From the Dean: Relational Theology
Twice a year, deans and other leaders of the various Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries in the Pacific Northwest gather together to share about what’s been going on at their schools. At the most recent gathering, the dean of a seminary that conducts most of their courses online commented that their school found their “niche” among those “people who want to do theology from their couch.” I found that interesting, since I would not say that anyone who studies theology at SPU — either undergraduate or seminary — could do so very well by lying on their couch.
Why? Because we believe that the study of theology is a highly relational activity. I recognize, of course, that there are people who, because of geographic remoteness or physical limitation or learning disability, need to take courses online. I’m not against online education. But I am extremely wary of anyone who thinks that a deep understanding of theology can be acquired on one’s own, or that skills for Christian ministry can be learned apart from face-to-face interactions with others.
At SPU, the academic teaching of Christian scripture, theology, Church history, ethics, and practical theology always takes place within a community of believers (what we call “abbey”) and in light of specific contexts of local congregations and other places of ministry, especially among those on the margin (what we call “apostolate”).
This combination of relational experiences with the rigorous study of theology makes for rich and exciting teaching and learning. I’m grateful for an institution where such education occurs on a daily basis.
Dean, School of Theology
Seminary Alumnus Spotlight: Hany Estmalek MA ’17
It only took one heartbreaking story for God to stir Hany Salah Estmalek’s heart and point his attention to the global refugee crisis: A 2015 article about a popular photograph in which a Syrian child, arms raised, “surrenders” to a camera because she thought it was a weapon. The child was 4 years old.
Born and raised in El-Menia, Egypt, Estmalek came to SPU as international graduate student in 2014, and has made several trips to the Middle East throughout and since his time in Seminary.
A June 2017 graduate, Estmalek acquired his Master of Arts in Christian Leadership, and aims to create a sustainable impact in a volatile region by empowering local leaders to help refugees thrive, not just survive.
“Just seeing the crisis firsthand was overwhelming to me,” Estmalek says. “We are talking about literally millions of people fleeing to neighboring countries for safety or in makeshift tents in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.”
Currently located in Dearborn, Michigan, where he works with mostly Syrian refugees through a Free Methodist Church there, Estmalek plans to move to Northern Iraq by August 2018 in hopes of establishing the Noor Center, in partnership with Impact Middle East.
“The word ‘Noor’ in the Arabic language means ‘light’ and this is our prayer for this center: to be a place of light, hope, and healing in the midst of darkness, trauma, and pain,” Estmalek says.
The center’s mission is to create spaces for education and development for refugees to turn their campus into places for healing, learning, and opportunity. Recognizing that his team will be there temporarily, Estmalek hopes local leaders will adopt the mission, too.
Estmalek says SPU afforded him both a space to discern his calling and the encouragement to pursue it, noting Dr. Doug Koskela’s book Calling and Clarity: Discovering What God Wants for Your Life was especially influential. In partnership with Koskela, Estmalek is currently translating the book into Arabic in the hopes that its message can impact the Middle East as well.
As an agent of love, Estmalek strives to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in practical ways. “I think God is in the business of restoring and redeeming the broken, and it is an honor to just join God in his business,” he says.
Undergraduate Alumnus Spotlight: Taylor Ford ’16
Taylor Ford grew up attending Calvary Community Church in Sumner, Washington. Despite his life-changing experience in the youth ministry at Calvary, he never imagined that he would now be serving as the high school director in the student ministry there.
In his junior year at Cascade Christian High School, Ford felt like he had gone through the motions and checked off the boxes in order to call himself a Christian. He says he decided to leave the passive habits behind in pursuit of the “abundant life” communicated in John 10:10.
“I remember a sermon where our pastor said, ‘It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus, and if you give your life to Jesus, you can have this full life,’” Ford says. “I had made a lot of my Christian experience about me, and I just remember a moment where I decided to really surrender everything to God.”
Now, as a pastor himself, Ford says he doesn’t think about maintaining a title, role, or position, but rather, simply focuses on being a better follower of Jesus every day.
“As leaders and pastors, we set the climate of the ministry based on who we are.” Ford says. “If we’re loving Jesus and following him, if we’re encouraging people, if the Holy Spirit is leading us, then that is what starts happening in the ministry — the students are excited to follow Jesus and to lead in their schools. When we allow God to disciple us, then we can learn from and disciple other people.”
Ford and three other church staff members make up the student ministry team that serves approximately 230 middle and high school students who gather on Sunday evenings for C7, the student ministry name that means “Living for Christ and being His Church 7 days a week.” His responsibilities include coordinating with that team, preparing weekly messages, responding to student needs, meetings, and planning outreach events such as camps, mission trips, and worship nights.
Before graduating from SPU in 2016 with a degree in educational ministry, Ford served as a student ministry coordinator in Hill and Moyer residence halls, as a guest speaker back at Calvary, and, during his junior and senior years, as a teacher’s assistant for Professor of Educational Ministry Ed Smyth. In that role, Ford says he learned lessons that have stuck with him to this day from a man who “spoke to the head and heart of ministry.”
“I’ve learned that leading people is much less about doing and much more about being; being who God has called us to be, and not trying to emulate other people’s leadership,” Ford says. “It’s about the overflow of your heart and what God is doing in you.”
Seminarian Erin Rooney Celebrates Reformation Anniversary in Germany
This past year marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to a German church door, sparking the Protestant Reformation. SPS seminarian Erin Rooney studied in Germany during the summer of this historic year.
Rooney shares: “The Summer School 2017 was funded and formed through various partner organizations that allowed 800 graduate students to come to Wittenberg, Germany, for the summer of the 500th year of the Reformation. In a nutshell, 33 seminars on diverse topics were held over the course of four weeks.
“I was accepted to the seminar ‘The Bible as a Source of Knowledge and Spirituality: Feminist and Queer Readings of Scripture.’ Through exploring the impact of Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, my classmates and I also engaged with contemporary culturally and gender-balanced translations and interpretations of central texts like Genesis 1-3, Romans 1, and Galatians 3. Reading and dialoging through these new hermeneutical approaches helped me to critically assess relations of power and hierarchy, gender roles, and sexuality.
“I also benefited greatly from forming friendships with seminarians and ministers who live all over the world, and I enjoyed exploring the humble town of Wittenberg as it constructed events, demonstrations, and educational explorations into the impact of the Reformation itself. I am honored for this opportunity to travel in a country new to me, but rich in its history and influence on our practices of spirituality and faith today.”
Looking back on Immerse 2017
“She came home a young adult on fire and ready to serve the Lord!” a parent in Kansas wrote to us this summer. “She had a better understanding of the Bible, talked about leading in Scripture and prayer … Hearing and seeing it from others always speaks volumes, and she had time to reflect and search her heart for her beliefs.”
During the inaugural session of “Immerse,” SPU’s new youth discipleship academy through the School of Theology and Seattle Pacific Seminary, 37 students from Hawaii, California, and across the Northwest came to the Seattle Pacific campus in July for a week of leadership and theological training, followed by a reunion weekend in October.
Through four courses on Scriptural hermeneutics, Christian heritage, missiology, and spiritual practices — all taught by SOT faculty — these young leaders were equipped to engage their hearts and minds to following God’s call into Christian leadership.
The students lived rhythms of worship and small-group engagement, retreated at SPU’s Camp Casey on Whidbey Island, and served our homeless neighbors through a partnership with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. Immerse is sponsored through a generous, multiyear grant from the Lilly Endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative.
“This was an incredible camp!” wrote a student. “I learned so much through all the leaders and professors.” Another wrote: “Thank you for everything this week. It really was a life-changing experience.”
Immerse is open to young Christian leaders entering grades 10 through 12. Immerse 2018 will take place July 15–21 at SPU and Camp Casey. A reunion weekend is scheduled for October 12 to 14 at Camp Casey. Register or learn more at spu.edu/immerse.
Pivot Northwest Update
In November 2017, we celebrated a year since the SPU Young Adult Initiative was funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc., giving birth to Pivot Northwest.
In the last year, we:
- built our team of investigators utilizing resources from the SPU schools of Theology and Psychology, Family, and Community;
- invited 18 churches to join our investigation through a rigorous application process;
- met with those churches as a group in September;
- nearly finished traveling to visit each church individually to discuss their process to develop innovative ministries in their contexts.
In addition to our excitement in engaging with our church partners, we are eager to:
- collect and analyze the results of our fall surveys concerning the faith of young adults in the Pacific Northwest;
- continue our development of web and smartphone app platforms to distribute our data and findings;
- curate resources to help churches develop more ministry vitality among young adults.
Churches and individuals can get involved with Pivot Northwest’s work by:
- engaging with us on social media (@Pivotnw on most popular platforms).
- visiting pivotnw.org and use the guestbook form to let us know who you are and what questions or concerns you have. You can also sign up for a forthcoming quarterly email that tracks our progress and lets you know about exciting news and opportunities.
- contacting us if your church wants to work with Pivot Northwest or share about ministry innovation with young adults. We would love to hear from you.
Last spring, Seattle Pacific Seminary was awarded a one-year grant from the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSC) to bolster the efforts of SPU’s on-campus garden over the summer. The implementation of the grant was the beginning of the Seminary’s partnership with the undergraduate club that regularly tends the garden space.
Seminarian Gregory Reffner, who led the initiative, reports that it was a good summer, full of new growth and new connections. In addition to tending the garden, he expanded the growing space by installing an additional raised bed. Other additions include a brick-lined flower bed and three hand-built wooden benches so people could sit and simply enjoy the space.
Additional funds from the SSC grant were allocated to send eight SPU students to a one-day conference on Environmental Theology put on by Seattle’s Christ & Cascadia, a nonprofit arm of Fuller Theological Seminary.
In Winter Quarter, SPU will host a screening of the documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry on campus. Reffner hopes this screening will help raise awareness around environmental concerns and spark conversations regarding a particularly Christian response.
Efforts are underway to secure future funding for the garden coordinator position. To inquire about supporting the initiative, contact Reffner at email@example.com.
Students, Smythe Attend Women in Ministry Conference
Pictured from left to right: Shannon Smythe, Lindsey Thrower, Kaila Creamer, Carla Ramirez, Caroline Beresford-Wood (not pictured: Rachel Long)
Two seminarians and three undergraduate students, along with Assistant Professor of Theological Studies Rev. Dr. Shannon Smythe, attended the 2017 Women in Ministry conference at Princeton Theological Seminary in October. The conference, Telling Our Stories: Breaking the Mold, Taking Risks, Paving the Way, featured keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Katie G. Cannon, the first African-American woman ordained in what is now the PC(USA). Her work focuses on womanist theology, and women in religion and society.
The aim of the conference was to provide a place of gathering for women in a variety of ministry settings, whether in the church, entrepreneurial ministries, or at home. We gathered to share our stories of ministry, to cultivate new strategies for ministry, and to support and celebrate women in leadership at all levels, both lay and ordained.
For the women who attended from SPU, the conference achieved its goals in very direct and personal ways.
Seminarian Kaila Creamer applied to go to the conference “out of desperation.” At the church where she serves and ministers, “There are very few women leading in roles that I long to embody,” she says. “My community gives preferential treatment to the leadership and development of men and thus has left women like myself who desire to learn on the sidelines.” Creamer says this has meant quite a “lonely road.”
For Christian theology major Carla Ramirez, she says what she saw at the conference “was completely different from what I was used to seeing. There were hundreds of women of all ages, and each one represented some ministry that they were leading. I had never been in a place where the question of ‘Who has Christ called me to be?’ was so clearly answered until a moment in the closing chapel when women were sharing what God had called them to and the entire chapel responded in praise to God and gratitude to the women. Being able to experience this has encouraged me to seek and answer my own call to ministry.”
Global and urban ministry minor Rachel Long says the conference provided an “opportunity to have open and safe conversations with women from all different walks of life, of all different ages and races. It allowed me to ask hard questions and participate in conversations that rarely get space in our patriarchal society.”
Christian theology major Caroline Beresford-Wood attended the conference “to learn from people who had been involved in ministry a long time and to listen to people’s stories, especially the stories that aren’t usually at the ‘forefront’ of the Church’s grand story.” For Wood, the conference was invigorating because she says she got to see “so many women leading and changing their pockets of the world with Jesus. I got to celebrate with them and learn about how to ally with them to act justly.”
Seminarian Lindsey Thrower says she was impacted by the way the conference brought together “women from different contexts to a shared space to talk about ways God is experienced, particularly when it comes to social justice and racial issues.”
A new cohort of seminarians began their coursework with the "Acts of Piety" class at Camp Casey.
SPS and SPU students, staff, and faculty helped set up Tent City 3 on campus in November.
Autumn 2017 undergraduate theology majors celebrated their capstone at Professor of Educational Ministry Dr. Bob Drovdahl’s home.
Friday and Saturday, February 16–17
Seattle Pacific Seminary invites you to envision your future and discern your call in the company of SPS faculty and students, and others contemplating seminary. Spend time in learning, prayer, discussion, thoughtful challenge, worship, and fellowship. Register at spu.edu/discern.
Mobile Course in Public Theology and Activism
Tuesday, February 27
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Repairers of the Breach lead training to educate church and lay leaders to pursue policies and organizing strategies for the good of the whole. Sponsored by SPU University Ministries.
SPU Associate Professor of Theology Brian Bantum
Thursday, April 12, 7 p.m.
Upper Gwinn Commons, SPU campus
Wesleyan-Holiness Higher Education: Academy, Abbey, Apostolate
Dean of the SPU School of Theology and Professor of the History of Christianity Dr. Doug Strong
Wednesday, May 2, 7 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church, adjacent to SPU campus
Biblical Foundations of Reconciliation
SPU Professor of New Testament Studies Dr. David Nienhuis
Monday through Friday, June 11–15
Professor Daniel Perez
Monday through Friday, June 18–22
Preaching: From Text to Proclamation
Dr. Laurie Brenner
Monday through Friday, June 25–29
These one-week courses are a bargain at $95 each. SPS alums can attend free of charge. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
School of Theology Faculty Books
A Concise Guide to Reading the New Testament: A Canonical Introduction by Professor of New Testament Studies Dr. Dave Nienhuis (Baker Academic, 2018)
The New Testament came together, and comes to us, not as a randomly sorted set of individual books but as a definitely shaped and ordered whole. This concise, theological introduction to the New Testament sheds light on the interpretive significance of the canon's structure and sequence and articulates how the final shape of the canon is formative for Christian discipleship.
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Kingswood Chronicle, published twice annually, is named after the first school established by John Wesley in Bristol, England, in 1742. For its dedication, John’s brother, Charles, wrote a hymn that included this line: “Unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.” Our hope is that the Center for Biblical and Theological Education, the undergraduate and Seminary programs, the entire School of Theology, and this publication will unite our academic study of theology with a profound, meaningful faith in Jesus Christ — one that grows deeper every day.