It’s Saturday morning, Labor Day weekend. Next Tuesday, the third week of school begins here on “the hill” (our beautiful setting, where we’re surrounded by bucks and doe and their now-still-spotted fawns, and wild turkeys). The third week already! Classes began earlier than normal this year—on August 24, two weeks before Labor Day, because the calendar required this for a fifteen-week semester before the winter holiday break and the interim.
So on August 23 the students and professors gathered for opening chapel, for giving out assignments, and to offer Christian greetings to students old and new. At the chapel, Prof. Gritters, rector, spoke on the vital qualification of “blamelessness” for a minister, pointing out that in the various lists of qualifications in the New Testament, blamelessness stands at the top. A reputation of holiness—not intelligence or aptitude to teach or patience, but blamelessness—is of first importance. The seminary has great interest in holding before the students the academic, but also the spiritual requirements of a Minister of the Word and Sacraments.
Opening day is always special for the first-year students. This year we welcomed two who were admitted by Synod 2010 as diploma pre-licentiates, that is, students seeking to graduate with a diploma and the right to preach in the PRC. Joshua Engelsma, a son of our Hope PRC in Walker, Michigan, is married to Courtney and has one child. Francesco De Lucia (for most of us non-Italian speakers, pronounced Fran-CHES-co Day-loo-CHEE-a) is a member of our sister church in Northern Ireland. Originally from Naples, Italy, Francesco moved to Northern Ireland a few years ago to join the Covenant PRC in Ballymena. Now, with the recommendation of the consistory in Northern Ireland, the brother prepares himself with a desire, submitting always to the will of God, to return to Italy to be a pastor or missionary. A special welcome to both of these new students!
The first-year students always have heavy loads, including the beginning preaching course called homiletics, hermeneutics (the proper method of interpreting Scripture), Church History, Hebrew and Greek, and, of course, two courses in Dogmatics. What the first-year students do not do yet is preach before both students and faculty. That trial awaits the second year, after the men have received the necessary tools to construct a good sermon. In the first year, the students do make a sermon with the assistance of the professor and present it in a more casual setting to their fellow students and the one professor—trial enough for the first year.
Vernon Ibe, our student from the Berean PRC in the Philippines, spent the summer back home. He spoke a word of edification for the congregation in Manila and the saints north in Gabaldon, led catechism classes, made two new sermons—in effect, a mini internship. Vernon and his wife, Melody, have one child. God willing, he will graduate in 2012.
In the second year, where the workload is even heavier, are two students: Karl Dykstra and Eric Guichelaar. Brother Dykstra’s membership is in Southeast PRC in Grand Rapids. Karl is married to Megan and has two daughters. Brother Guichelaar is a son of our Wingham, Ontario congregation and attends Hudsonville PRC. Eric rooms with Francesco and a pre-seminary student (where Rev. Martin McGeown stayed during his years of study). We have no third-year students.
Our fourth-year students, as always, are absent for their internship. But all of them have local internships, so we hope to see them once in a while. They were able to attend the annual fall picnic, and perhaps will appear on our “Brats Fridays”? “Brats,” by the way, are bratwurst, provided by the Profs and grilled by whoever has fourth hour open. Enjoyable, relaxed fellowship between students and Profs at the end of each week.
Nathan Decker, from our Faith PRC in Jenison, MI, interns under Rev. K. Koole in Grandville PRC. Nathan and his wife Jessica are expecting their first child. Brian Huizinga and his wife Michelle are members of Grandville PRC and have three young children. Brian interns under Rev. W. Langerak in the Southeast PRC. Jonathan Mahtani, of Georgetown PRC, is married to Keri. They have two young boys and are expecting a third child. Jonathan interns in First PRC with Rev. J. Slopsema. Since synod approved the internship program over 15 years ago, the churches have given a strong testimony to the great blessing of this extended training in a real congregation, under a seasoned pastor and consistory. We express our warm thanks to the pastors, consistories, and congregations, who give of themselves to receive an intern. The blessings, we trust, go both ways.
It may be of interest to you for me to describe for you a normal day in the life of a seminary student—at least during the time that we observe them. Seminary has four class-hours, all in the morning. The first begins at 7:50 (sometimes we have a “zero hour” for a language course that begins at 6:50; picture a student reciting Greek before 7 a.m.). The second runs from 8:50 to 9:45. Then we have a short break for student-led singing, Scripture reading, and prayer in the assembly room, followed by a brief coffee break. Two more class periods run until noon. At any given hour, all the professors may be teaching. Sometimes one of them has an open period for preparation. While the students carry a load of about 16 or 17 hours per semester, the professors teach anywhere between 10 and 15—a relatively heavy load for a graduate school, which seminary is. After eating a sack lunch (or a quickly ordered Jets pizza) together, many of the students spend the afternoon in the library, where each has a private study carrel. And though the seminary is available for use in the evenings, most of the men use their studies at home to finish the next day’s assignments and work on long-range projects. If history is any gauge, lights often burn till the early hours of the morning.
The professors often get to school by 6 a.m., always to meet the smiling faces of our long-time and much-appreciated registrar and secretary—Mr. and Mrs. Doezema—who have already disarmed the alarm system. After teaching and lunch, we work in our offices adjacent to the library, and spend evenings in our studies at home. Saturdays we prepare class lectures, write, prepare to preach, and often do what church building committees do for parsonages….
That we have eight students this year does not diminish the constant need for more men who aspire to the ministry. The Theological School Committee will likely remind the churches again of some statistics: how many men will seek emeritation in the next ten years or so, and how many students are needed to replace them if we will fill our pulpits. That says nothing about our current vacancies, mostly in Classis East. We trust that the churches in both classes pray fervently that the Lord will provide many men—their own sons—able and faithful men, who receive the God-given strength to bear and exercise the first, and very heavy, “key of the kingdom.” And what will we have of kingdom blessings without the keys to enter?
Please pray for us, as we daily pray for and love you, the people of God.
Prof. Barrett Gritters, Rector