All the members of the Protestant Reformed Denomination have been informed of the need of a new theological school building and the decision of the 1968 Synod to initiate a drive for funds that such a building may be constructed as soon as possible. They were also informed of the approximate cost of such a building on the basis of today’s prices.
The response of our people has been gratifying, though it is apparent that we are still a long way from reaching our goal.
There have been several who have written to us asking questions mostly about the proposed plan which accompanied the letter. The Theological School Committee deemed it necessary that this article appear in our Standard Bearer which would attempt to answer the more important questions. To meet this request, the undersigned gladly complies.
In the first place, as far as the suggested floor plan is concerned, no one should conclude that any definite and final plans have been made by the Theological School Committee. No such final plans will be made until sufficient funds have first been collected that would warrant us to proceed with building; and in any event, such plans would first have to be presented to and approved by a future synod. They would then have to be approved by the authorities as meeting all the building codes. And the final plans will also have to be formulated by a registered and capable architect. Considering all this, it should be apparent to everyone that the plan submitted to you was formulated only with a view to determine approximately what such a building, occupying the suggested space, would cost. It was determined that the approximate cost, including furnishings, paving, etc., would be in the neighborhood of $70,000.
It has been suggested to us that perhaps we ought to think in terms of purchasing an older building that could be remodeled if necessary to till our need. Our committee has given this considerable thought, and, in fact, found such a building. But when it was considered how much it would cost to make such a building capable of caring for our need, it was discovered that it would cost nearly as much as the cost of a new building, and we would have only an older building which could never be remodeled to precisely fill the need as a new building would do.
This brings us, in the second place, to consider the question: What makes the proposed new facility so necessary now? Some have wondered how it is that after some 45 years of using the basement of First Church, which has always taken care of our physical need as far as a place for our seminary to meet is concerned, that now we should have to construct new facilities.
Our answer to this is that prior to 1968 our present facility, for want of a better place to meet, did cover our needs. All of our present ministers received their theological training in the basement of First Church, except for a brief period when the school was locked out of the building because of circumstances beyond our control. However, in 1968 the synod decided that a preseminary department should be added to our school on a trial basis. The trial period was to extend for three years, in which time it was to be determined whether we could provide our students with all the academic training which would be necessary for them to have should they enter into the seminary proper. It must be clearly understood that prior to 1968 our students were required to obtain their academic credits in other schools where their instruction was suspect. In several instances they learned things which were contrary to our beliefs, and that which they did learn in many instances was not of the caliber we would expect them to have shall they serve in the ministry in our churches. It was the synod of 1968 which had the foresight to see that it is necessary today that our young men receive all of their training from us. We may report to you that the trial preseminary courses which have been given to our present students have proved to be highly successful. Naturally, because it was pioneer work, and because we have had only our two professors, who were called originally to teach only seminary subjects and who therefore performed a gigantic task in taking on this extra work load, it would be natural, I say, to expect that all was not perfect. Naturally there is still much room for improvements and expansion. But enough has been determined that we can have and should have our own preseminary department. And this means quite naturally also that more space is needed, as well as an expanded faculty.
It follows therefore that our seminary and preseminary departments should have not less than four class rooms. It follows, too, that such a school should have adequate library space, not only to accommodate the library which is steadily increasing in size, but also to afford our students a place for private study and research. Referring once more to the floor plan which was presented to most of our people, you will observe there were only two class rooms in the plan and no library. We are assured, however, that by juggling space on the ground level and dropping everything on the picture into the basement except the class rooms, auditorium, and office, four class rooms and an adequate library can be provided in the space we have.
In the third place, there are other miscellaneous questions that have been asked which require a brief answer. Some have inquired about the proposed auditorium, wondering why that was necessary, since the building as proposed will be adjacent to Southeast Church whose facilities could be used for practice preaching. Others have inquired about the proposed parking area, whereas Southeast Church has more than enough space already paved for parking purposes. Still others have asked about the proposed kitchen, lunch room, ladies’ toilet facility, etc.
Allow us to touch briefly on each of these questions. Neither the Theological School Committee, nor the synod, will ask Southeast Church for the use of any of their facilities. The reason being that such a proposed seminary building must be complete and independent. And since said building will be a synodical property, it is not unreasonable that Synod will also use it for synodical purposes, such as a place for its annual synodical meetings, and a place for its appointed committees to meet and deliberate without imposing on local churches. Since synod meets at that time of the year when school is not in session, it could use the auditorium and class room space, as well as the kitchen in which meals and lunches will have to be prepared. Besides, it has happened more than once in the history of our seminary that women have requested the privilege of sitting in on especially dogmatic classes as aids to their teaching in our Christian Schools. Neither they nor the women serving the synod should be required to use the men’s toilet facility. As far as the students and professors are concerned, everyone acquainted with the conduct of our school knows that they have their coffee and lunch breaks for which provision will have to be made. As to the necessity of an adequate parking area, this is determined by the building code of Grand Rapids which requires that a building such as a seminary shall have its own parking area, and large enough to satisfy the needs of all who will occupy the building. In this connection it may be remarked that the building code imposes other specifications that will have to be met. We trust that what we have said so far will help to give you a better understanding of the need of such a seminary building, and answer in part the questions which may have made you to hesitate in contributing to such a worthy cause.
It should be abundantly clear to everyone of us that shall we be able to prepare young men for the ministry in our churches they should receive all of their training from us. It is of this which the dedicated young men now attending our seminary, and the professors, as well as the Theological School Committee have become thoroughly convinced. Shall our precious heritage be preserved, and the ministry in our churches remain pure and distinctly Protestant Reformed, we shall have to train our future ministers in our Christian elementary and secondary schools, and get them in our preseminary department right out of high school. Here they would be expected to get all the academic requirements necessary for them to enter our seminary. This schedule of training would mean that they have four years of preseminary education and then three years of actual seminary training before they could be declared candidates for the ministry in our churches. This is our goal.
The question has been raised: but how about those young men coming from high school who are not reasonably sure that they are called to the ministry? Who therefore decide to go to some other college to obtain an AB degree? Who during the course of their education decide that they are called to the ministry? What would we do with them? Or, suppose teat there are some who would enter our preseminary department and after a year or two decide that they are not called to the ministry and wish to train in another institution of learning with a view to another vocation? Would they be wasting their time and credits in our school?
We answer, first of all, that those who would go from high school to another institution and then after a year or two, or after a full fledged college course, would decide that they are called to the ministry in our churches; these would be given credit for any scholastic attainments they have obtained which are required for entrance into our seminary, precisely as we have always required these. In respect to those who would come to us from high school and after a year or two of preseminary training decide that they are not called to the ministry and who wish to pursue their education elsewhere, we have been assured by such institutions as Calvin, Trinity, Dordt, and Hope College that they would be required to pass an examination on the subjects studied, and with a passing grade would be given credit in these institutions.
In conclusion, there are two important remarks we wish to make which we hope will impress you.
The first is that we want to encourage our young men to consider seriously our need of dedicated, spiritual young men who would desire to enter the ministry of our churches. You all know that we have several ministers in our churches whose ages tell us that they will soon have to be replaced by younger men. We have today several vacant churches who need a minister sorely. There is also a great need of men to go out from our churches with the good news of salvation to bring that Word to those outside of our churches. Indications are that there are many spread abroad, not only in our own country, but also in places outside, who are suffering from want of hearing the pure preaching of the Word in their own churches. But we have no men to send to them. May the Lord lay it upon your heart to consider seriously and prayerfully the mandate given by Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel!
Secondly, we wish to impress upon the hearts of our own people, as well as upon the hearts of those outside of our churches, who may read this article and who are vitally interested in what we are doing as Protestant Reformed Churches, that our need for these new seminary facilities is very great. We need more space, we need more students, we need more capable professors to train these students. May God give you sufficient grace to see our need, and to give to this worthy cause as He has blessed you. In the original letter sent to all our membership it was estimated that if each family would contribute only $100.00 we would have sufficient funds to erect this building. This amounts to less than $2.00 a week. Is that too much to give for such a worthy cause? Of course we understand that some are better able to do this than others. Well, then, let those who can contribute more do so, but by all means let us all see that everyone should contribute faithfully as the Lord provides. Societies in our churches could also consider seriously of contributing of their surplus funds, and even conducting programs to raise funds for this cause. All of us, working together, can help to realize this project which should have the deep concern of everyone interested in the preservation and future progress of the cause closest to our hearts. Please send your contributions to: Mr. Richard H. Teitsma, 1659 Shangrai La Drive, S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49508, and you will receive a receipt which you can use for tax purposes. Thank you!