On March 1, The Most Reverend Dr. Stephen Kaziimba became the the 9th Archbishop of the Church of Uganda at Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala, Uganda. More than 3,000 people attended the colorful ceremony, including the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni.

Dr. Kaziimba is a two-time graduate of Western Theological Seminary, having earned a Master of Theology degree in 2003 and a Doctor of Ministry degree in 2007.

At the invitation of Dr. Kaziimba, President Felix Theonugraha traveled to Uganda to join in the celebration, along with his wife, Esther, Dr. David Komline, and Andy Bast. There they reunited with several WTS alumni, learned about their important work, and visited Uganda Christian University to explore opportunities for collaboration, cooperation, and mutual learning.

Staff welcome back DL student Chris Godfredsen to campus, October, 2017.

by M.Div. Student Chris Godfredsen

I remember back in 2015 sitting in the WTS Admissions office telling the director at that time, Mark Poppen, that the reason I was applying was because I wanted to learn, but “I don’t really need seminary to change me.”  

Well…I’ll admit it. Five years later, I am not the same person who had that conversation with Mark. I am a healthier leader, I’m more curious, and I am so thankful for the experience of attending Western.

As part of the distance learning Master of Divinity program, students are required to go to campus for a week in the spring and fall, which is called intensives. The first intensive week was a seminary-altering experience for many of us. 

Rev. Dr. Chad Pierce was our Greek professor (I contend that God knew I would not have made it through Greek without Chad). During that intensive we translated sentence after sentence together, which led to a handful of us meeting over Zoom to continue that practice online. We logged in at 9 p.m. every Thursday the rest of the year and did the same thing when we took Hebrew and needed support from each other to learn that language. We studied together, lamented the load, and through it all, life-long relationships formed. One of us lost a mother during that time, so we were able to provide love and care, even via distance, through this practice. Any initial doubt I may have had about the effectiveness of an education delivered mostly online dissolved.

Another requirement of the M.Div. program is to go on an intercultural immersion trip. I chose to engage in a trip to the Borderlands—the U.S./Mexico border between Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. 

Our hosts at Frontera de Cristo led us on a journey to taste and see what life on the border is like for border patrol and for migrants desperate to get to the USA for safety and opportunity. We learned of the ways ministries were working to save lives of migrants who had tried to get across the border but had been deported, and of others who were thinking of ways to provide jobs and opportunities to stay in Mexico and live good lives there. 

Each morning when I enjoy a cup of coffee in my kitchen, I recall that trip and the coffee roasting cooperative that Frontera de Cristo started (justcoffee.org). When I purchase from them, I know I am supporting much more than just coffee! I may not be called to work at the border, but I can do my part to help those who are. The trip taught me how interconnected we all are and how much we need each other.

As this five-year distance learning journey winds down, there are many reasons I am grateful for the decision I made to enter seminary. Professors challenged me to own what I believe to be true. I learned from fellow students on the online discussion boards, and I even tried on some new ways of thinking in the process.  They were all pretty gracious with me as I explored my faith and the reasons I have for believing what I believe. The real gift is that I now have relationships from coast to coast that will last a lifetime. And beyond all of that, I have a deepened love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Chris Godfredsen serves on the Synod of the Heartland staff as the East/West Sioux Classis Leader. He is a pastor to pastors and a catalyst for strengthening and starting churches. He is a Faithwalking Foundations facilitator, works with pastor networks, and assists pastoral search teams to ensure that congregations and pastors find the best fit in times of pastoral transition. He says he feels called to the work that he does, resourcing RCA churches in NW Iowa, but also trusts that God knows what is in store for roles like the one he fills in the RCA in the months and years to come.

2019 WTS alumna, Katie AlleyLike many of her peers, WTS alumna Katie Alley ‘19 had non-traditional ministry in mind when she started seminary. A recent article from Christianity Today cites a survey of 5,000+ seminary students in which almost 40% intend to serve in contexts outside the local church. 

Katie had taken a job with a non-profit right out of college, but soon discovered it was not the right fit. She decided to return to the classroom to explore the deep love she had for God and the church. Western’s emphasis on formation, experiential learning, and internships set it apart from other seminaries. She felt it would be a good place to learn while trying on different hats to see what type of ministry might best fit her gifts. 

During her first year, Katie interned with a community development non-profit. Although she learned a lot, she decided to try hospital chaplaincy the next year, hoping it would suit her better. However, her second internship at Holland Hospital didn’t feel quite right either. Although she was gaining confidence in her work, she didn’t particularly enjoy it. 

Meanwhile, she had begun taking a preaching class and leading chapel—and she realized that felt most natural, even though the thought of pastoral ministry intimidated her. Not having grown up with female pastors, she hadn’t considered becoming a pastor until now. 

Faculty members like Travis West and Kyle Small recognized Katie’s gifts of pastoral leadership and encouraged her to find confidence in herself and push through questions she still had. Pam Bush of the Formation for Ministry office came alongside Katie and helped her explore what intimidated her even as she continued developing her talents. Being an in-residence student gave her access to a group of classmates who were praying and rooting for her. 

“At the beginning of seminary it felt like all my classmates knew what they wanted to do and were really confident,” Katie says. “I learned along the way that everyone was equally scared. Yet, it never felt like competition. We all wanted each other to be successful and discover what we were meant to do.”

After her second year of seminary and with the support of the community behind her, Katie felt ready to give pastoral ministry a try. She spent the summer at Second Reformed Church of Pella, IA under the direction of Pastors Steve & Sophie Mathonnet-VanderWell. There she got to preach, visit congregants, and see what it would be like to be on a team of pastors. 

Katie Alley talks to children during worship hour

Youth Director Katie Alley talks to the children during the worship hour at Second Reformed Church of Pella, IA.

While the experience confirmed that she didn’t want to be a solo pastor, she knew she wanted to continue preaching—and when she found out the church’s youth minister took a different call, the opportunity opened to come back full-time after graduation.

As Katie settles into her calling, she realizes that the process of trying different things helped her feel more confident when she finally landed. She appreciates the formation for ministry process at WTS that allowed her to find the best fit for her gifts of ministry and then develop those abilities.

Having a team around to encourage, disciple, and speak truth to Katie was important in seminary and continues to be so. In addition to her ministry team at Second Reformed, she keeps in touch with professors and classmates, many of whom are also in their first calls.

Just like her path to pastoral ministry was unexpected, she knows that the work of ministry will be full of twists and turns.

“Some days are filled with trying to write a sermon that’s not coming; some days I’m visiting people,” she says. “I don’t know what new challenge each day will bring, but as my classmates and I start out, I’m really grateful we have a support system to cheer each other on.”

You are warmly invited to a public lecture and Q&A by pastor and author Winn Collier on Tuesday, March 10 at 3:00pm in Mulder Chapel.

About Winn:

Winn Collier is the author of multiple books, including Restless Faith, Holy Curiosity and the forthcoming authorized biography of Eugene Peterson. Winn is pastor of All Souls Charlottesville and directs The Genesis Project, a collective of pastors and writers committed to shared work and friendship. He has written for the Washington PostChristian CenturyLeadership JournalChristianity Today and numerous other outlets. Winn holds a PhD in theology, ethics and culture from the University of Virginia, with an emphasis on the intersection of religion and literary fiction. Winn, his wife Miska, and their two sons live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Holy Ground: The Sacramental Ecclesiology of Wendell Berry’s Port William

Tuesday, March 10, 3:00pm-4:00pm, Mulder Chapel

How are we to understand Wendell Berry’s withering critique of the Church’s uncritical cooperation with economic and cultural forces conspiring to “murder creation”? And why, in Berry’s fiction, does the Church so often sit at the periphery of communal life, a religious society disengaged and irrelevant to the truest work and vibrant life happening among “the membership” of Port William?

Does Berry reject the Church in favor of a vague, individual “spirituality,” and if so, how does this mesh with Berry’s unflinching insistence on visible, communal, concrete presence?

Touring Berry’s fiction, we discover Berry leveling a prophetic rebuke, as the narratives point toward a sacramental ecclesiology where God’s visible community, wedded to the place and the land, exists as holy ground for the wholeness and healing of creature and creation.

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce it has been selected by the family of the late Rev. Eugene Peterson (pastor, author, and translator of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language), to establish a new “Eugene Peterson Center.”

While the mission and programs of the center will continue to be developed and solidified in the months to come, the center will exist to promote the pastoral theology of Eugene Peterson for future scholarship, the health of pastors and the Church’s renewed imagination. The center will steward the Peterson papers and archives, create generative models for pastoral formation, provide resources to encourage pastors for sustainable, joyful and courageous ministry, and promote robust Christian imagination among writers and culture makers in the wider church.

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. The Presbyterian minister’s friendship with WTS deepened in 1998 when Rev. 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 President Brown’s inauguration, and was invited again in 2014 to reprise his role at the Bast Festival.

According to his son, Rev. Eric Peterson, “WTS is the school that Eugene exclusively recommended to prospective students who were 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.” After visiting campus himself, Eric agreed. “To witness the combination of first-rate scholars, coupled with a compelling vision for theological education and a student body that exhibits an earnest desire to serve the kingdom was altogether inspiring,” he shared. “The meaningful ways the seminary community is engaging with people at the margins of society resonates with our family’s values.” 

The seminary is excited to be tasked with stewarding Eugene Peterson’s pastoral legacy through the center, which will house diaries, letters, sermons, book manuscripts, Regent College teaching material and extensive documentation related to the translation of The Message within its library archive collection in the newly built Jack & Mary Dewitt Learning Center. 

WTS President Dr. Felix Theonugraha is excited to be able to provide opportunities for students, alumni, and the wider church to engage Peterson’s work. “Forming the whole person has long been an emphasis here at Western,” he explained. “There is agreement among theological schools that we must do a better job focusing on the formation of future pastors, especially as we live in a world that is filled with cultural liturgies that form us each and every day in ways that are contrary to the values of the Kingdom of God. It is tempting today to judge the effectiveness of one’s ministry or a church’s impact based on numbers–how many members, how many attendees, how many sites, how many countries– Eugene compassionately and unassumingly reminds us to turn our eyes away from the glitter of this world and to fix them upon Christ.”

Academic Dean and VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson, who had a personal friendship with Eugene, said, “I have spoken to countless others who, through his writings and personal friendship, were given a vision of the Christian life that by God’s grace has sustained them in that ‘long obedience in the same direction,’” quoting one of his most famous lines.

“We are honored and humbled by this opportunity to steward and extend the legacy of Eugene Peterson,” said Dr. Theonugraha.

Thursday, February 27, 7:00 p.m., Mulder Chapel

Lecture with Dr. Greg Lee, Wheaton College

The United States incarcerates far more individuals than any nation in the world at radically disparate rates for different racial groups. In this lecture, Dr. Lee will draw on the thought of Augustine to encourage new approaches toward criminal justice. Augustine’s understanding of personal sin stresses the possibility of redemption for individual wrongdoers, and his account of collective evil exposes systemic injustice as a pervasive feature of humanity’s fallen condition. These insights commend Christians’ solidarity with oppressed communities and the exercise of mercy and restorative practices in response to criminal offenses.
This lecture is sponsored by the Girod Chair of Western Theological Seminary in partnership with the Saint Benedict Institute.
WATCH HERE:

THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED. For updates, please visit this page.

March 16-17, 2020

Is the “Good Samaritan” Good? Listening to the Parable’s Later Witnesses

The “Good Samaritan” is one of the most popular parables in Christian history and has significant relevance for every age.

As recorded in Luke 10, Jesus imagines an “enemy” as the central hero of the story. Sometimes we can only hear the truth when a storyteller overdramatizes the point.

Of particular interest is the hermeneutical nature of Jesus’ initial response. To the lawyer’s opening query, Jesus replies, “How do you read?” We will hear how others— Augustine, Howard Thurman, Harriet Jacobs, the Solentiname Community of Nicaragua—interpreted the parable in order to hear it afresh for our age.

Indeed, the way one reads the Bible defines and determines the way one thinks about life. Hermeneutics and ethics are inseparable. Jesus reveals how he reads Torah when he places a person most unlike his listeners at the center of the story and asks his immediate audience—and generations to follow—to “go and do likewise.”

MONDAY, March 16:
9:55am in Mulder Chapel: WTS Chapel service (Public Welcome)

10:45am LECTURE in Maas Hall: “Augustine and Howard Thurman”(Public Welcome)

7:00pm LECTURE in Mulder Chapel: “Harriet Jacobs and the Solentiname Community of Nicaragua” (Public Welcome)

TUESDAY, March 17
8:30am in Maas Hall (room 159): Breakfast Conversation – Breakfast Conversation – “Preaching the Parables.” This breakfast is for people interested in reading, interpreting, teaching, and preaching the parables to come and interact with the speaker about this dynamic, delightful, and difficult task! (Public Welcome)

12:00pm LUNCH in Maas Hall (room 159): Community Conversation w/ students, staff and faculty

Dr. Emerson Powery is Professor of Biblical Studies & (former) Coordinator of Ethnic and Area Studies at Messiah College.

He is an alum of Princeton Theological Seminary (1992) and—under the guidance of Dr. D. Moody Smith—Duke University (1999).  

He is the author of Jesus Reads Scripture: The Function of Jesus’ Use of Scripture in the Synoptic Gospels (Brill, 2002), “Philemon” for The New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary (Abingdon, 2010), and co-author of The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved (2016), which wrestles with the function of the Bible in the 19th-century African American ‘slave narrative’ tradition. Peter Paris describes The Genesis of Liberation as “a long sought-after treasure.” Mark Noll claims that the book “is now the gold standard for one of the most important developments in American religion.” With interest in how Scripture functions—in ancient and present-day underrepresented communities—he was one of the editors of True to Our Native Land: An African American NT Commentary (Fortress/Augsburg, 2007).  

In the wider academy, Powery has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biblical Literature (2005-2013) and the Common English Bible (2009-2011). He was co-chair (with Bernadette Brooten) for the “Slavery, Resistance, and Freedom” section within the Society of Biblical Literature (2014-2019). He was the 2006–2007 (regional) President of the Society of Biblical Literature (SE Region). Presently, he serves on the editorial board of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship and the steering committee for “The Bible in the United States” consultation of SBL. He serves on the Board of Trustees at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

Mon., February 10 at 1:30 PM in Mulder Chapel

In such a time of division, politically and ideologically, it becomes difficult for us to live in fellowship with one another. The church is not exempt from this type of division. The Reformed Church in America, like many denominations, faces major questions regarding unity in the face of stark disagreement. Is unity possible? Is our vision of the church as a unified body of Christ idealistic and unattainable?

Rev. Dr. Joseph Small, former director of the PCUSA Office of Theology and Worship, is no stranger to these conversations. In his book Flawed Church, Faithful God: A Reformed Ecclesiology for the Real World, he explores the following questions: What is the Church? Why does it matter for the world we live in? He says, “The church is a communion of intimacy and solidarity because of what it cannot justify about itself coupled with recognition that its justification lies in the grace of God. Only as the church knows that its life is not self-generated and maintained can it witness faithfully to the God who generates and maintains it” (xiv).

Join Rev. Dr. Small for a public lecture, with responses from Rev. Dr. Dan Griswold and Rev. Jennifer Ryden, in which Dr. Small will explore these and other questions related to the communion of the church in this divided age.

This event is sponsored by the Girod Chair of Western Theological Seminary.

WTS is pleased to share that Dr. Han-luen Kantzer Komline has been offered a prestigious fellowship at Villanova University. The Patricia H. Imbesi Saint Augustine Fellowship is offered to “an outstanding scholar whose work has a contribution to make to the study of Augustine or of the Augustinian tradition,” and Dr. Kantzer Komline and her husband Dr. David Komline will travel to Villanova for the spring semester this year. David will continue to teach DL courses at WTS.
In addition to this honor, Dr. Kantzer Komline has also received the Manfred Lautenschleager Award for Theological Promise. Awarded to the top 10 promising theologians throughout the world, this is a truly significant accomplishment.  We are delighted that Prof. Kantzer Komline was selected for this honor. In receiving this award, Dr. Kantzer Komline joins the ranks of our own Dr. Todd Billings, who was a recipient in 2009 (note: it was called the Templeton Award for Theological Promise at that time).
Dr. Kantzer Komline’s new book, Augustine on the Will: A Theological Account, was recently published by Oxford University Press as a part of the Oxford Studies in Historical Theology.  “This book represents a true contribution to the field,” writes academic dean, Dr. Kristen Johnson. As one scholar has written, “There is nothing in English that offers such a clear treatment of Augustine’s developing thought on this crucial issue.” And another notes, “This fresh new approach will be a must read for anyone interested in further work on this important topic.”
We offer our hearty congratulations to Dr. Kantzer Komline on these accomplishments!

In the May 2017 edition of The Commons, we featured this column written by Western’s oldest living alumni, Rev. Wallace Stoepker (’46). Sadly, we received news that Rev. Stoepker passed away on December 13th. The full obituary which includes a wonderful tribute to his life and ministry can be found below:

“On December 13, 2019, the Reverend Wallace (Wally) Robert Stoepker, a lifelong servant of God and loving husband to Dorothy May Stoepker for over 73 years, entered into fellowship with all the saints and with Christ, our Saviour.

Wally was born on June 21st, 1921 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Seward and Mary Stoepker, who grew up playing in neighborhood parks, making soap-box derby cars, and peddling newspapers with his dog, Snoopy. Through his years at Central High School he exhibited gifts for ministry at Fourth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. He graduated from Hope College in Holland, MI in 1943 with a degree in philosophy. During college, he raised money for the Salvation Army playing multiple musical instruments in downtown Grand Rapids. He was the oldest living graduate of Western Theological Seminary, having graduated in 1946.

Following graduation, Wally and Dorothy were married on May 16, 1946. Dorothy was the joy of his life and he courted her every day with devout, unconditional love.

Wally faithfully served six congregations for 40 years: Clymer Hill Reformed Church, Clymer, NY; Ferry Memorial Reformed Church, Montague, MI; Aberdeen Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, MI; Brooklyn Reformed Church, Brooklyn, OH; Greenwood Reformed Church, Kalamazoo, MI; and Maranatha Reformed Church, Wainfleet, Ontario. His ministry was pastoral, with an emphasis on acceptance and love. His preaching continued at Friendship Village through 2019 where he and Dorothy lived. His last sermon challenged us and himself to be content and helpful.

Wally was a lifelong tennis player, boater, campfire builder, musician, and he loved to go on picnics with the family. He and Dorothy spent summers initially at Silver Lake and then at Kline’s Resort in Vicksburg, MI with a wonderful community of lifelong friends.

In addition to being a devoted husband, Wally was a loving and supportive father of four children, nine grandchildren, & eleven great grandchildren. With love and honor, he is remembered by his sons Dr. David Stoepker & wife Carol, Daniel Stoepker (dec.) & partner Brad Kosko (dec.) & Barb Cripe (dec.), Tim Stoepker & wife Jane; daughter Ruth Stoepker Wilson & husband Charles (dec.); grandchildren Elizabeth & Matt Duncan, Sarah & Dr. Leland Webb, Andrew Stoepker, Jennifer & Mike Jura, Dr. Jeremy Stoepker & Dr. Tanveer Ahmed, Tom & Julia Stoepker, Marta Stoepker & Nate Rott, Dr. Peter & Brooke Stoepker & Sophie Stoepker; & great-grandchildren Gabe Webb, Mallory Webb, Alydia Jura, Carlie Jura, Avery Jura, Skyler Jura, Peter Stoepker, Malini Stoepker, Nicole Stoepker, Liam Stoepker, and Everett Stoepker.

Wally, Dorothy, and family are thankful for the care and support at Friendship Village where they have lived for two years.

A service of the resurrection will be held at Southridge Reformed Church, 6726 Texas Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49009, on 12/20 at 11am. Visitation will be at Langeland Family Funeral Home at 6-8pm on 12/19 from 6-8pm. Memorials can be donated to “The Reverend Wallace and Dorothy Stoepker Scholarship Fund”, Western Theological Seminary 101 East 13th Street, Holland, Mi 49423 and to “Open Doors”, PO Box 50102 Kalamazoo, MI 49005-0102.”