Mission and Vision
The purpose of Western Theological Seminary is to prepare Christians called by God to lead the church in mission. Western Theological Seminary is an evangelical and ecumenical community of faith and learning in the Reformed tradition that serves the church of Jesus Christ. In covenant with the Reformed Church in America, Western equips men and women for Christ-centered, biblically-based, theologically-integrated, culturally-competent, and mission-oriented Christian leadership.
- Racial-Ethnic Initiatives
- CJ Kingdom-Grier serves as Assistant to the President for Racial Initiatives, advising seminary leaders in strategic plans to create a culture of racial-ethnic hospitality at WTS.
- Faculty Fellow Program – Racial-ethnic scholars are invited to teach at the seminary part time while they finish their doctoral studies in a seminary-related field. Because 47% of future RCA churches will be multi-ethnic in composition, Western created this program to help prepare leaders for diverse congregations. Our first scholar, Prof. Eric Williams, began in September of 2009 and taught courses in Modern Black Theology through May of 2011. Our second scholar, Rev. Bernard "Chris" Dorsey, taught on Multi-cultural Ministry and Theology & Social Movements and is now Assistant Professor of Theology and Preaching. The current faculty fellow is Han-Luen Kantzer Komline, who is working on a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. She teaches church history courses. Prof. Kantzer Komline was recently offered a full-time faculty position beginning in July 2015. The Faculty Fellow for 2015-2016 will be Duane Loynes.
- Diversity Committee – This group attentively creates a culture of racial and ethnic hospitality at Western through events such as racial-awareness training. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, suggestions or concerns regarding issues of diversity in the community.
- Graduate Certificate in Urban Pastoral Ministry – This program meets the educational needs of those practicing ministry in an urban context. An ethnically diverse group of professors balance theory with practical learning as they teach the courses.
- Racial-Ethnic Initiatives
Disability Advocacy and Ministry - Friendship House
The Ralph & Cheryl Schregardus Friendship House is something like grace - completely unexpected and amazing.
Out of two sets of needs --additional student housing for Western and safe community-oriented housing for persons with special needs-- came one incredible opportunity. Western Seminary and community disability advocates worked together to build the Friendship House, creating a unique living situation where adults with cognitive impairments share apartments with seminary students. WTS students and Friends live life together, learning from and teaching each other.
Including these new friends into the WTS community has impacted everyone in the seminary. Each student, staff member, faculty, and future ministry leader at WTS carries in their heart a heightened awareness, a sense of compassion for all persons with disabilities, and a basic ability to minister to them and their families. That is good news for the Church!
The Friendship House consists of six apartments, each housing three seminary students and one young adult with cognitive impairments. The apartments are beautifully furnished. For more information on this unique living arrangement, please contact Norm Donkersloot (616-392-8555 x107).
The Western Story
The year is 1866 and seven students are preparing to graduate from Hope College. All seven are sensing a call to ministry, but they want to pursue their theological training in west Michigan. The solution is to petition the General Synod of the Reformed Church to allow for theological training through the Hope College Religion Department. Permission is granted and Western Theological Seminary (on the western frontier of the Reformed Church) is established.
Unfortunately, the early years were a struggle for Western Seminary. There was inadequate financial support from the churches. In 1871, Holland, Michigan was almost completely destroyed by fire, and the country was swept by financial panic just a few years later. By 1877, the General Synod directed that theological education be discontinued at Western Seminary.
As the need for theological training in the "west" was once again evident, the General Synod restored Western in 1883, and in 1885 the seminary was separated from the college. It now had its own board of trustees, faculty and curriculum. The seminary was chartered as "The Western Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in America."
Of course, other than a board, faculty and a curriculum, Western Seminary had little else it could call its own. However, the General Synod had learned some important lessons through the closing of Western in 1877, one of which was the need for financial stability. Therefore, Western Seminary was required to establish a $30,000 faculty endowment before a person could be installed into a professorship.
Semelink Family Hall was constructed in 1895. Housing five classrooms and a chapel, it was the first building specifically built for Western Theological Seminary. This was followed by construction of the first dormitory in 1914.
In 1919 the seminary's first "development officer", Dr. James F. Zwemer, reported to General Synod that four faculty chairs were fully endowed in the amount of $40,000 each, and a fifth chair was well on its way to being endowed.
The current seminary building was constructed in 1955, and 26 years later the six-story Cook Center for Theological Research was completed. The city of Holland closed 12th street between College and Columbia Avenues at about this same time, forcing Western to relocate its main entrance from 12th street to 13th street. A growing need for better student housing necessitated the development of the current townhouses located across 13th Street from the seminary in 1992. As part of the Campaign for Western - Leadership: Challenge & Change, the DeWitt Theological Center was dedicated in 2003. This beautiful facility houses classrooms, a bookstore called "The Sacred Page", faculty offices, The Burggraaff Atrium, and Journey - a center for continuing education of the church. In 2007 the seminary introduced the innovative Friendship House, the first student housing of its kind across the country, which allows students to learn first-hand about disabilities by living with high-functioning, cognitively-impaired young adults.
Over the years, the seminary has been blessed with strong, visionary leaders who led Western through program, building, finance and faculty expansions all in the name of preparing leaders for the church of Jesus Christ. Under the leadership of President Dennis Voskuil (1994-2008), Western successfully completed two capital campaigns, constructed the DeWitt Theological Center, established a distance learning Master of Divinity program, developed Journey (continuing education), and built the Friendship House. Additionally, Western’s enrollment more than doubled during this time. In July of 2008 Rev. Timothy Brown accepted the reins of leadership from Dennis Voskuil and serves as president today.
The history of Western Seminary is strong. It is a history of preparing leaders for the church of Jesus Christ through times of challenge and change. The future is bright and Western will continue to face the challenges and make the changes necessary to prepare the leaders of the church for our children and grandchildren.