Western Theological Seminary (WTS) is pleased to announce it has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to fund Churches in Mission. The project aims to learn with and from congregations as they discern God’s movement in their neighborhoods.

Churches in Mission will extend the work of the Formation for Ministry office and will be led by Shari Oosting and Dr. Kyle Small. The seminary will deploy the $1 million grant to invite two cohorts of up to 15 churches each to discover the needs in their community, to clarify congregational mission, and to determine how to join the ongoing work of God in their neighborhoods.

Project Director Shari Oosting recognizes the timeliness of this opportunity, “The context of Christian ministry in the U.S. is changing quickly, and we’re thrilled to dedicate the next five years to listening, discerning, and celebrating local mission projects.” Kyle Small, Director of Research and Learning, sees this as an extension of WTS’s partnership with the church, “We love the church, and we desire to prepare leaders for the church in mission. This generous gift provided by Lilly Endowment is WTS’s opportunity to accompany congregations and prepare leaders to discover and join the Holy Spirit’s movement in and through local communities.”

Western Theological Seminary has a long tradition of putting beliefs and convictions into visible objects or form.

Joel Schoon-Tanis

This shows up in the shape of the atrium, the redesigned chapel, the circular architectural elements appearing throughout the seminary’s interior, and now, in five new pieces of art in the Jack and Mary DeWitt Learning Center.

Several months ago, WTS commissioned local artist Joel Schoon-Tanis to create four paintings around the theme “The Heart of Western Theological Seminary.” On October 23, Joel revealed and explained his paintings entitled, “Spiritual Development,” “Ministry,” “The Church,” and “Worship.” They can be seen on the east and west walls of the main level of the learning center.

“Spiritual Development”


“The Church”


Art expresses who we are and who we aspire to be. One can say that form also forms.

The form of our buildings, art, and programs not only expresses our beliefs and convictions—it forms our students, staff and faculty. So, too, do the books we read.

In that light, this year the faculty assembled a collection of personally recommended books, which are named “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” and are accessible on the second floor of the learning center.

Rev. Nate Bull ‘11

These works of rigorous theology, spiritual piety, biography, history, philosophy, and literature have formed this faculty and community. The books are honest “witnesses” to God’s truth and, like art, they are witnesses of what Western has been, who we are, and who we aspire to be.

2011 M.Div. graduate Nathaniel Bull was commissioned to paint “The Great Cloud,” which was delivered in July and hangs next to the faculty’s recommended books collection.

We welcome you to visit the learning center and enjoy these works with us.




Photo: Julie spends some time with former residents and Friendship House Director Carlos Thompson (right)

Rev. Julie Myers was the first WTS student to graduate with a Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry (GCDM) alongside her Master of Divinity in 2017.

Three years earlier, she had been reluctant to begin seminary, turning in her application one day before the due date. At that time, she had just begun working at Benjamin’s Hope (a living community for adults with disabilities), but her church recognized her gifts of ministry and encouraged her to attend seminary.

At WTS she took as many Disability and Ministry courses as she could simply because they interested her. She was later surprised to realize she had enough credits to earn the GCDM. After graduation she was ordained and worked at Mars Hill Church in Grandville, MI as their special needs coordinator before eventually returning to work part-time at Benjamin’s Hope and at Western’s Friendship House while she completes a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree.

The Ralph and Cheryl Schregardus Friendship House is the seminary housing where students live in apartment pods with young adults with cognitive disabilities (Friends) and learn from each other. As resident advisor, Julie does administrative work, schedules house events, attends meetings, and makes herself available for the Friends.

She moved into the Friendship House this past March, along with her two teenage children—the first family to live in the house since its formation in 2007.

“I love living in the Friendship House with my kids!” she says. “I am in the final stages of a divorce, and although it has been difficult, God has blessed us abundantly over and over again.”

Living among those with different challenges and gifts has been eye-opening and enriching for her children.

“They are learning to practice hospitality—and in a healthy way,” she says, keeping an open-door policy to the residents while learning how to set boundaries for self-care.

In 2016 Julie was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Sarcoidosis. “Essentially, it can attack any organ in your body and cause it to work against itself,” she explains. Previously in remission, the disease flared up at the end of the summer, right as classes were set to begin.

“The timing could not have been worse,” she says. “I don’t remember much about the first days in the hospital except for what the ER doctor said: ‘Ma’am, your calcium levels are higher than I have ever seen in my career… your blood is beginning to crystalize, and your kidneys and liver are beginning to shut down. We are trying the best we can to stabilize you.’ I heard what he was saying, and I knew it was serious, but I couldn’t focus on much. All I felt was an incredible sense of peace from God. He was there beside me, holding me, keeping me alive. I wasn’t afraid.”

Eventually she recovered enough to return home, but she has to take high doses of steroids and other medicine to keep the disease in check. The side effects are significant, but this is the only treatment for Sarcoidosis, as there is no cure.

Julie was worried about keeping up with schoolwork, but WTS staff and faculty have been very supportive. Her own work around disability and ministry reminds her to be kind to herself, listen to what her body needs, and set realistic expectations. She realizes she is now living into what she has studied so long.

For her Th.M. project, Julie is examining how people with cognitive disabilities experience and process grief and trauma. She is hopeful that her Th.M. coursework will give her the research and writing experience she’ll need to join Dr. Ben Conner’s Doctor of Ministry Disability and Ministry cohort next June.

Julie would like to continue living and working in the Friendship House until she completes both the Th.M. and D.Min. degrees. She wants to write about disability and ministry and hopes to teach in an undergraduate or seminary setting some day.

In regard to her own chronic illness, “I feel confident that God’s got this,” she says. “He is the Great Physician and healer. I will be forever grateful for the place I am in now, even though it may seem like my life is in turmoil (which it is!). This has brought my children closer to the Lord, and we are thankful for all of our blessings.”

Photo: The Girod Fellows and other research assistants meet for a discussion over lunch with their mentor, Dr. Todd Billings.

Girod Fellows James Schetelich, Jake Chipka, & Anna Erickson

In 2017 Western began accepting applications for the Girod Fellowship, a full-tuition scholarship for students with outstanding research and writing skills who display eagerness for deep theological learning and have a heart for the church’s ministry. Girod Fellows also serve as research assistants to the seminary’s holder of the Gordon H. Girod Research Chair of Reformed Theology, Dr. J. Todd Billings. Now with three full-time Girod Fellows, the program is drawing academically-outstanding students to Western and forming thoughtful, theologically-minded leaders for the church.

James Schetelich became the first Girod Fellow during the 2018-2019 school year, and two more fellows followed this year—Anna Erickson and Jacob (Jake) Chipka. The fellowships have helped to widen Western’s drawing power. Jake learned of the Girod Fellowship from WTS Admissions Director Jill English during her visit to Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, where he was serving as an athletics chaplain. James and Anna heard about WTS through professor recommendations at Wheaton College. Anna was attracted to Western because of its Reformed background and evangelical direction, as well as its ecumenical spirit.

Another big draw is the opportunity to work alongside Professor Todd Billings.

“Dr. Billings is so brilliant and has shaped the church in really formative ways, yet he writes and speaks with such humility,” Jake says. “He’s so cognizant and comfortable with the idea that he doesn’t have all the answers. I think for Dr. Billings, study is a form of worship, being drawn into the mystery of God.”

One way Dr. Billings models this humility is by encouraging the Fellows to give feedback on his writing. For the last several months, they have been busy reading chapters for his newest book, tentatively titled The End of the Christian Life.

Dr. Billings writes as a member of the cancer community, as well as one who has studied Christian death and dying extensively after he received a $25,000 grant from the Louisville Institute to research “Congregational Life and the Dying: Renewing Resurrection Hope in a Medical Age.”

The End of the Christian Life, set to release in the fall of 2020, will explore the idea that a daily embrace of mortality is an important part of discipleship. It will examine cultural factors that prevent this exercise as well as personal stories from members of the cancer community, sociological research, and theological insight.

“I don’t want feedback that’s just compliant,” Dr. Billings says. Rather, he encourages the Girod Fellows to be brutally honest—something they get more comfortable with as they get to know him.

“80% of the time their feedback leads to some type of revision,” he explains. “One time I started a chapter completely over, and I think it ended up better.”

Dr. Billings encourages the Girod Fellows to research areas of their own interest, as well, and take ownership of the events that the Girod Chair hosts. Some of the 2019-2020 events include weekly Pastor-Theologian Lunches, a colloquy and public panel on the theology of marriage and singleness, and a lecture in February on “An Augustinian Theology of Mass Incarceration.” His assistant, WTS alumna Katlyn DeVries ‘19, plays a large role in organizing these events and mentoring the Fellows as well.

Oct. 17 panel on “A Theology of Singleness: A Conversation on Singleness and the Church”

Since the Girod Fellows are all in-residence M.Div. students, they have also become active leaders on campus through participating in chapel, serving as representatives on student council, and living in the Friendship House alongside young adults with cognitive disabilities.

A large focus of the fellowship and the work of Dr. Billings in general is doing theological research and study on behalf of the wider church. James says this is done not in a remote “high-tower” but more cooperatively, in order to be theologically rich and applicable to the church’s needs.

“Remember that you are small,” Anna recalls Dr. Billings telling her. In other words, remember that Jesus is already at work in the church, and that studying these topics is merely entering into the work He’s already doing.

Jake, Anna, and James have research interests of their own that they hope to examine through the Fellowship as they prepare for ministry.

Jake is passionate about those on the margins of the church, especially those experiencing mental illness. He is currently working with Dr. Billings on a project that examines illness, healing, and the Gospel, comparing how the medical world approaches these topics. His background in studying medicine as an undergrad is well-suited to this work.

Anna is currently working with Academic Dean Kristen Johnson on a research project around discipleship and the Great Commission. She would like to delve deeper into American Evangelicalism and is also interested in reading Karl Barth and learning more about the Reformed tradition.

James is enthralled by John’s gospel in the New Testament and would love to dive deep into it—something he often talks about with Dr. Billings while taking him to medical appointments for cancer treatments. James plans to apply for Ph.D. programs and is interested in becoming a pastor-theologian.

Several summers ago, Dr. Billings held listening sessions with local pastors about the scope of the Girod Research Chair, gauging what they were most interested in—was it the events? Opportunities for congregational learning? He found that pastors were most excited about the Girod Fellows—a program for forming thoughtful, theologically-minded leaders for the church who can engage in difficult topics with humility and depth.

That’s what the church needs, and we trust that’s what the Girod Fellowship is accomplishing.

Interested in applying for the Girod Fellowship? Connect with our Admissions department today!

The Gordon H. Girod Research Chair of Reformed Theology

“To be Reformed is to hold within one’s heart a deep conviction concerning the most basic truths set forth in the Word of God.”[1] That was the sentiment of Gordon H. Girod, for whom the Chair is named. Girod was a passionate preacher and pastor who cared deeply about Reformed theology.

In 2013, Girod’s daughter Carol and her husband, David Van Andel, gave a generous gift that would ensure the continuation of the seminary’s focus on training pastors committed to deep theological engagement in the Reformed tradition.

The person chosen to fill this esteemed Chair was Dr. J. Todd Billings, a professor who cares deeply about encouraging pastors to see ministry as a creative theological space.

This combination of care for the church and deep theological thinking exemplifies the focus of the Girod Research Chair today.

Current Girod Initiatives:

The Girod Fellows Scholarship

PTL! Pastor Theologian Lunches for students

Girod Grants and Colloquy Groups for pastors

Events featuring scholars and speakers

Upcoming Girod Events:

February 10, 1:30pm – Dr. Joseph Small, author of Flawed Church, Faithful God: A Reformed Ecclesiology for the Real World

February 27, 7pm – Dr. Greg Lee, Wheaton College, public lecture on “An Augustinian Theology of Mass Incarceration”

[1] Girod, Gordon. The Deeper Faith: An Exposition of the Canons of Dort (Grand Rapids: Reformed Publications, 1958), 7.


Western Theological Seminary and Cook Library Holiday Hours:

Thanksgiving Hours
Mon, Nov 25: 8am-5pm
Tues, Nov 26: 8am-5pm
Nov 27-Dec 1: Closed for Thanksgiving Break.
Regular academic hours resume Mon, Dec 2.
Christmas Hours
Dec 21-Jan 1: Closed for Christmas Break
J-term hours begin Thurs, Jan 2.
J-term Hours (Jan 2-26)
Mon-Thurs: 8am-5pm
Fri: 8am-4:30pm
Sat & Sun: Closed
Regular academic hours resume Mon, Jan 27.
Community Kitchen
The Community Kitchen will be closed on Nov 28 and 29, and then again on Dec 25, 26, and Jan 1.

Notes on End of Year giving:

  • Please postmark your end-of-the year gift by December 31, 2019 if you wish to be receipted for calendar 2019.
  • WTS will be closed between December 21, 2019 and January 1, 2020 for the Christmas Holiday. If you wish to make a gift of stock/securities in this timeframe, please contact Andy Bast (Director of Development) at 616-566-3555 (cell) or andy@westernsem.edu for routing information.

Thank you and have a blessed holiday season!

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2019 FROM 4:30-6 P.M. in Mulder Chapel

Join Dr. Jay Dolmage, Professor at the University of Waterloo, for this important talk on creating environments of access and universal design for learning. In this talk, we will collaborate to address the ableist attitudes, policies, and practices that are built into higher education. We will also interrogate the minimal and temporary means we have been given to address inequities, and the cost such an approach has for disabled students and faculty. Finally, we will explore our own ableist biases, apologies and defenses in an effort to build tools for anti-ableist education.


Dr. Dolmage is committed to disability rights in his scholarship, service, and teaching. His work brings together rhetoric, writing, disability studies, and critical pedagogy. His first book, entitled Disability Rhetoric, was published with Syracuse University Press in 2014. Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education was published with Michigan University Press in 2017 and is available in an open-access version online. Disabled Upon Arrival: Eugenics, Immigration, and the Construction of Race and Disability was published in 2018 with Ohio State University Press. Dr. Dolmage is the Founding Editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies.

In this age of Facebook and meals eaten on the run, people are losing the ability to slow down and converse face to face. Many don’t have a chance to connect with and learn from those living in vastly different financial circumstances. Although not everyone knows it, Western Theological Seminary provides an opportunity for a cross-community meal every day of the week.

Nearly 28 years ago, WTS and Community Action House (CAH) came together to launch the Community Kitchen. WTS invites the community to use our facilities, and CAH provides staffing, food, and volunteers to provide meals seven days a week nearly every day of the year.

Lunch:  Monday-Friday from 11-12:30
Breakfast:  Saturday & Sunday from 9-10:30am
Cost: FREE

Sometimes people who know about the Community Kitchen wonder who it’s intended for. It’s for the neighbor down the street in between jobs. Or the mom living in a hotel with her kids who doesn’t have a stove but can tell her family, “We’re having pancakes for breakfast this weekend!” It’s for the college student with no time to eat if he doesn’t swing in. It’s for seminary staff and students who want to listen to the wisdom around the table as guests talk about their experiences.

The ALICE population in Ottawa County is growing (ALICE is a United Way term meaning Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed). With the affordable housing crisis in Holland, the rising cost of living, medical costs, transportation, groceries, and the challenge of finding daycare, a full time job (or two) may not be enough to cover basic needs.

The Community Kitchen is a constant support for anyone seeking a healthy meal and welcoming community. When people come with regularity, they have the joy of entering into each other’s lives and really getting to know each other. Guests share their past experiences, their challenges, and what brings hope. What a privilege to encourage and to be encouraged.

The CK team consists of Community Kitchen Coordinator Felicia Thompson who runs the kitchen, preparing around 150 meals a day, and Melissa Roessing who supervises Community Action House’s Food Security programs (which includes the food pantry and Community Kitchen). But volunteers are the heart of what makes the kitchen function. They’re preparing fresh salads, cutting up fruit, serving food, washing dishes, cleaning tables, and greeting those who enter by name. That is some of the beauty that happens on a daily basis.

People come regularly because this is more than a meal. It’s a chance to see friends, to meet new people, and to experience community.

If you already come to the Kitchen, we’ll see you soon! But if you haven’t yet, consider this your formal invitation:  come and join us at the Community Kitchen to nourish your body and your soul. Also—we are always in need of more helping hands if you’re interested in volunteering to keep this community institution serving!

Want to know more or learn how to get involved? Contact Melissa Roessing. Learn more about Community Action House’s other work serving our most vulnerable neighbors here.

–post contributed by Melissa Roessing

Join us on Monday, November 4 for the 2019 Bast Preaching Festival featuring Wheaton College chaplain, Timothy Blackmon! Information about speakers, workshops, and registration can be found here:

Thurs., October 17, at 7 p.m., in Winants Auditorium, Graves Hall, Hope College

This panel will bring together scholars and pastors from around the country who have written about the challenges and opportunities in developing a theology of singleness for the church. With adult singleness at historic highs in the American context, this is a pressing issue on both practical and theological levels. Please join us!
Welcome given by Dr. Todd Billings
Panel moderated by Dr. Trygve Johnson
The panelists:

Dr. Jana Bennett (pronounced Yanna) is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Dayton. She holds a PhD from Duke University, where she studied with Stanley Hauerwas and wrote her dissertation, published as Water is Thicker than Blood: An Augustinian Theology of Marriage and Singleness (Oxford, 2008). Her most recent books include a co-edited book (with David Cloutier), Naming Our Sins: How Recognizing The Seven Deadly Vices Can Renew the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Catholic University of America Press, 2019), as well as Singleness and the Church: A New Theology of the Single Life (Oxford, 2017). She is married with three children. Despite being married, she is intensely interested in conversations about Christian singleness because the church universal cannot be wholly the Body of Christ with attention to, and celebration of, the many single people in its midst.

Dr. Wesley Hill is associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, second edition 2016), Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans, 2015), and Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Brazos, 2015). His book on the Lord’s Prayer is forthcoming in 2019 from Lexham Press. A contributing editor for Comment magazine, he writes regularly for Christianity Today, The Living Church, and other publications, including SpiritualFriendship.org which he co-founded.

Dr. Matt Jenson is Associate Professor of Theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University in La Mirada, CA.  Dr. Jenson teaches across the humanities and biblical and theological studies in a Socratic pedagogy, closely mentoring students throughout their four years. Having grown up in southern California, Jenson holds a B.A. in literature and philosophy from Wheaton College and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), where he was part of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts. He is also ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church. According to Dr. Jenson,  “…the great surprise of my life — and a part of my life that has brought much sorrow, anxiety, and, thanks be to God, real transformation — has been that I remain single at 43. Single, and now dating (what a strange thing to do in your 40s), so I am currently experiencing these questions neither as someone who is single and knows he will remain so nor as someone who is married.”


Rev. Steven Rodriguez is the pastor of Lakeview Community Church in Rochester, New York, a congregation of the Reformed Church in America. He has been married to his wife Joanna for thirteen years, and they have three young children. He is currently working on a book with his friend, Rev. Kevin Slusher, on how marriage and celibacy both witness to the cross and the new creation in Christ. 




Rev. Kevin Slusher is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. For the past five years he has served as pastor of the Reformed Church of Port Ewen in Port Ewen, NY. He blogs at kevinslusher.com. As a gay and celibate Christian he has also contributed to Spiritual Friendship. Some of his favorite theologians, and those most influential for him are: Augustine, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and W. H. Auden, among others. For his book project with Rev. Steven Rodriguez, Peter Brown and Eugene Rogers have been significant interlocutors as well. 

This event is co-sponsored by the Gordon H. Girod Chair of Reformed Theology at WTS and the Hope College Campus Ministries Office

Monday September 30 at 1:30 P.M. in Mulder Chapel

Faith Following Ferguson: Five Years Later

Five years have passed since the killing of 18 year old Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer.  Brown’s killing sparked a protest movement for racial justice that has not been seen since the Civil Rights movement.  In her book, Ferguson and Faith, Dr. Leah Gunning Francis explored the role of local clergy in this movement and the various ways their faith commitments compelled them to join in.  She has since reconnected with many of these clergy to learn about what’s been happening these past five years.  What have been some of the effects of this movement on the St. Louis region?  How have clergy continued to live out their public faith now that the cameras have gone?  In this lecture, Dr. Gunning Francis will reflect on these learnings and their implications for our nation for such a time as this.



Dr. Leah Gunning Francis is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dr. Gunning Francis is also the author of the book Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015). She interviewed more than two dozen clergy and young activists who were actively involved in the movement for racial justice in Ferguson and beyond. Dr. Gunning Francis researched and wrote Ferguson and Faith while serving as the Associate Dean for Contextual Education and Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ferguson and Faith is a collection of stories of courage and hope. Dr. Gunning Francis gleaned from these stories seeds of possibilities that, if nurtured, could serve us well into the future. These are the stories that were rarely imaged on television, yet they are integral to the fight for justice in Ferguson and resonate with the struggle for human dignity around the country.

In 2012, Dr. Gunning Francis was awarded the prestigious Engaged Scholars Fellowship to study issues of risk among middle-class African American young men. She argues that the meta-narrative about young black men puts all of them “at risk,” regardless of socioeconomic class, and utilizes the narrated experiences of black mothers to construct a new narrative about young black men that honors their humanity and is concerned for their well-being.

Dr. Gunning Francis’ additional research interests focus on transformative education as reflected in her doctoral dissertation, Beyond “Band-Aids” and Bootstraps: Toward a Womanist Vision of Christian Education as Social Transformation. Her writing reflects her commitment to the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of women, men and children; and highlights her particular interest in underserved and minority communities.

Dr. Gunning Francis has provided pastoral leadership for congregations in Georgia, Illinois and Ohio. She has received numerous awards to include the Candler School of Theology’s G. Ray Jordan award for excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service, and the Fund for Theological Education’s Doctoral Fellow Award. In 2015, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Fontbonne University.

Dr. Gunning Francis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Hampton University; a Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University; and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

A native of Willingboro, New Jersey, Dr. Gunning Francis is married to Rev. Rodney Francis. They live in Indianapolis with their tween-aged children. To learn more about Dr. Gunning Francis visit www.leahgunningfrancis.com.