This September marks the start of my twenty-sixth academic year. That’s a lot of new academic years to greet and see through to completion.
We welcomed our new students to McMaster Divinity College this last week in an orientation session designed to introduce them to each other, to us, and to their academic programs. We had a full house, and there was plenty of excitement as we introduced faculty, staff, and fellow students. Our orientation is a little different than that at some other seminaries, where we have both our professional degrees and our research degrees participating together. That is also one of the strengths of the College—our professional programs keep our research students grounded in the church, and our research students challenge our professional students to keep thinking and not accept easy answers.
Our student retreat brought both new and returning students together for great times of worship and communion, plenty of activities to get to know each other (including our usual explosive game of football, led by some pretty competitive athletes), and much eating of good food. As a College, we are excited to welcome all of our students back.
One thing about this year is certain—we do not know all that it will hold for us. These are difficult times for theological education throughout North America. The current economy has not helped our financial situation. More importantly, changing demographics, including shifting views of the church and its role in our lives, have led to an increasingly negative evaluation of the importance of the church. Along with that there has been a revision of the value of theological education, whether it is at the undergraduate or graduate level.
I remain thoroughly convinced, however, that the theological seminary is the only institution on the scene right now that can provide the kind of training and the kind of atmosphere necessary for developing effective Christian leaders for the church, academy, and society—there’s a reason we have this as part of our mission statement.
Only in a good theological seminary can students and well-trained faculty dig deeply into Scripture, probe the intricacies of our Christian history and theological heritage, and establish sound patterns of pastoral ministry and theology. We are fortunate at McMaster Divinity College also to have a sense of community that welcomes students from widely diverse backgrounds, and invites them to explore and develop their Christian faith in conversation with those of similar and different perspectives on some of the tough issues of our day.
We do not know what God has in store for us this year—I am praying that this will be a year of great joy and fulfillment. I also realize that there may well be struggles, individually and corporately. Nevertheless, I am trusting God for a year of continued opportunity to serve him through the work we do together in training men and women for Christian ministry and service.