Today is the first day of classes at Northern Seminary, the beginning of the 101st year of Northern and the beginning of my second year at Northern. I have been asked this year over and over about teaching seminary students at Northern, so here are my reflections — under this one: “A great and satisfying year!”
First, I want to tell you how splendid the relationships are at Northern among the faculty. We are friends and we are colleagues and we support one another and there is — to my knowledge — no tensions between us (excepting of course David Fitch’s regular remonstrations about everything hither and yon, including the Blackhawks). Both Cherith and I came to Northern at the same time so proximity in office space has also been proximity of experience. I’ll say this again: a theologian who does Bible as well as she does makes her not only a welcome faculty member but a constant resource for Bible people like me. Michael Quicke is back in the saddle this Fall teaching preaching, Sam Hamstra teaching church history, Claude Mariottini teaching Old Testament, Bob Price teaching evangelism with constant stories of what is happening in the City, and David Fitch’s towering lectures on Yoder and all things Hauerwas fill out our full-time faculty. I really like teaching with these folks.
Second, our leadership — President Alistair Brown, Karen Walker Freeburg, Blake Walter and Greg Henson — combines industriousness with flexibility. A school of this size can integrate change and adjustments so easily and we have an admirable flexibility at Northern. This leadership pulled off a wonderful celebration of Northern’s 100th year last Friday and Saturday, beginning with a service of celebration and then a celebration dinner on Friday evening — then a full day of lectures and a bus trip through the history of Northern.
Staff is often ignored when schools are talked about, but our staff can’t be — they’re just too good. From Irene and Hannah and Ben to Randy and Barb and Nury and Robyn and Marilyn and Christy and Jennifer … and Roni and … how do we thank Rich, who looks after all things technological? And Josiah … there are more. These folks are flat-out friendly and fun and hard-working, always willing to help. (Leesa, we’re waiting.)
But schools, let’s remind ourselves if we need to, aren’t about administration and staff and faculty but about students. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed last year’s classes. Because I had taught at a seminary way back 18 years ago I was “ready” in that sense, but frankly we are in a different era and every class is unique and special. From my first class, on NT Theology, to my last class, on Paul — last year’s classes were great experiences. For me two highlights:
So many of the students are pastors that the discussion is raised in both gravitas and significance. Questions emerged so often from pastoral realities. (Not excluding of course the comment “I’m using this in my Sunday sermon!”
Our students are diverse: we have a splendid spectrum of female and male students, of racial and cultural diversity, as well as age differences. Some have retired from a career and are here to study the Bible and theology and church life; others just graduated from college.
Third highlight: lunches and coffee with students. On most Mondays I can be found, at 11am, at Tradewinds across the street, lunching with one or more students. Good memories of the first year.
I’ll be on my knees this morning in my office, thanking God for last year and asking for wisdom for this year.