By Dr. David Komline, Associate Professor of Church History
At the 146th commencement ceremony on April 30th, Western Theological Seminary had the privilege of bestowing the 2022 Distinguished Alumni award upon Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, M.Div. ’84. Granberg-Michaelson has played key roles in the three movements that continue to define Western Theological Seminary’s identity as evangelical, ecumenical, and Reformed. In three different stages of his career, he has led in each of these areas, though never forgetting his commitments to the others. His early work with Senator Mark Hatfield and Sojourners magazine placed him at the forefront of the socially concerned evangelicalism of the 1960s and 1970s that scholars Brantley Gasaway and David Swartz have written about in recent monographs. Then, as a staff person for the World Council of Churches in the 1980s and 1990s, Granberg-Michaelson worked at the heart of the modern ecumenical movement.
Wes Granberg-Michaelson has faithfully served the church of Jesus Christ with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength. His leadership in the RCA and his work across various denominational bodies and ecclesial traditions continue to leave an impact today. I am grateful for his love for and lifetime of service to the church. – President Felix Theonugraha
He later played a key role in helping to launch Christian Churches Together, an organization that fosters ecumenical dialogue. In 1994, he took over as the General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, becoming the most public face of America’s oldest Reformed denomination.
Granberg-Michaelson led the RCA for seventeen years. Under his leadership, the RCA adopted its first Statement of Mission and Vision, which famously concluded: “We will no longer do business as usual, nor our usual business.” He also stewarded the process of forming a ten-year goal for the RCA, “Our Call,” that focused on planting new congregations and revitalizing existing congregations, with supporting emphasis on discipleship, leadership, and mission. Finally, during his tenure, the RCA adopted the Belhar Confession.
Granberg-Michaelson’s first formal connection with Western came during a six-month stint as a scholar in residence, during which he wrote his book A Worldly Spirituality: The Call to Take Care of the Earth (Joanna Cotler Books, 1984). At this point, he had only recently made a conscious decision to move from politics toward theology. While at WTS to write, he discerned a call to ordained ministry and thus enrolled in the M.Div. program. He was ordained at Third Reformed Church in Holland, MI, on June 10, 1984. Since his first visit to Western, Granberg-Michaelson has authored numerous books, including two that highlight his work with the RCA: Unexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity (Eerdmans Publishing, 2011) and Leadership from the Inside Out: Spiritual and Organizational Change (Crossroad Publishing, 2004).
Throughout his career, Granberg Michaelson has led from a deeply meditative center focused on Christ. At the same time, he has kept mission at the forefront of his own work and of the communities that he has served. Western Theological Seminary is grateful for his leadership and is delighted to be able to honor him with this award.