Ready and Open to God’s Leading
Published by Calvin Seminary
For over 146 years, Calvin Theological Seminary has trained, equipped, and prepared ministry leaders to serve the Church. The seminary first opened its doors in 1876 as De Theologische School—the CRC pastoral training institution to which Calvin University also traces its origins.
This learning community began that year in the upstairs room of a Christian elementary school on William Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It moved into its own campus on Madison Avenue in 1892, and broke ground on the larger Franklin Campus (on Franklin Street) in 1910, accounting for growth along the way. It wasn’t until 1959 that construction began on the seminary building we know today, though the operations of the seminary and university underwent a gradual transition to the Knollcrest Campus, completed by the 1970s.
“Through all historical changes, our mission has remained consistent,” says President Jul Medenblik, “though the ways in which students are best supported and formed continues to change. From chalk and chalkboards, we have been moving more fully into the age of computers and video technology.”
For example, the integral physical gathering space of the seminary has changed over time to address the needs of the expanding community, including the addition of additional faculty offices and construction of a then new student center in 2002.
But, while a Calvin Seminary education is steeped in innovation—shown through academic programs, course delivery, and vocational formation—the main campus building had spent the last 18 years without any major updates.
“In order to address shifts in student needs and provide an optimal learning environment that supports the equipping of the priesthood of believers for the Kingdom,” Medenblik says, “seminary facilities needed a significant renovation.”
“Our campus experts in the areas of infrastructure and maintenance preserved the building through decades of high caliber stewardship,” Medenblik explains. “Now we are building on that stewardship by allowing this renovation to advance our mission for years to come.”
“After years of careful stewardship, we faced a clear and unavoidable need for building renewal,” says Robert Knoor, director of development.
“The seminary’s stakeholders have rallied in the past when the need for additional space arose, and all campus space has been maintained faithfully,” Knoor says. “With an eye toward flexible learning environments, technology, and engagement, the seminary campus was reimagined and infused with new life. Supporters have once again made it possible to align our physical setting with the innovative, life-giving learning and formation that happens here daily.”
The recent Rooted in Christ, Renewing for the Future campaign invited the seminary community to come together to refresh and renew what was built over 60 years ago, in order to continue forming ministry leaders within today’s changing theological education landscape and into the future.
The renovations, which took place from spring 2021 to spring 2022, have launched a new era for the seminary; “an era where technology enables us to reach and serve ministry leaders in training locally, regionally, and globally,” says Chief Operating Officer Margaret Mwenda.
“The renovations are already bringing to life enhanced collaboration in our community, adaptable teaching spaces, and a hospitable environment for all who step onto campus,” says Mwenda.
“The seminary’s building renovations mean that the quality of the environment matters to our learning journey,” says student Jean Gomes. “I am confident that students will notice the difference and enjoy the new structure to pursue God’s calling in ministry.”
Visit the seminary in 2022 and you will notice the following renovations, enhancing learning and hospitality community-wide.
The Student Center is the community hub of seminary life. Students meet in this central, open space to study, enjoy a meal, or simply find a comfortable space to unwind between classes. The redesign of the layout of this area increases collaboration, maximizes flexibility, and facilitates a better connection to the outdoors. By updating the finishes, furnishings, and lighting, large and small groups alike are now able to enjoy this adaptable space.
Classrooms & Collaborative Spaces
Seminary classrooms have served the community well for over sixty years, but over time, the fixed layout and furniture had limited the flexibility of teaching and learning activities. Current teaching styles emphasize collaboration, encourage more participation, and have increasingly incorporated technology use in the classroom. The addition of furniture and fixtures that are easy to reconfigure and upgrading technology to serve both resident and online students will now enhance and facilitate learning. Further, the creation of social and collaborative spaces to allow for conversations between classes now provides students with comfortable and flexible areas to continue learning alongside one another.
“I am excited to see the updated classroom technology and flexible seating which encourages creative and interactive learning,” says student Rebeca Hall. “ I have already experienced students and teachers creatively rearranging the rooms to suit their needs.”
The Chapel — the soul of the seminary —- is a space where students, faculty, staff, and guests gather to worship both individually and in community with one another. This space endures as a welcoming environment, now with updated flexible furnishings and upgraded technology. Additionally, a prayer room along the chapel hallway has been created, providing students space for quiet reflection on campus.
The Covenant Room is used as a classroom or a meeting room by students, faculty, and board members. Upgrading the technology in this space now allows for a variety of course delivery approaches, including hybrid, synchronous, or face-to-face, as well as support video and web conferencing. Further, adding furniture that is flexible and adaptable has allowed this space to seamlessly transition from a classroom into an adaptable meeting room.
First impressions are important. When the Welcome Center entrance was constructed, it was created to mark a common and welcoming entry point. As the building has evolved over the years and more entrances have been added, the seminary once again found a need to provide a clear and welcoming entrance. By elevating the roof and adding more windows for natural light, students and guests now know exactly where to enter. Additionally, providing options for collaboration near this entrance will increase connectivity among students, staff, faculty, and visitors.
Being in God’s creation allows for inspiration, renewal, and a connection to nature. The recent addition of outdoor collaborative areas gives students additional study spaces and provides the seminary community with a place to recharge. Offering different environments for students supports the community culture on campus and supports multiple learning styles.
Other Key Improvements
Common spaces at the seminary have also been updated, including fresh wall treatments, flooring, windows, lighting, furniture, and signage, to enhance the premier hospitality that Calvin Seminary is known for.As the final touches to the renovated seminary building are completed, and while the pandemic continues to complicate gatherings, the seminary campus has yet to re-open fully. It is with anticipation that students like Micah Ringelberg wait for the gathering space to be finalized.
“We often take for granted the good things which God gives and neither notice nor give thanks,” Ringelberg says. “I look forward more to the opportunity for the community to learn and gather again in light of the completion of construction.”
“I can’t wait for the renovations to be finished because the beautiful new entryway will communicate ‘welcome’ and connect us back together, something we’ve all been longing for during the renovations,” Hall adds. “The freshness of it all says, ‘We’re ready and open for where God is leading Calvin Seminary next!’”
Current students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of the seminary are warmly invited to in-person and virtual grand opening events for the newly renovated seminary. Watch your mailbox and calvinseminary.edu for more information on these gatherings, expected in the spring and summer of 2022.
Seminary Spaces Over the Years
1876 | Occupying a small building, De Theolgische School opened its doors on William Street in Grand Rapids.
1892 | The institution moved to Madison Avenue, with shared use by the seminary (“Theological School”) and the preparatory school (or “literary department”) associated with it from 1892 to 1917, along with Calvin Junior College, which started in 1906.
1917 | The institution moved to the Franklin Campus.
1930 | A new, separate seminary building is dedicated on the Franklin Campus.
1959 | Construction began for the core seminary facilities on the Knollcrest Campus, including classrooms, the chapel, and the auditorium. The transition to this campus took over a decade, starting in 1960 and concluding in 1973.
1975 | Faculty offices and several open study spaces were added.
1991 | Additional faculty offices were built to handle growth.
2002 | A secondary entrance was added, along with the Covenant Room and the Administrative Suite.
2004 | The Student Center was constructed.
2021–2022 | The seminary was renovated to create collaborative spaces, improve outdoor areas, promote learning flexibility, and upgrade furnishings and technology.
We each, as individuals, are priests with full access to the priesthood of Christ. But the notion of the priesthood of all believers is even better than this. The central biblical texts involved here speak about the “royal priesthood” or a “kingdom of priests”—a collective whole. The most luminous and beautiful part of this doctrine is that the church as a whole is a royal priesthood in which all of us as individuals find a home and identity. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
John Witvliet, professor of worship as told to Reformed Worship
Professor of worship John Witvliet shared these insights into the priesthood of believers over a decade ago—and they have rung true since the early church.
As Witvliet walks through the newly renovated halls of Calvin Seminary—complete with collaborative spaces, inviting navigation, state-of-the-art technology—he cannot help but think of the many individuals who have made it all possible.
“The original seminary building and each subsequent renovation has only been possible because of a large number of donors and advocates, architects and builders, board members and administrators, faculty and staff. The collective whole is greater than the sum of the individuals involved, and it’s wonderful to have a sense of forward momentum.”
He adds: “the significance of the phrase ‘the royal priesthood’ doesn’t just come from its collective identity, but also from the sense of calling to serve a larger mission. What will make this building beautiful for the sake of the gospel is if it inspires and equips a new generation of leaders for faithful and prophetic ministry in the world. A seminary building is never a destination, but rather a launching pad.”
Visit Calvin Theological Seminary’s Campus
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