricks, which was forcing the bricks apart. We spent $100,000 back then fixing the problem. This year we have learned the entire steel frame of the building is coated with rust. To fix that would involve removing every brick on the tower and cost over one million dollars. Even if we did that, there is another issue that would need to be addressed to continue to use the building. The mechanical systems that are housed on top of the tower provide HVAC for the entire seminary and need to be replaced. We need 13.5 feet between each floor to have adequate space for the ductwork that a new mechanical system requires. We have 12 feet of space between each floor.

As a result of these realities, the seminary’s board of trustees has instructed us to develop a plan for a new learning center/library that does not renovate the existing tower but replaces it. Our plan is that sometime in the not-too-distant future the library tower will come down.

For several months, a team of seminary faculty, staff, and board members has been working to prioritize and balance the need to replace our existing library with the pressing needs of the older parts of our facilities. We’ve been working with an architectural firm and construction company as we sort this all out. At the same time, President Brown and I have been working with our development staff and a consulting firm doing feasibility on a capital campaign to support not only our building needs but all parts of our strategic plan.

We’re not ready yet to go public with either our building plans or our campaign goals. In other words, to keep with the opening image of this article, keep your hat on. Stay tuned to future issues of The Commons for more information. And please, as always, pray for your seminary as we figure out the best ways to move forward.

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id-ThM-Kyome-GodfreyMaster of Theology student Rev. Godfrey Kyome has lived on the streets of Uganda, has worked at a home for blind youth, was ordained in the Anglican church, and now serves as the assistant executive director for Words of Hope Uganda radio ministry.

“My life has witnessed the grace, presence, and providence of the Lord,” says Godfrey.

Godfrey’s father was a hard man and mistreated his mother. Rather than stay under his father’s roof, 12-year-old Godfrey took to the street shortly after primary school.

One night he ended up sleeping on a church pew. When he woke up, people had filled the church and were worshipping. He immediately sat up, thinking, “I should be worshipping, too, not sleeping!” He began spending his days looking for churches to be part of.

“Life on the street away from my family was a time that God used to prepare me for my ministry,” he observes. “Like a prodigal son, the time came when I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be living this kind of life.’”

Eventually he moved in with an aunt who encouraged him to go back to school.

Secondary school was a turning point for Godfrey. As a teenager, he began organizing small-scale mission projects in different schools and found local pastors interested in discipling young people. One of those pastors was Bishop Stephen Kaziimba (Th.M. ’03, D.Min. ’07). Rev. Dr. Kaziimba became a mentor for Godfrey, along with Captain Titus Baraka (Th.M. ’02).

“They are always helping insignificant people see the gifts they can use in the community and the church,” he says.

Godfrey went on to Uganda Christian University, where he earned a bachelors degree in social work and administration.

When he was on the street, in desperate times he had bargained with God, promising to serve him if he would answer his prayers. When he got his degree in social work, he followed his passion to work with disabled youth and volunteered at a home for the blind. He thought, “This is what I’m going to do. It’s enough for God.” But God convicted him that he had made a pledge to serve Him, leading Godfrey to complete a Master of Divinity degree in Uganda and seek ordination in the Anglican church.

Many of Godfrey’s mentors came through Western Theological Seminary, and it became a dream for him to study here as well. Last year WTS President Timothy Brown and Words of Hope President David Bast took a trip to Uganda, and Godfrey was their interpreter. He applied for the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program and was accepted.

“Being here is a dream come true,” he says. “It’s a confirmation of what God wants me to do in Uganda.”

Godfrey’s research centers on congregational transformation through leadership. He is interested in how a leader can use teamwork to transform his or her community by recognizing and using different gifts, talents, and abilities in the congregation.

“I believe if all people are given an opportunity to participate in church or in ministry, there will always be a tremendous transformation,” he says.

His current work as assistant executive director of Words of Hope Uganda allows him to connect people and help them work together. He organizes Words of Hope’s radio ministry in the country’s fifteen dioceses to make sure they are airing quality material. On his radio program on Saturday mornings he records sermons for them to use. He also organizes listener’s conferences for those who wish to share their testimonies.

He attributes much of his success to his mother, who prayed for him from the time he was a boy.

“I remember nights when I was sleeping… she would put her hands on me and pray for me, and I kept pushing them away because they were so cold!” he recalls. “But I am what I am because of the knees of that woman.”

Godfrey is thoroughly enjoying his time at WTS.

“It’s such an encouraging environment as I meet people from different areas of the world, like India and China,” he says. “We share ideas in the Th.M. program, and I have learned so many things that are happening in the church around the world.”

The program is also helping him to look inward and know himself more deeply.

“You think wide. You think like a scholar. And I believe a good pastor should be a scholar,” he says. “By God’s grace, when I go back I would love to have a leadership conference, especially in the Mityana diocese, where we have a low level of education,” he says. “I want to see how we can equip them with this kind of knowledge in leadership and discipleship, but also how I can advance our ministry doing discipleship through media. Whatever God brings my way, I will do it for the glory of the Kingdom.”