Last week, while recovering from the surgery described in a previous blog, I woke up to the consciousness one morning of the very significant season this is in my life. Forty years ago last month, I began a full-time career in pastoral ministry as an Assistant Pastor at the Hillsdale Alliance Church in Regina. On the last day of the previous month at that time, April 30, 1972, according to the accompanying programme, ten of us shared in the Commencement Exercises of the First Graduating Class of Canadian Theological Seminary. Thinking of this brought a rush of memories about the significance of that very special time in our lives.
High School graduates of the mid-sixties headed to colleges and universities of the time were intent on changing the world. “The sixties” were known as a time when youth were rejecting many of the social and material values of their parents. This period spawned a huge social revolution that continues to re-verberate among the young today. It was a time of irresponsible sexual excess and the rejection of social norms demonstrated especially by the hippie life-style. Old Victorian social norms gave way to the rise of feminism and gay rights. And many of us in the Church then were also looking for new expressions of commitment and service for Christ. We too were out to change our world!
Knowing the times, leaders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, especially at Canadian Bible College in Regina, sought new ways to encourage and accommodate this new movement for Christ among high school and university grads. So it was that Canadian Theological College was born in 1970 on the campus of the Bible College as a degree program beyond college or university. I don’t remember the details, but it seems to me it was the brain-child of such notables at Canadian Bible College as Rex Boda, Samuel Stoesz, and the president of the College at the time, Alvin Martin. They devised a Bachelor of Divinity program for students that consisted of a year at the College, three years at the local University of Saskatchewan (Regina Campus) and then two years back at the College. The program had already been in existence a year when I too enrolled in this program (transferring from the University of British Columbia), graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 197o. Those years at the University were great years of community, learning, and serving as about 20 of us lived off-campus in various apartments near the U. Together, we studied, played various sports, and shared as volunteers in the student-engaging ministry of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Many of us, including me, met our spouses and married in that setting. And then some of us went back to the College for the last two years of “seminary” training. Though the seminary started out as a Theological College promising a Bachelor of Divinity degree, by the time the first class graduated, the College had in fact reached seminary status and was able to offer Masters degrees.
The Seminary was housed on the College Campus but had its own classes. We were a community with our own coffee/lunch room and chapel services. Classes were small, consisting of 12 or less, but they engaged large ideas under the intellectual and practical prowess of people like Rex Boda (Philosophy), Albert Cramer (Church History), John Dahms (Old and New Testament), Victor and Dixie Oliver (Missions), David Rambo (Missions and Church Growth), Fred Sonnenberg (Homiletics and Preaching), Dale Herandeen (Hermeneutics), and Samuel Stoesz (Systematic and Pastoral Theology).
Among those first graduates in April of 1972, according to the programme, were those who graduated with Master of Divinity degrees — Arden Adrian, Chris Miller (graduating magna cum laude), Dennis Philps, and myself who went into pastoral ministry, Frank Peters and Patrick Worsley who both ended up in missionary careers in Indonesia, and Ed Neufeld (a practicing veterinarian while studying) who became a provincial Inter-Varsity director for many years. The two notables who graduated with Masters of Religious Education were Sharon Dickerson and Irwin Driedger. Though there were about 10 – 15 other students in the program at the time, these were the first graduates. Those graduating soon after included Marie Caldwell (educator and missionary wife of Frank Peters ), Arnold Cook (later to become president of the Alliance in Canada), Lionel Hopkins, Ben Kononoff, (both of whom became Alliance pastors), Roy Charles Reese (Alliance missionary to France), Marilyn (Veley) Martin (Christian Retreat Ministry), Dale Backlin (Christian School Principal), Dave McCarthy (Alliance pastor), Peter Ralph (Alliance pastor and CTS/Ambrose professor), and T.V. Thomas (CTS professor and later director of a world-wide mission ministry).
For memorabilia of the time, I can only find one College Year Book and the Graduation Programme. It’s not much to show for from this very significant period of our lives. But we all have wonderful memories of an experiment in higher education at the very beginning of what is today’s Ambrose Seminary in Calgary where we found our footing for ministries of the church that continue to reverberate around the world — and heaven too, we hope! It was there we learned to think theologically and critically — and to worship God through devotion and service, that hopefully also set a pattern for the ministry of the Seminary in its forty year history. Forty years is a good time to remember, to celebrate, and to pay tribute especially to those men and women who had a vision for the theological education of young hearts and minds who were bent on making a difference for Christ in our world. Their strong minds and hearts were used by God at a critical time in our lives to ensure that we could make our MIG — Maximum Impact for God! To God be all the praise for their lives and faithfulness.
As for me, I didn’t stay too long at Hillsdale. Carolyn and I went on from there to pastor Alliance churches in North Battleford (where we raised our four wonderful kids), Saskatoon (Westgate), and Prince George. In the latter years in Prince George, I was enabled to combine a new phase of formal education with pastoral ministry by study and graduation (in 2005) with a DMin degree in pastoral studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Chicago). That led to the establishment of Second Wind Ministries in 2006, an independent ministry for God’s kingdom and the church, that has given me opportunity for service in pastoral counselling and in consulting and transition work for more than a half-dozen churches in my region — Dawson Creek, Prince George (Timbers, Riverside Community Church), Quesnel, Ft. McMurray, Kitimat, and most recently in Golden, BC. What an amazing journey of spiritual adventure and exploitation for God these forty years have been! There have been some major crises alright, but for the most part, looking back, it’s all been pretty wonderful! “Thank you, God, for your providence in my life and for the great men and women who invested their lives in me while at CTS!”
Am I getting ready to retire? Not really! I’m looking forward to some time this summer to travel and enjoy our kids and grand -kids (8 of them), but I feel like I’m at the beginning of a whole new phase of service — to teach, to write, to work through pastoral issues with churches and individuals under Second Wind Ministries. I feel like the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the years is pushing against a dam that has a lot of power to generate a whole new energy for the cause of God’s kingdom and Christ’s Church. And I’m excited, by God’s grace, to see how it will all unfold!