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

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


From President Felix Theonugraha:

Dear WTS community,

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

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

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

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

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

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



Interviewing Mako Fujimura, 2018

By Jeff Munroe, Executive VP

What if you spent a few months staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and decided not to come back to work? The seminary recently made it possible for me to step into retirement, and I gladly did.

Nobody knows what the full impact of the pandemic will be on our school. (We thank God that no one on the faculty or staff has gotten sick.) Now, as the seminary is discerning its new normal, a number of us have been offered early retirement, and some positions have been cut.

As a result, I find myself saying goodbye, and because of the uncertainty of the moment, my final message to you is an exhortation to keep supporting Western with your prayers and financial gifts. Your help is needed now more than ever. I know from the inside that it’s not just an empty platitude to say “you really do make a difference.” It happens to be true!

My other message is unqualified gratitude. I attended WTS in the 1980s. I highly doubt that anyone then could have predicted that I would return decades later as a member of the administration. In fact, one former staff member was so stunned by this development she said, “You? I don’t believe it. You were a rascal.”

That rascal came back and was enormously privileged to be part of this wonderful community for the past eight and a half years. It’s been a joy. I still can’t get over the esteemed Dr. I. John Hesselink becoming my friend (as a student I looked at him with equal measures of awe and terror). I overheard him tell someone I was his “protégé” a few years ago, and my head swelled. I accompanied him in his late 80s to not one but two Detroit Tigers games. Our conversation in the car kept switching between the relative merits of Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, the Dutch politician-theologian Abraham Kuyper, and the finer points of both the double play and double predestination. One of my other most cherished memories is of the morning President Tim Brown and I took Dr. Hesselink out for pancakes (and another theological discussion) at Jackie’s Place a few short days before he died.

And speaking of Tim Brown, did anyone ever have a more encouraging boss? We had great times together traveling to places like Iowa, Florida, Arizona, and California on behalf of the seminary, and plenty of other great times just talking things over sitting in a booth at Russ’ Restaurant. I’ve never met anyone quite like Tim. I would tell him bad news, and before the conversation was over he’d somehow turn it into a chance to give me a compliment.

reading a poem during Community time, 2019

I’m extraordinarily grateful that I was a part of a very good decade at our school, a decade of strong growth and expansion. We experimented with creative ways to deliver theological education, we embraced multi-ethnic ministry training, and we transformed the campus into a state of the art learning center. I’m grateful for an association with WTS that began in 1981, almost 40 years ago! Western is a special school and I simply would not be who I am without it.

Now the school faces challenges as difficult as any in its long and storied history. President Felix Theonugraha is a smart and highly committed leader. I am absolutely convinced we have the right person in the right job for this moment, but he cannot rise to the challenges of this extraordinary time alone. He needs your help, but more importantly, our students need your help. Take this last piece of advice from a reformed rascal:  stick with the seminary and build up future leaders for Christ’s church!

On March 11, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency and encouraged higher education institutions to transition to online learning and to avoid large gatherings. In response, the seminary discontinued in-person classes and moved to all online classes by March 19. Since Western has offered distance learning since 2003, switching everything to online was very doable in short order.

On March 17, all seminary employees began working from home, except for a small number of authorized personnel needed to keep operations running. All non-necessary travel was suspended.

By April 2 it became obvious that all campus events would need to be canceled for the rest of the school year, including Commencement and May on-campus Intensives for distance learning and Doctor of Ministry students. (Commencement is tentatively rescheduled for August 24.)

At the end of April the impact of the pandemic and other concerns had taken a toll on finances for the seminary, with a projected deficit of around $1 million for the 2020-2021 academic year. The Board made the difficult decision to cut staffing and offer early retirements.

As the governor’s Stay Home Stay Safe orders continued to be extended, the seminary correspondingly adjusted its plan to return to work on campus., which is set for August 3.

At this point, the seminary leadership is planning to resume in-residence classes on August 31 with precautions in place for social distancing. We are cautiously optimistic there will be minimal impact on enrollment.

You can also find up-to-date information on our response here.

In Appreciation…

Henry Bast-Timothy Brown Professor of Preaching and President Emeritus Timothy Brown is retiring at the end of June. When he arrived at the seminary in 1995, Dr. Brown brought 20 years of preaching and pastoral experience to the task of teaching homiletics. After 13 years of inspiring and teaching the next generation of pastors to preach the Word, he accepted the call to lead the seminary as president, starting in July of 2008 and continuing for 11 years. Dr. Brown will continue to teach courses as needed as an adjunct professor.



Associate Director of Formation for Ministry Glenn Swier will conclude 15 years of service to Western on June 30. In addition to assisting distance learning students with teaching church placements and internships, Glenn directed the Dual Track M.Div.-M.S.W. Program as well as the Graduate Certificate in Urban Pastoral Ministry. He also led intercultural immersion trips to the U.S.-Mexico border, served on the Diversity Committee, and trained people in Restorative Justice. He was a great encourager of students in their formation for ministry.



Associate Director of Admissions C.J. Kingdom-Grier arrived at Western in 2011 and will be completing his service on June 30. In addition to recruiting students all over the country, C.J. served for several years as Assistant to the President for Racial Initiatives. He was a strong voice on the Diversity Committee of WTS and strove to increase cultural competency in the staff and faculty through offerings such as the Stoutemire Lecture Series in Multicultural Ministry. As a pastor of worship and fine arts, C.J.’s impressive skills at piano and worship livened up many chapel services and will be greatly missed!



Executive Vice President Jeff Munroe is retiring at the end of June. Jeff was hired in January of 2012 to lead the Advancement department, and two years later he took on an operations role, managing Admissions, Journey (cont. ed.) and Human Resources in addition to Development and Communications. Over the years he has helped Western make great strides in corporate identity and strategic planning, and he has brought considerable administrative skills to the day-to-day operations of the seminary and the Our New Day capital campaign. He taught courses in writing and introduced a Writer-in-Residence program. His impact on the institution will be felt for years to come.



Allison Van Liere, Circulation Supervisor of Cook Library, served the seminary well for six years before leaving her position in May, most notably helping with the massive, complicated move to a new library building. In addition, she regularly shared her musical talents in chapel, playing a variety of instruments including the accordion and banjo.




Kathy Brogan has been a welcoming presence to students and visitors alike at the reception desk of WTS since 2014. Originally on-call, Kathy was part-time this past year, but her position ended in May.





In other news…

The CARES act has brought enhanced benefits for charitable gifts in an effort to help non-profits during these difficult financial times.

For those who do not itemize on their tax returns:  You may take an above-the-line deduction of up to $300 for your contribution to Western.

For those who itemize on their tax returns:  Deductions for donations are no longer limited to 60% of your adjusted gross income. This limit has been dropped for 2020.

Corporate Givers:  The 10% limit on charitable contributions is increased to 25% of your taxable income.

We hope one of these tax benefits will be useful in your passion to continue supporting Western Theological Seminary.

Thank you!

View of St. Peters from the inside of Castel Sant’Angelo

by Old Testament Professor Carol Bechtel

When I arrived in Rome on New Year’s Day, I had no idea that the Coronavirus would arrive in Italy two weeks later. Although the first case was not diagnosed until late January, we now know that it was making itself at home in the north by the middle of the month.

It’s safe to say this is not the sabbatical I expected. But in view of the human and economic devastation world-wide, I’m not wasting too many tears over that. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in the final scene of the movie Casablanca: “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of one little person don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Part of what I am learning is how to adjust to God’s curriculum. I had an excellent plan for this sabbatical, but God, evidently, had a different one. So, rather than rail against my own dashed expectations, I am attempting to lean into some new learnings. As someone with Reformed roots, I remind myself daily to trust in the inscrutable providence of God.

One of the ways Providence seems to be at play is through my Bible study blog. I have been writing weekly installments on my personal website for over two years. But in mid-March I began a series called Roman Roads. I bill it as Bible study that offers “one person’s perspective on Italy—and the world—right now.” Part of what propelled me to write the series was the realization that Italy was about two weeks ahead of the USA in terms of the pandemic. This has given me a unique (and providential?) opportunity to anticipate the questions and feelings of my readers back home.

Although I had planned to work on a book about refugees, it has proven impossible to interview people because of the lockdown. So instead, I have been working on a Bible study curriculum on Sabbath. This seems like an appropriate topic for sabbatical, but it has left me longing for all the things that characterize a true Sabbath celebration: friends, family, worship, feasting, and communion with God in creation. While some have argued that the lockdown is a kind of enforced Sabbath, I do not find it either restful or rich in the ways I just described.

Courtyard view from Carol’s Rome apartment

I originally wrote this in what is literally a writer’s garret—a two-room apartment at the top of an ancient palazzo near the Pantheon. At the end of May I was fortunate to “flee like a bird to the mountains” west of Turin. It has landed me in another kind of writer’s garret, but since it’s on the side of a mountain, it has a room with a stunning view.  I hope to return to the U.S. in early July.

Know that I love and pray for you all. And I hold a special place in my heart for this year’s WTS graduates. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart again, “Here’s looking at you, kids!”

Photos were taken before the lockdown. Prior to mid-May, Carol was only allowed outside her apartment for short walks to the store and back.



Written by Don Werkhoven, longtime friend and co-worker of Karl, and currently Treasurer of Central California Classis

Karl Overbeek is fond of saying that he received all of his formal education within three miles of his boyhood home—his path wound from Holland Christian High School to Hope College to Western Theological Seminary, all in Holland, Michigan.

His winsome personality was shaped in large part while working in Charley’s Market, his father’s grocery store, where his father continually emphasized the critical importance of customer service.  His father’s advice served him well, as Karl never met a person he couldn’t engage in conversation (nor a dog he couldn’t befriend!).

Karl & Ruth Ann’s wedding, 1960

He met his future wife, Ruth Ann, at Holland Christian High School and entered Hope College in 1958 with the intent offollowing his Uncle Ernie into medicine. He and Ruth Ann married two years later. By his junior year Karl strongly sensed God calling him into a career as a “doctor of the soul” rather than the body, and so after graduating from Hope, he entered WTS in the fall of 1962.

Following his first year of seminary, he took a summer assignment with Rev. Jay Weener at Parkview Reformed Church in Santa Ana, California. After his middler year he accepted a year-long internship at Parkview. This experience greatly influenced his ministry perspective.  Southern California was a budding mission field, and Karl and Ruth Ann became immersed in a multi-cultural church and community.

Karl reflects, “Every aspect of life—including my ministry and the community—was refreshing, challenging, and energizing.” He became acquainted with the concept of a “seeker-friendly church,” pioneered by Robert Schuller at the neighboring Garden Grove Community Church (later the Crystal Cathedral). Karl recalls several Schullerisms that served him well during his career, such as, “Always make the right decision before you tackle the details” and “Inch by inch anything is a cinch.”

Officiating at his son Nathan’s wedding, 2002

After completing his M.Div. in 1966, Karl accepted a call from the North Grand Rapids Classis to plant Resurrection Reformed Church in Flint, Michigan. Reflecting on this experience, Karl says, “I knew, but did not fully understand, how much reliance upon the Lord mattered. I knew it in my head, but didn’t understand it enough in my heart…  I had to learn a lot of lessons—patience, trusting the Lord for provision, navigating the people issues on all levels, working with a consistory, creating a positive image in the community, being relational in a healthy way, and not being offended when people didn’t like me or our style of doing church.”

After launching the church in Flint, Karl accepted a call to Winding Way Community Church in Carmichael, California, in 1971. Worship attendance exploded after he arrived, from about 125 to over 1,000, and before long the existing facilities were inadequate. A 10-acre site a half-mile away was purchased in 1979, and a new sanctuary and education facilities were constructed. However, as the fire marshal was conducting a final inspection a few days before the first worship service was to be held, he noticed smoke coming from an exit box. The entire false ceiling was super-heated, and the new sanctuary could not be saved.

Rebuilding took another year. However, by then everyone in the region knew of Christ Community Church as “the church that burned.” As Karl says, “Despite the heartache, no amount of paid advertising and promotion could have produced the publicity that fire accomplished!”

Press conference in San Francisco for the Billy Graham Crusade in 1997 It ended up being one crusade over a 6 week period in three locations: San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland

During the Billy Graham Crusade in Sacramento in 1983, Karl met and became good friends with Larry Turner, a B.G. staffer. Through this relationship, Karl became a presenter at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism for the next 17 years, conducting classes twice a year in the U.S. and Canada on the “Art of Pastoral Care” and “Organizing the Pastor’s Personal Life.” Although he didn’t share every theological conviction of Billy Graham, Karl recalls that “not once was I told what I could or could not say,” and he gained enormous love and respect for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In 1984 Karl accepted a call to Second Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he served for several years. From there he returned to California to the Church of the Chimes in San Jose. He served there from 1989 until his retirement from parish ministry in 2005. Immediately following retirement, he served for 14 years as Classis Minister for the Central California Classis and Regional Strategist for the Far West Synod.

Celebrating his granddaughter Kelly’s baptism, 2002

Reflecting on his 53 years in ministry, he cites the following as pastoral “take-aways”:

  • Lean into the joy of preaching the unchanging Word week-after-week to an ever-changing world
  • Hold high the Word of God and never compromise it
  • There is great fulfillment experienced in pastoral care and counseling from both the joy of seeing growth and healing, but also processing the pain of broken relationships and death
  • It is amazing to see the power of God at work in all aspects of life and how faithful God is in provision when we are faithful in following His Word
  • The church is not a business but the body of Christ
  • Put Christ first and trust Him in all matters, especially money
  • Find a healthy balance between being a pastor and a leader (the majority of people love the pastor side and are not always pleased with the leadership side).

“Karl is a faithful, committed, and humble pastor,” says WTS President Felix Theonugraha. “He loves the Lord, he loves God’s people, and most importantly, he seeks to honor the Lord in all that he does. We are privileged to count Karl among our alumni and are overjoyed to name him the 2020 Distinguished Alumnus.”

Mission Trip in the 1990s with the Miskito people

At a Glance

Karl Overbeek ‘66

visionary, optimist, preacher of the Word

3/11/1940 Holland, MI

Married Ruth Ann Bredeway on June 7, 1960

Children: Nathan Karl & LeAnn Joy

Grandchildren: Joshua, Laurelei, Erika & Kelly

Now retired and living in Lake Wildwood, a golf course community, Karl has plenty of opportunities for golf and bass fishing. True to his Hope College roots, his golf cart and bag are orange and blue, and he plays only with orange golf balls.

B.A. Hope College, 1962

M.Div. Western Theological Seminary, 1966

RCA Churches served:

(1966-72) Resurrection, Flint, MI

(1972-84) Christ Community, Carmichael, CA

(1984-89) Second, Kalamazoo, MI

(1989-2005) Church of the Chimes, San Jose, CA


The Most Reverend Dr. Stephen Kaziimba (center), 9th Archbishop of the Church of Uganda.

On March 1, 2020, two-time WTS alumnus Stephen Kaziimba was enthroned as Archbishop of Uganda, the head of the Anglican Church in Uganda. President Felix Theonugraha and his wife Esther, Development Director Andy Bast, and Associate Professor of Church History David Komline traveled to Uganda to represent Western. Current Ugandan student Isaac Ssebyala was also able to travel back to his home country to witness the historic event, thanks to some local donors.

The Words of Hope team in Uganda with the WTS delegation. Director Titus Baraka is fourth from the left, standing.

“It was an incredible global church moment,” said President Theonugraha, “and seeing our two-time alumnus selected to head up a 12-million-member church was amazing.” The six-hour event was attended by the president and vice president of Uganda, archbishops from all over the world, and nearly 3,000 people.

Mary Nabakooza was the first Ugandan to attend Western, coming in the fall of 1999 to complete a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree. Ten Ugandans have followed, many being experienced pastors with degrees from Uganda Christian University and the Bishop Tucker School of Theology. Stephen Kaziimba first attended Western in the early 2000s to earn a Th.M. and returned for a Doctor of Ministry degree, which he earned in 2007.

President Theonugraha is very interested in investigating partnerships and an exchange program with Uganda Christian University and the Bishop Tucker School of Theology. While in Uganda, he and Dr. Komline met with the vice chancellor and professors of the schools.

“I want our students to learn from an area of the world where the church is vibrant and growing,” he said. “We can expand our knowledge of what God is doing and learn from the people who are there. We have resources we can offer to them, too, for mutual learning.”

2016 Th.M. graduate Godfrey Kyome greets his beloved professor, Dr. David Komline.

The Uganda-WTS pipeline has been aided by Words of Hope (WOH). Students Titus Baraka and Stephen Kaziimba became involved with WOH while studying at Western and advocated for the organization to expand to Uganda. From humble beginnings in an outbuilding on the grounds of the Archbishop’s residence (with chickens cawing and dogs barking in the background of radio programs), Words of Hope Uganda now broadcasts out of a beautiful building on the grounds of Uganda Christian University. Titus directs the ministry, with mobile studios in dioceses all around the country offering programs in 14 languages.

Titus served as host for our delegation while they were in Kampala. At one point during their week-long stay, the WTS group joined Titus for a regular gathering he leads for people dealing with drug addiction, alcoholism, and intense poverty. The meeting lasted for three hours, filled with remarkable testimonies of transformed lives. Titus later reported that he uses a lot of the family systems theory he learned at Western for his ministry.

As the meeting was winding down, a man asked President Theonugraha to come outside and bless his boda boda (motorcycle used for transport).

“My first thought was that I’m not the blessing bearer—Jesus is the one who is going to bless you and keep you safe,” Felix recalled. But then he realized this is part of contextualization, and it’s not much different than people in the West walking around a building and praying for all the things that will happen inside. So he blessed the boda boda.

“This is the type of horizon-broadening experience I hope we can bring to our seminary students,” he said. “We want them to step into these cross-cultural moments.”

The trip happened just before COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, and since then we’ve learned of another impact of our Ugandan graduates. Because of the pandemic, the president of Uganda asked Archbishop Kaziimba to lead worship from his house. What was the only organization to have the technology to livestream? Words of Hope Uganda. Now five million people a week are regularly watching the livestream and hearing the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Sailors on the USS WASP watch as the USS COMFORT passes by, returning to Norfolk from New York City. Photo courtesy of Derek Vande Slunt.

Serving Christ in the Midst of a Pandemic

Over the last few months, our alumni and students have been working hard to meet the needs of their congregations and communities in crisis. Among them are those working on the front lines of the pandemic as chaplains.

M.Div. student Brianne Christiansen is completing a round of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a hospital in Fayetteville, AR. Although she feels called to be a pastor, she decided to do CPE for an internship, never imagining it would coincide with a global pandemic.

“I have a deep sense that this is where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “There are so many Gospel stories where Jesus walks toward people who are sick. That’s always the work of the chaplain, but it feels especially poignant when no one else can be there right now, not even family.”

One night Brianne was asked to facilitate a FaceTime call between a COVID-19 patient and his daughter. Strapping on her gown, N95 mask, gloves, and face shield, she carried an iPad into the room so the daughter could pray for and talk to her father. Although he was on a ventilator and couldn’t respond, the daughter asked Brianne to hold her father’s hand and write a message on his whiteboard to see when he woke up. The young woman’s mother had died from COVID-19 just days before.

“You hope the Holy Spirit is moving as you try to communicate through so many layers,” Brianne says. “You are the conduit of their love for the patient.”

A challenge of the pandemic is that the number of visitors is severely limited, leaving patients without usual support systems by their bedside, explains Ruth Estell, a 2018 graduate working in Saginaw, MI. Chaplains are increasing phone calls to family members and churches to keep people informed and also acting as stand-ins when patients need a comforting presence by their side.

Paige Puguh (WTS ‘16) working in Neenah, WI, frequently needs to give assurance to patients that their communities are not going to disappear.

“The lack of physical church and not being able to see or touch loved ones is creating so much loneliness that people are starting to doubt there will be an end and that those communities will still be there when this is over,” she says.

Prior to the pandemic, “I would offer to place a hand on someone’s shoulder or hold their hand during prayer,” says Alyssa Muehmel, a 2020 M.Div. graduate whose internship at Holland Hospital ended in May. Now, chaplains are lucky if they’re allowed in the same room, with many having to do phone calls and online Zoom or FaceTime visits instead.

Eric Robbert (WTS ‘19) works in the trauma units and ER at a large Illinois hospital, spending much of his time on the phone with people whose family member is dying or has already passed away. “This is teaching me anew the power of a thoughtful word,” he says.

With 20+ years in hospital ministry, Jan Johnson (WTS ‘17) found herself feeling helpless and lost as the “pandemic wilderness” left her unable to offer a physical presence of comfort to dying COVID-19 patients and their families at Mercy Health in Muskegon, MI. She found guidance in the words of Psalm 139 and, with the Lord’s strength, she has been able to offer blessings to those in need. (you can read her reflection at )

Josh Westhouse (2019 Graduate)

Josh Westhouse (WTS ‘19) in Grand Rapids, MI and Holly Teitsma (WTS ‘17) in Houston, TX are caring for people’s mental health through the pandemic.

Josh works with people who have needs around bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. He is also on a Special Care Unit for those who are positive for COVID-19 and need inpatient behavioral health services.

“The care of presence and being with someone as they are in pain is requiring more creativity,” says Josh. This includes things like teletherapy and providing smaller in-person group therapy sessions.

“People feel fatigue of all sorts and need to have an empathetic presence. As a chaplain, my knowledge, insight, understanding, body language, and spirituality are all ways I believe God uses me to build an emotional connection with another. It reminds me of a phrase I heard in seminary that sticks with me:  the image of God seeing the image of God in another.

Without the usual social cues from body language, Josh is asking more questions to understand how the person is feeling. This has brought a depth to conversations he wasn’t expecting.

Holly Teitsma (2017 Graduate)

For Holly, the act of transitioning online was tough at first because her practice was resistant. Luckily, she had been personally preparing as she became aware of the worsening pandemic the end of February. This preparation helped her bless others in her practice through training them on the new software.

“It was exhausting,” she admits, “But, two months into the process, I am finally starting to feel the integration of all the new.”

“I have been tremendously grateful, though, that prayer can be a vital component of telehealth sessions with my faith-oriented clients. It sustains us and reminds us that some things haven’t changed…that God is our constant.”

Holly works with a number of clergy clients, many of whom need encouragement as they deal with sick congregants, navigate online worship, and balance opinions among their leadership teams. Interestingly, she has noticed that some clergy who usually suffer from anxiety are actually thriving at home because they have less physical demands on them and can engage at a more manageable pace. This discovery has motivated one of Holly’s clients to figure out how to live out her call in ways that better honor who she is.

New graduate Jennifer VanCleve (WTS ’20) works as a PRN (on-call) chaplain at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where they are doing a lot of COVID-19 research. She also works in two behavioral/psych hospitals in Omaha, NE, which has provided real challenges. “The psych hospitals are full. People are not dealing well with the quarantining. If you do deal with depression or suicidal ideation, it is compounded tenfold. And they can’t have visitors,” she says.

Jennifer Van Cleve (upper right) (2020 graduate)

“The staff are being affected by this crisis, too,” Jennifer adds. “Prior to COVID we didn’t really minister to staff, but now we do. It’s made chaplaincy a more well-rounded position, actually.”

While this season has had many challenges, there have been blessings as well. Many chaplains have noticed increased teamwork and camaraderie with their hospital staff, and local communities have rallied around healthcare workers by donating meals, masks, and even organizing prayers from the hospital parking lot. The role of spiritual care in a crisis is being appreciated like never before.

Derek Vande Slunt (WTS ‘00) is a chaplain on the USS Wasp naval aircraft carrier. Their worship services have doubled in size with at least one adult baptism since the pandemic

started. “Many who have neglected their faith foundations are turning back to those foundations during this time.”

For Mike Weaver (WTS ‘09), a hospice chaplain on the Michigan lakeshore who has been working from home and taking care of his kids, this experience has taught him love of neighbor in a new way. “Most of the time I have felt like I am not doing my job because I can’t. It’s been a big struggle. I have really had to focus on doing what I can and being satisfied that it is enough,” he shares. “The Spirit has been helping me grow in humble submission to love of neighbor and to hold loosely to my own wants and desires.”

Recent graduate Alyssa Muehmel has had her call to chaplaincy solidified through her experience at Holland Hospital and has accepted a residency in Ann Arbor, MI. “I have seen that with God’s help I’m able to show up in a crisis. I didn’t think of myself as a person with that skill set before.”

Most chaplains will be grappling with the effects of the pandemic for a long time. As they are asked to steward others’ pain, chaplains are also experiencing heartaches and anxieties as well. Some are concerned about bringing the virus home to their own families as they continue to meet in-person with patients. Others are struggling with lack of sleep and their own grief over all the uncertainties.

Eric Robbert shared this story: “A patient decided, after four weeks of struggling with COVID-19, to die. The kindness, sincerity, and clarity of this decision struck our staff. I watched the patient struggle to breathe for hours and prayed for comfort and peace, and then I called the family when the patient died. Our staff was uniquely impacted by this person, whom we only knew in this brief way. I’m still journeying with this story and trying to understand what it means to me and how it impacts my view of life and dying well.”

Jennifer Van Cleve says that at times working as a chaplain does get sad. “It’s not without its trauma, but for every sad story, you see the hand of God. I’ve seen God move mountains. Because of HIPAA laws, I can’t tell all these stories, but God is alive and active and incredibly powerful.

“This has been hard,” admits Ruth Estell. “It is tempting to try to convince myself and others that everything is just fine, but it’s not just fine. There has been so much loss and sorrow in connection to this pandemic. The laments in the Psalms have been especially meaningful to me. Coming face to face with my own weakness and need during this time has caused me to seek God and cling to God all the more.”

Paige Puguh says if you sense the call, don’t let this time deter you from becoming a chaplain. “As scary as it is, it’s been a great learning experience,” she says. “For one reason or another, chaplaincy finds its heart in times like this.”

Dear WTS Community,

These past few months have been incredibly difficult as we have grieved the loss of lives, community, routines, and expectations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This last week was monumental as we mourned the loss of over 100,000 lives to this deadly virus here in the United States.

Last week was also painful because we witnessed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. His death once again called attention to the suffering and lament of the African American community, whose collective experience has all too frequently been marked by injustice and brutality. The death of George Floyd concluded a span of a few weeks where we grieved the loss of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and invoked the memories of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Laquan McDonald, among many others.

Incidents like these remind us of the long history of injustice and racism in our country. This past August marked 400 years since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, and much remains to be done on both relational and systemic levels to ensure justice and equity regardless of the color of one’s skin.

Incidents like these also cause us to lament how some law enforcement officers have misused and abused their authority, thus overshadowing the dedication and commitment of those public officials who put their lives at risk every day for the sake of others.

This past week reminds us that violence is not the answer. The groundswell of protests represents the hurt and frustration that the African American community has experienced through the criminal justice system. Let us not gloss over the pain that led to these protests and the sincere cry for justice that continues beyond the violence. We remember the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” At the same time, the small minority incidences of violence and looting, whether committed by those genuinely frustrated or by those simply taking advantage of the situation, often end up hurting the very businesses, communities, and people the protests aim to help.

This past week also reminds us that while we live in a polarized society, God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and that he has given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19). God has also called us to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn, and not to overcome evil with evil but to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:15, 21).

Over this past year, the diversity committee at WTS has worked on a statement on racial and ethnic diversity at our institution. The proposed statement includes the following affirmation:

We affirm that all human beings are in the image of God, and we uphold the full dignity and worth of all people of all racial and ethnic identities.

We therefore reject any direct or indirect discrimination against, and devaluing or dishonoring of, any person on the grounds of race or ethnicity.

In the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we commit to discerning and uprooting all forms of racial prejudice, individually and in our institutional culture.

I share this not because we have arrived. We have much work to do. I share this because this proposed statement not only demonstrates our commitment as an institution, but also is a much-needed reminder for such a time as this.

In this season of Pentecost, when we remember how the breath of God fills us with the Holy Spirit, our country is protesting the death of a man who cried out, “I can’t breathe.” Jesus Christ did not turn away from suffering such as this but took it upon himself. Before he rose and sent the Spirit, he struggled for breath on the cross. Pentecost Sunday is a powerful reminder that we do not strive for reconciliation or fight for justice alone. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has come to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). Through the cross, justice and reconciliation with both God and fellow human beings are possible. Let us continue to be Spirit-filled people in this world, crying out for justice, proclaiming peace, and joining in God’s work of reconciliation wherever we go.

Soli deo Gloria,
Felix Theonugraha,



View the webinar: Race and the Church: A Christian Response to the Death of George Floyd.

Now is the time to take advantage of online education!  We have five great summer online courses available.  Have you ever taken a class with WTS?  If not, you’re in luck!  First-time students will receive a 50% tuition discount off normal per-credit tuition rate.* We have made the application process fast, easy and FREE.  Just click HERE and look for the Non Degree | Summer 2020 application in the drop down menu.

Below is a description of what is available.  Please note the course dates for each as well as the application deadlines:

MN102 Practice of Discipleship – Dr. Thomas (Tee) Gatewood  
Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples. In this course, learners will explore how Christian practices have shaped them into disciples and learn how to use these practices in the making of 21st century disciples.   The class will focus on the theology and practice of discipleship and will help learners develop practices and perspectives for life and ministry in this moment within Young Life. (Class is open to non-Young Life staff as well).  This class runs May 18 – June 19.


TH561-DL History of the Black Church – Dr. Fred Johnson
Galatians 3:28 beautifully asserts “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ.”  Even so, early in the history of the United States, African Americans found it necessary to establish the Black Church. This course examines the events and conditions necessitating that development and how the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and persistent racism impacted the theology and worship of the Black Church.  Also explored is the extent to which those and related issues still prevent achieving full unity in the body of Christ and the strategies that can be employed to finally achieve the Lord’s vision.  This class runs May 20 – June 26.


BL523-DL The Gospel of John – Dr. Jim Brownson
In the summer term I am teaching a favorite text of mine and the gospel I did my dissertation on – The Gospel of John.  This course will give you opportunities to wrestle with the single text in the NT that deals with Christological questions like “Who is Jesus” at the deepest possible level.  If you are interested in looking in detail at this gospel, carefully interpreting a variety of specific passages and then developing lessons or teaching plans to use for your ministry. I encourage you to register for this course.  This class runs May 20 – June 26.


MN570-DL Worldview and Lifeview – Dr. Wayne Brouwer
We and our congregations are experience-oriented people. Because of this, we often relegate “vision” and “worldview” into the unused part of our leadership tool kits, marginalized by the active stuff of hands-on ministry and the consuming demands of Sundays that show up with amazing and unforgiving regularity. But, as Kouzes and Posner have brilliantly shown through four decades of research, two of the five things that good leaders do are “challenging the process” and “inspiring a shared vision.” These prophetic and kingly pastoral leadership tasks require a thoughtful worldview that rises above the experiences to see the meaning. We will read three books (an autobiography, a biblical worldview primer, and a social worldview critique) that will help us build and clarify the contours of our Christian vision, and carry on conversations that will hone our congregational leadership skills.  This class runs May 20 – June 26.


MN503 Global Leadership Conference, August 6-7 – TBD
This course is in partnership with the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), a two-day leadership event in partnership with Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago.  The purpose of this course is to appreciatively and critically engage The Global Leadership Summit.  Students will explore, question, and develop the skills, practices, and habits for leading Christian communities.  Participants will theologically interrogate what leading means and how leaders practice faithfully.  Participants work online July 6 – August 14 and attend the GLS at Pillar Church (or a location near you) from August 6-7, 2020.  Attendance is required at a site.  The West Michigan group will meet in person on the evenings of August 5 and 7 in addition to the conference.  Those outside West Michigan will join via Zoom.  Tuition covers the fee for the GLS.


*please note, new students who are Young Life staff will receive 25% off rather than 50%.


Questions? Contact Jill English, Director of Admissions.