Meeting a moment in history with innovation, finding blessings

Since March, the entire world has been in a state of flux as the Coronavirus pandemic has ravaged physical bodies, economies, and our mental and spiritual health. On top of that, our nation is coping with natural disasters and a cultural/political moment fraught with division and polarization. Eight months into the crisis, we wanted to know how pastors are holding up, and what God is doing in this moment.

A few of our alumni and friends were pastoring churches in hard-hit areas at the start of the pandemic. The first major COVID-19 outbreak in the United States was in Kirkland, WA in a nursing home very close to the church led by Rev. Dan Claus ‘14. “At the classis meeting in early March, we all decided to shut down for two weeks, thinking we were being aggressive,” he recalls. “By the time two weeks were up, the country was shut down.”

Across the country in Queens, NY, Rev. Thomas Goodhart ‘02 says one of the hardest parts was hearing the constant ambulance sirens in March and April. “We only lost one member to COVID,” he shares. “We have had others who came down with the illness. Every person in my congregation knows someone who has died. Some of us know multiple people.”

For many months while delivering sermons online, Rev. Tom Goodhart had only his dog to keep him company in the sanctuary.

Revs. Ellen ‘19 and Aric Balk ’19 had just received their first call to Parkway Community Church on Long Island three months before the shutdown. Before the Balks even had time to get to know their congregation, they were transitioning everything online and leading through a major crisis.

“Any time there is new leadership, there’s added anxiety and fear of change; that’s just a reality,” Rev. Ellen says, “but this year, everything had to change drastically, and not by choice.”

“At the height of the pandemic here, local hospitals were having to bring in refrigerator trucks to store bodies because the morgues could not keep up,” Rev. Aric says. “We were seeing videos on the news of mass graves being dug less than 20 miles from us.”

On top of the pandemic, some areas were also hit by natural disasters. The church Rev. Alissa Davis ’15 leads in Midland, MI became emergency housing for people displaced by a devastating flood caused by heavy rains and two failed dams in May.

“We had people hauling soggy possessions out of houses, making hundreds of meals, and picking up groceries to deliver to people without power or kitchens,” she recalls. “For a moment, COVID-19 wasn’t much on our minds.”

In Ripon, CA, distance-learning M.Div. students Pastor Brett Dood and Pastor Phil Krygsheld had to make difficult decisions around whether it would be safer for Calvary Reformed Church to worship inside or outside because the air quality was the worst in the world due to smoke from wildfires.

Despite all these challenges and more, pastors are meeting this moment with innovation and even seeing some unexpected blessings come out of it.

WTS board member Rev. Cora Taitt says that an elder at her church in the Bronx told her the church is more connected than it’s ever been before. In addition to services on Zoom and a weekly prayer meeting by conference call, the congregation has a Saturday prayer/conversation time that Rev. Taitt says “has been almost like a support group.” She encourages her racially diverse congregation to be open and honest about their feelings surrounding recent racial tensions and other issues.

“This is a good time to be the church,” she contends. “We’re called to be peacemakers, we have hope—we can offer that.”

Like many churches, BLVD Church in Holland, MI met outside during the summer months.

Rev. Ben Aguilera ‘15 is the pastor of BLVD Church, a two-year-old church plant in Holland, MI that has seen its leadership team step up in new and inspiring ways. They now have 85 people in online discipleship groups, and the church has rallied around practical needs in their community, serving over 3,000 meals with Holland Public Schools and partnering with a local organization to provide PPE kits to immigrant families working as essential workers in the fields and factories.

Many pastors have noted that Zoom and other online platforms are reaching a larger audience than they had ever reached prior to the pandemic. At Rev. Claus’s church, randomly assigned Zoom break-out rooms have helped people connect to those in the church they had not met before. Rev. Goodhart in Queens is seeing his elderly parishioners embrace new technologies to stay connected.

Pastors who have held outdoor services found neighbors willing to stop and observe or ask questions, allowing them to engage their neighborhoods in a new way.

Calvary Church in Ripon, CA helped struggling local restaurants as well as families.

Pastors Dood and Krygsheld in California decided early on they wanted this moment to be one of radical generosity. They purchased around 1,500 meals from struggling local restaurants and distributed them to families in their city, adding about $40,000 to the local economy. Their good deed even got picked up by “Good Day Sacramento.” Then they put together a grant program with other local pastors and non-profits to provide small businesses with up to $5,000 to keep their doors open.

Pastor Brett Dood (in blue) and members of Calvary Reformed Church distributed food to frontline workers in Ripon, CA.

“People started calling us the giving church,” says Pastor Dood. “If we weren’t going through this wild time, God wouldn’t have been able to do these things that have borne a lot of fruit.”

So what practices have kept these pastors grounded and sane? Observing a regular Sabbath, taking long walks with or without a canine companion, rhythms of daily prayer and time in the Word, sharing burdens with others in ministry, and receiving encouragement from supportive congregants are all themes carrying them through.

“When someone takes time to acknowledge that we’re all a little out of our depth and doing our very best, it has lifted my spirits a lot,” Rev. Davis notes.

“Many of our classes at seminary taught us to sit with challenges, to listen well, and to be okay with not having an answer,” recalls Rev. Aric. “All of those things have been important in this season.”

Overall, these pastors are remembering that God is faithful and has carried his church through difficulties in the past.

When the pandemic hit, Pastors Dood and Krygsheld were in the middle of their first distance-learning course—Systematic Theology II with Dr. J. Todd Billings.

“There’s so much focus on the Holy Spirit in that course, and there were so many times during the craziness of the pandemic that would have us depending on our own strength, our own ideas,” shares Pastor Dood, “but the Holy Spirit is really leading and guiding us. It was very comforting to know that God was ministering to us providentially in this season.”

“I’m grateful to Western for giving me a theological foundation to recognize God’s activity in the church and to lean into that,” expresses Rev. Claus.

Please pray for pastors you know during this season—for endurance, for wisdom, for moments of rest, for boldness and courage to proclaim the Gospel to a hurting world, and for the Holy Spirit to continue to grow and guide them. And if you know a pastor personally, please thank them and let them know you see their hard work in this season…it means the world to them!

 

The Western Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a new mission statement for the school. The new mission statement is:

By God’s grace, Western Theological Seminary forms women and men for faithful Christian ministry and participation in the Triune God’s ongoing redemptive work in the world.

The new mission statement acknowledges that as we educate students, it is not we who are ultimately responsible for forming our students, but God. As a learning community, we educate before the face of God. The new statement also explicitly affirms our identity as an egalitarian institution–we affirm and support the calling of women to all levels of ministry, including ordination. Finally, the new mission statement acknowledges the reality that students who attend Western Theological Seminary are called not only to ministry in the church but to a variety of vocations. We stand ready to be used as a conduit by God to form our students to participate in God’s redeeming work, whatever their vocational call.

The Board also unanimously affirmed five proposed strategic priorities:

    • Enhance Student Learning: Enhance student learning by reinvigorating our in-residence community while bolstering our online and distance learning offerings
    • Strengthen Academic Offerings: Strengthen and expand academic offerings to address and anticipate the needs of the Church in the 21st century
    • Focus on the Church: Deepen our focus on the Church through various initiatives, relationships, and partnerships
    • Engage Diversity: Engage the growing racial/ethnic diversity of the United States and expressions of Christianity around the world
    • Ensure the Future: Steward the resources of the seminary to ensure the future health and stability of the institution

The seminary will be developing initiatives under each of these priorities and will present those to the Board at their next meeting in February 2021.

Western is blessed with trustees who are committed to the future thriving and sustainability of the seminary, who are invested in the education of our students, and who are passionate about training leaders for God’s Kingdom. Thanks be to God.

 

We are nearly a month into the 2020-21 school year with good news to report!

A global pandemic can’t dampen our spirits. The work of the seminary continues, and here are several highlights:

  • We welcomed 61 new students to WTS this fall.
  • There is now a total of 345 students in various programs at WTS, following God’s call on their lives.
    • 109 Master of Divinity
    • 30 Master of Arts
    • 71 Doctor of Ministry
    • 109 Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Ministry
    • 8 Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry
    • 1 Graduate Program for Christian Educators
    • 17 non-degree-seeking and audits
  • Our inaugural Friendship House Fellows (FHF) program has begun! The FHF is a 6-year program for individuals with intellectual disabilities who want to explore their ministry gifts within the supportive environment of a community of Christian co-learners.
  • The Doctor of Ministry program kicked off the year with two cohorts meeting in person, one online, and another one (all in Spanish) to be held in Orlando, FL in October.
    • “Disability and Ministry: Imagining More Faithful and Inclusive Congregational Ministries” with Dr. Ben Conner (9 students)
    • “In Step with the Spirit: Leading Global Christian Movements” with Dr. Alvin Padilla (11 students)
    • “Deepening Soul Care and Spiritual Transformation for Mission” with Dr. Chuck DeGroat (13 students)
    • “The Latino Pastor-Theologian: Towards Effective Pastoral Leadership” with Dr. Alvin Padilla & Dr. David Escobar Arcay (12 students)
  • We welcomed Dr. Winn Collier to the faculty of WTS in August. He will direct the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination (more on that later this fall) and will serve as Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination.
  • 37 churches and ministries are participating in our Teaching Church program, mentoring 44 M.Div. students.
  • We launched our very first Connection Week from September 13-21, in which we celebrated the people and ministries that flow back and forth between Western Theological Seminary and the front lines of the local church.

Look for details on these stories and more in the upcoming Fall edition of The Commons newsletter.

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.

Blessings,

Felix

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.