By Dr. Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Associate Professor of World Christianity         

When my husband and I were bringing up our blended family of six kids with an age range of six years, we had to institute certain rules to remain sane. Many of them related to food, specifically to pizza. While Luana didn’t like peppers, Anton hated onions, Jonathan didn’t want mushrooms, María Isabel hated olives, Maya never ate pepperoni, and Natalia wouldn’t touch any meat. So, we created a rule: you can take one –only one—ingredient off your piece of pizza. You had to eat all the rest. Our family peace rested on the fact that on a pizza, you can take off one ingredient and still eat pizza!

Now compare that to whole grain bread—the sort we bake daily in Casa Adobe, the intentional Christian community my husband and I are a part of in Costa Rica. Water, butter, salt, whole-grain flour, bran, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds are blended and baked together. Try taking out the wheat germ or the salt. Impossible! Each ingredient is so intimately welded to the others by heat that they have become an inseparable part of the whole. In Spanish, we call this pan integral, meaning whole-grain bread.

So it is with the gospel, the good news of God’s love for God’s creation. The good news that Jesus proclaimed and embodied is more like whole-grain bread than pizza. It is one seamless whole: love for God cannot be separated from love for neighbor (as the apostle John so insistently reminds the early Christians in his letters). Reconciliation with God through Christ and the ongoing work of the Spirit cannot be separated from reconciliation with other people and with the entire created order.

God’s reign of love and justice affects every dimension of life: spiritual and physical, personal and social, economic and ecological. 

The same comparison remains true when we move from gospel to mission. A reduced understanding of the gospel necessarily generates a reduced understanding –and practice—of mission. If the good news is limited to mending individuals’ relationships with God and for life after death, with no implications for any other relationship or life before death, then we will focus all efforts on those single objectives. If instead, we recognize good news as affecting every last dimension of existence, human and non-human, within God’s good creation, then there will be no realm of life that remains untouched by the Christian mission. Following Jesus as whole-life disciples means engaging in God’s life-giving purposes far outside the bounds of religious language, church buildings, and evangelistic programs. The good news propels God’s children beyond, sent as Jesus was, as agents of God’s preposterous reconciliation, which overcomes all petty human borders, exclusions, and prejudices. 

From Eden, through the law and the prophets, to Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, through the early church, and to the future arrival of the New Jerusalem, God intends to restore relations and bring wholeness. Faithfulness in God’s mission does not allow us to pick and choose ingredients, proclaim or embody the good news, embrace people like us or reach out to others, engage in ‘church’ matters or social ones, surrender our heart or our pockets, pray or seek justice, care about salvation of the soul or shalom on earth.

As the Good News has to do with the whole of life, mission is also wholistic and integral, influencing every last corner of life. 

Not everyone is called to bake whole-grain bread as we do daily at Casa Adobe. But every follower of Jesus Christ is called to join others in God’s wholistic restoration project in their particular context. May we live into that calling through the gifting and strength of the Holy Spirit! 

Written by Robin Schmidt, GCPM student

As a first-semester distance learner in the Graduate Certificate Program for Pastoral Ministry, the chance to be on campus for a two-day retreat was something I jumped at, and I am so glad I did. While I am not a member of an “Abbey” (cohort of MDiv students) as a distance learning student, I was welcome to attend the Abbey Retreat, which takes place about mid-way through the semester. 

There were so many reasons why I had a wonderful experience at the Abbey retreat. I met both of my professors and had actual conversations with them “around the water cooler” and over lunch. I also met three classmates, which was a surprise and delight. Class discussions online will be more meaningful now that I know them better.

In addition, I met other students whom I would not know apart from this event. There was time to hear their stories while sharing a meal, working a puzzle, worshiping, or just hanging out.

During the time set aside for Abbey groups to connect, I was placed in a group of other “non-Abbey” students. We met twice to discuss our retreat experiences and the theme of holiness. Our sharing went deep, and we spent time together in prayer.

The Western Seminary Chapel intrigues me- with its unconventional configuration and beauty. I was thrilled to participate in worship there with students, professors, and staff. WTS has expanded my worship experience, and at the retreat, I participated with a “gesture” – filling the baptismal font. 

Every minute of the two days helped me identify more closely with the WTS community. While I am truly grateful for distance learning and the ability to study from home, I miss in-person conversations, exchanging ideas and thoughts, and praying together. The Abbey Retreat provided space for all of that. I’m looking forward to participating in other Abbey retreats in future semesters!

To learn more about the fall 2022 Abbey retreat, visit

Written by Dr. Tim Basselin, Director of Field Education and Student Life, Associate Professor of Ministry, Theology, and Culture

For two days each semester, Western’s IR and DL students share the same space during our Abbey Retreat. As our team planned for the fall retreat (Oct 17-18), we thought of the increased levels of cultural anxiety, our desire for quick and easy answers, and our absence of hunger for wisdom. We then began to think about holiness. And we decided our theme should be the biblical refrain, The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom. From there, we imagined two days where our students could rest and connect with one another and encounter God. We read the story of Moses’ call, of the burning bush, over and over throughout the retreat. In our opening session, Dr. Tim Basselin made connections between two biblical refrains: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt, and we spent time with Ps 81, which ends “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

In our second session, Dr. Ruth Padilla DeBorst led us to consider the Fear of the Lord more deeply, and in our last session, Dr. Carol Bechtel helped us think about the Beginning of Wisdom, inviting us to hear the call of wisdom and submit to her desire to embrace us. Between these talks, we wanted to explore spiritual practices that connect fear of the Lord and wisdom: practices of holiness. For one of our mornings together, we designed three spaces and divided the students into three groups and had each group stay in each space for about 40 minutes before rotating to the next.

Dr. Carol Bechtel playing the harp

One space was Dimnent Chapel on Hope’s campus, a large 100-year-old cathedral with stained glass windows and gothic architecture. Dr. Wes Hill invited students into three experiences of silence in this cavernous space, one broken by the reading of scripture and another guided by Dr. Carol Bechtel playing the harp. There were no spotlights and no mics. The session ended with three of our students acapella singing Rich Mullins’s’ I Will Sing. I encourage you to take 1 minute and 26 seconds to listen. 

Students helping to make bread

A second space-centered table — set with bread students had helped make the night before, honey harvested by the chairperson of our Board of Trustees, Steve Spoelhof, and apple butter made by Student Life’s Beth Smith and made with apples picked by students Professor Ron Rienstra took apple picking earlier in the month. The conversation centered on tasting and seeing that the Lord is good and on the concept of rememory, which Toni Morrison uses to describe the importance of intentionally reentering our history. Kate Bareman, from the Student Life office, and our Dean, Kristen Johnson, led students to consider their encounters with holiness and to imagine ways of ritualizing those into their futures: for example, a yearly feast that remembers an act of God in their life.

The third space took advantage of the architecture, art, and beauty of our library. Professors Tim Basselin and Ben Connor invited students to develop their poetic imaginations. We noted C.S. Lewis’ encouragement in An Experiment in Criticism that when approaching art we must “listen first” and “get ourselves out of the way.” Dr. Connor brought a print of Rembrandt’s The Prodigal Son from his home and talked about its significance in his family’s life. We noted that the architecture in the library deliberately duplicates the architecture in our chapel to make a statement about the connection between worship and study.

Students reflecting on paintings in the library

We invited students to spend time listening to the six vibrant paintings on the walls of the main floor, paintings commissioned specifically for that space that intend to say something about who Western is and who we can be. Paper and pens and crayons lay around the room for people to respond in some way if they chose.

And we spent the last 5-7 minutes making space for people to share their writing. The following poem was not shared. I found it on a side table afterward, unsigned: a gift to whoever might stumble upon it. 



I used to be a poet, a songwriter, an artist, and a lover of stories.

Until I began keeping a list of all the books I need to read to be well-read

of all the countries I need to visit to be cultured

I submitted myself to a discipline and made my imagination fall in line

I lashed poems to chairs and beat the meaning out of them

I sang only other people’s songs because they were written “right”

and mine were wrong

I needed to be right, never wrong. 4.0 GPA.

Then God gave me a two-year-old, a fairy princess tiger cowgirl, a baby snow leopard

who plays on the mountainside and does not care whether she summits

Then God said, “shut your mouth, close your eyes, and stop. I am.”

Here’s a story to chew on slowly

A song to dance to

A painting you feel more than see

I am a story, a song, a brushstroke, a feeling

Now open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.


To learn more about the fall Abbey retreat, visit

By Dr. Benjamin T. Conner, Professor of Practical Theology and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry

While issues of class, race, ethnicity, and economic marginalization are beginning to be addressed by theologies of youth ministry, youth ministers have largely been led by de-contextualized, universalizing, ableist, white, male-dominated, middle-class theology. Consequently, it is not surprising that the lived experience of marginalization related to disability rarely enters the theological imagination of the youth minister. Take some time to browse your youth ministry resources and note how many address or even mention the reality of disability. Examine your books about discipleship. Browse the index of your theology collection… anything on disability? My guess is that there likely won’t be.  

What makes the absence of disability concerns in youth ministry so odd is the prevalence of disability among young people in the United States. People with disabilities can be considered the largest minority group and, if abstracted as a group, includes a collection of people who can be found in every class, race, ethnicity, and economic circumstance. The fact that eighteen to twenty percent of the population has a disability and thirteen percent of US children and youth in public schools receive special education suggests that a disability touches nearly every young person in the US.   

The most common way that theologians and youth ministers have engaged people with disabilities has been by addressing the disability as a perceived individual deficiency and including the disabled person in an existing program. In youth ministry, people with disabilities have been made targets of mission and evangelism rather than considered co-participants in the Missio Dei or they have been managed as objects in the form of “inclusion” rather than being understood as members of the body of Christ who fundamentally belong and whose contributions are essential for the flourishing of community. Consequently, youth ministers and the theologians who support them have unwittingly perpetuated the ableist biases that are inherent in our youth ministry architecture (which includes theological frameworks and programming). Their theology is never challenged; their programs are never reimagined from the perspective of disability. 

I believe that the discipline of missiology could help youth ministers to engage disability in terms of gains to theology, mission, community, and ecclesiology rather than in terms of simple inclusion.

That is to say, through missiological categories, concepts, and practices, disability could be reconceived positively in the church in a way that renews and enriches youth ministry and the church. Beyond the conceptual challenges, the presence of adolescents with disabilities in our youth groups can stimulate us to engage in a kind of contextual theologizing that has the potential to change the theological questions we ask together, open up new ways of interacting with each other, and expand our capacity to know and be known as adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities challenge what practical theologian John Swinton calls our “hopeless dependence” on our intellect. Young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially, can help the congregation to be more attuned to non-linear, intuitive, non-symbolic, or even non-agential ways of responding to proclamation and evangelism. They remind us that human personhood is a dynamic concept and that the individual call to discipleship requires participating in the ongoing redemptive mission of God in Christ as part of a community—we all have gifts and needs.    

Let me be more specific: What intellectual capacities, social skills, or physical abilities are required to bear witness to the Spirit?  

The power of our witness does not originate from within ourselves; we are what Lesslie Newbigin describes as a community that serves as sign, instrument, and foretaste of the reign of God. In that community, the Holy Spirit is the guarantor of the pluriformity of Christian witness as the Spirit gifts the community with what it needs for upbuilding of the church and for announcing (in word and deed) the kingdom of God. That is to say, as Pentecostal theologian and disability scholar Amos Yong suggests, the many tongues of Pentecost issue in many forms of testimony—not simply in terms of language, but also in terms of ability. Against an inclusion model where an “us” has to include “them” in the ministry and witness of the church, Yong imagines that, “the outpouring of the Spirit unleashes many tongues and many senses—many different communicative modalities—to bear witness to and receive the witness of the wondrous works of God. All forms and all types of dis/abilities, then, would be possible conduits for the Spirit’s revelatory work.” 

Viewed this way, young people with disabilities are both an essential part of the diversity of the human experience, and their contribution, gifts, perspectives, and weaknesses are necessary if the church is to have a relevant witness.

As I have written elsewhere, the absence of adolescents with disabilities, the loss of their presence, concerns, and perspectives, diminishes the fitness of our witness. No one is so impaired that they can’t bear the witness of the Spirit, and no single person should be disabled from participating in the church’s witness.

How does this look? Megan has a significant intellectual impairment and has been coming to church with our family. She can’t read the hymnal, so she makes “musical noises” while we sing. She can’t remember the Apostles Creed, so she makes appropriate sounds in rhythm with the congregation’s recitation. She sits through sermons but can’t follow their logic even when they are reduced to three simple points. Nonetheless, she is a part of the community and evokes peace, love, and goodwill from others in the congregations. She has an intuitive sense that she belongs to this community and that this community belongs to Jesus. So connected is she, that she invited a friend of hers, who happens to have Down’s syndrome, to be a part of the community. 

Seth has been coming ever since and was baptized. As it turns out, Megan is a more effective evangelist than I am. She lacks all of the capacities (rational capacity, reasoning skills, social skills, etc.) that one would expect from an effective evangelist. Perhaps Megan will challenge our youth group to reimagine evangelism as the joyful sharing of life—as an invitation to participate in something/someone that grabs us. Within the limits of her capacities, Megan exercised her agency and bore the witness of the Spirit. Would you like to have Megan in your youth group?

For more on the subject of disability and youth ministry, see my Amplifying Our Witness: Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities, which, at its core, is a practical theology of youth ministry. For more on disability and mission, see Enabling Witness, IVP Academic in their Missiological Engagements series.

To learn more about Ben Conner’s upcoming Doctor of Ministry cohort, visit

Ben Conner is a Professor of Practical Theology and Director of the Center for Disability and Ministry at Western Theological Seminary, the only program of its kind in the US. For seven years before joining Western’s faculty, he ran a ministry to and with adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.   


Yong, Amos. The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A new vision of the people of God.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011, 72.

Conner, Benjamin T.  “Enabling Witness: Disability in Missiological Perspective” Journal of Disability and Religion 19.1, 15-29.

By Johnny Vega, Hispanic Ministry Program Administrator 

Growth from Small Beginnings

This year, we celebrate the 5-year anniversary of our Hispanic Ministry Program. We are so grateful for God’s grace, goodness, and favor over the past five years. Since 2017 we have diligently worked to fulfill our motto, “equipping leaders, changing lives!”

First GCUPM cohort in Holland

This year we have seen a great return on the hard work that has gone into building the program. The HMP has grown from the initial 55 students to over 120 students today (representing seven different denominations) in our Graduate Certificate program and our new Master of Arts program launched in the 2022-23 academic year.  

Vital Role

Western’s efforts are in response to the hunger of the Latino community to equip and prepare leaders of the church for lifelong ministry. The breadth and depth of the Hispanic community throughout the United States continues to shed light on the vital role of churches in Latino communities. According to UCLA professor and Brown Church Institute founder Robert Chao Romero, “Latino churches are proximate to the pain felt by communities; they are often first responders in crisis situations like COVID or immigration cases, and they are a vital, though often overlooked, partner in the social safety net.” 

Michigan Cohort in 2018

Our students have shown the efforts they will take to obtain their graduate degrees. The vast majority of our students are bi-vocational, bilingual pastors and church leaders working outside of the church and maintaining a church community. They participate in the program with Spanish as their language of context and ministry while working in an environment using their second language (English).

Casting the Vision

We thank God for the blessing of a great HMP team at WTS, growing from three full-time staff to nine staff members assisting us throughout the country with their individual gifts and talents.

First HMP cohort in Delaware

We are very grateful to Lily Endowment Inc. for the Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative grant, enabling us to strengthen and sustain our capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for the Christian church. These funds will provide for our newest endeavor, a Hispanic Summer Institute program here at WTS in 2023, 2024, and 2025. We will host a two-week residential intensive experience where students will participate in two masters-level courses taught by two world-renowned professors. More information is soon to come!


Meet the Team

David A. Escobar Arcay, Associate Professor of Theology, Director of the Hispanic Ministry Program

Johnny Vega, Hispanic Ministry Program Administrator

Gretchen Torres, Hispanic Ministry Program and Th.M. Program Administrator

Western Theological Seminary’s theme verse for the 2022-2023 academic year is Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

This verse reminds us to trust the Lord and submit to his guidance as our bright hope for the future. Despite the many challenges churches and theological schools face across the US, we continue to trust in the Lord and recognize the abundance he has provided in 2022. As 2022 comes to a close, we are highlighting twenty-two reasons to celebrate the Lord’s faithfulness this past year.

New Members of the WTS Community

  • Fall 2022 marked another year of record enrollment, with 433 students attending classes. 
  • Five new faculty members joined WTS in the 2022 academic year: Dr. Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Dr. Tim Basselin, Dr. Madison Pierce, Dr. Keith Starkenburg, and Dr. Alberto La Rosa Rojas.
  • The student life team welcomed Director of Field Education and Student Life, Dr. Tim Basselin, and Associate Director of Student Life, Kate Bareman
  • The Board of Trustees welcomed Rick Lyons over the summer. Lyons brings decades of experience with him to his role on the board.
  • Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance Jon Dockery and Associate Director of the Peterson Center Sam Gutierrez joined WTS staff this year. The Bridge welcomed three new staff members, including Sales Associate Emily Burchnell, Assistant Manager Amy Kornelis, and Manager Darcy Cunningham.

New Programs

    1. Performing the Bible: Exploring the Performance Genres of Scripture
    2. Teología Evangélica Teologías Pastorales, Doctrinales y Públicas de la Iglesia Hispanoamericana
    3. Hungering for God: The Pastor as Spiritual Guide
    4. Youth Ministry: Imagining More – Building Faithful Ministries through Practical Theology

Celebrating Connection and Partnerships

  • WTS launched chapel livestreaming, making chapel accessible to all WTS students and the broader community every Friday. 
  • The Peterson Center for Christian Imagination hosted its first Doxology conference, where over 150 pastors, musicians, artists, alumni, and church leaders gathered for worship and refreshment. 
  • Through livestreaming, WTS expanded the reach of the 2022 Osterhaven Lecture series featuring Rev. Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson, and over 200 members of the extended WTS community were able to engage. 
  • WTS celebrated its history by hosting the inaugural Founders’ Day Lecture featuring Dr. David Komline.
  • The Center for Disability and Ministry hosted its inaugural event in July, featuring Dr. Bethany McKinney and Dr. L.S. Carlos Thompson.
  • WTS launched a three-year partnership with MELD: Multi-Ethnic Leadership Development, which provides coaching in cultural diversity.
  • The Center of Disability and Ministry launched a partnership with the Koinonia Inclusion Network, a parachurch organization in Singapore, partnering with churches to include people with disabilities.
  • The Hope-Western Prison Education Program welcomed its second full cohort and gathered to celebrate an in-person convocation for the very first time in August.
  • The first cohort graduated with an MA in Christian Studies and taught fully in Spanish.  
  • The Class of 2022 was one of Western’s largest graduating classes with 37 Doctor of Ministry Degrees, 26 Master of Divinity degrees, 30 Master of Arts degrees, six Master of Theology degrees, and 18 Graduate Certificate degrees awarded. 
  • Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson was installed as the G.W. and Edna Haworth Chair of Educational Ministries and Leadership in April. 
  • In November, many WTS faculty attended the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting. Dr. Han-Luen Kantzer Komline was one of the three plenary session lecturers at the national conference. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported or prayed for Western Theological Seminary in 2022. We look forward to all that will come in 2023!

Western Theological Seminary is launching a search for a Professor of Counseling and Director of the Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The director will lead in the design and implementation of a CACREP-aligned Master of Arts (MA) program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, as well as teach the program’s first courses. 

“With the mental health crisis taking place throughout this country, we are grateful for the opportunity to offer this new program,” said Dr. Kristen Deede Johnson, Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs and G.W. and Edna Haworth Professor of Educational Ministries and Leadership.  “Rooted in the theological convictions that have long shaped Western Theological Seminary and offering contemporary, research-based training, we hope and pray that this new degree will equip our graduates to be wise, competent, and faithful therapists and practitioners.”

Dr. Chuck DeGroat, Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality, has been one of the lead architects of the program. He has over 20 years of experience as a pastor and counselor, including starting two church-based clinical counseling centers.

According to Dr. DeGroat, “WTS is uniquely positioned to offer a relationally-oriented and trauma-informed, research-based program which, at the same time, remains deeply rooted in a longstanding Christian soul care tradition.”

The Clinical Mental Health degree will be rolled out over the next two years.   

“Over the years, Western Theological Seminary has emphasized the formation of the whole person, tending not only to the head and hands but also to the heart and inner life of our students,” shared President Felix Theonugraha. “In the next couple of years, we envision graduating counselors who are deeply formed to meet the mental health challenges that we see in our churches and communities today.”

Western Theological Seminary is accredited through the Association of Theological Schools and will seek accreditation through the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP), which is a nationally recognized accrediting body for counseling education.

Western Theological Seminary (WTS) is a Christian theological seminary affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. Located in Holland, Michigan, WTS offers 16 graduate programs online, in residence, in English, and in Spanish, for women and men preparing for faithful Christian ministry. Home to the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination and the Center for Disability & Ministry, WTS is committed to providing excellent theological education and to forming students spiritually. WTS was founded in 1866 when seven of the eight members of Hope College’s inaugural graduating class wished to become ministers and petitioned the RCA to allow them to complete their education in Holland.

Completing the application for a seminary program is often part of the discernment process. As you formulate the answers to your questions and write about experiences and people pivotal to your growth, you’ll find yourself reflecting on your Christian formation. You may notice how these people and experiences have encouraged your desire to serve God through your vocation. You may be drawn to humbly assess your gifts and abilities for the work to which God may be calling you. 

For some, this can feel a little overwhelming. We are here to help as you work through the process.

As you prepare your application, here are all the things you will need. 

1. The online application

Our entire application is completed online. When you visit, you will be prompted to create an account which will allow you to start and stop as much as you need. 

The application form collects basic information such as contact information, educational history, and a simple self-assessment. 

You will use the online application to upload other necessary documents and request references. 

2. Transcripts  

We require an official copy of your undergraduate transcripts for admission to programs.

An official copy is an unopened paper copy sent by the registrar’s office or an electronic copy sent by the registrar through a third party (they’ll know what that means!)

You can order them online from most schools. You can also call the registrar at the undergrad institution to order one.   (Sorry, we can’t accept the copy you might already have!)

If you completed more than nine credits at an institution other than the one that granted your degree, we will need a copy from this school.

And, if you’re hoping to transfer in any credits from another graduate program, we’ll need copies of these transcripts too!


Transcript Tip: You don’t have to wait to have a complete application to request your transcripts.  Request these as soon as you start your application. We will add them to your file when we receive them.


3. Written Materials

Each program requires different written materials as part of your application. Take a look at the programs listed below and what you will need: 


Graduate Certificate:

To apply for any of our graduate certificate programs, you will submit a one-page, double-spaced theological book reflection or a previous academic writing assignment.

This writing sample is designed to demonstrate your ability to write and engage a text.  

Are you feeling anxious or uncertain? Talk to a member of our team! We are happy to help you. 


Master of Arts and Master of Divinity:

If you are applying for an MA or MDiv, you will need to include two written materials as part of your application.

              A book reflection

The book reflection serves as a writing sample and demonstrates your ability to engage with written material. For your book reflection, select three books (not Scripture) that have influenced how you think about and live the Christian Life. You will then write a paragraph-length review of each book.


Tip: Many applicants have been out of school for a while.  You don’t need to be an expert writer to attend seminary.  Simply make sure that your writing is easy to read. There are many resources available to double-check spelling and ensure the appropriate use of punctuation and grammar. (Spell check and Grammarly will be your friends in seminary!)


             A spiritual autobiography

This autobiography will become part of a formation for ministry file that will be used to assess your growth during your seminary years. You will have the opportunity to reflect on and edit it at several points during your academic experience. 

Your autobiography should be about six pages long, double-spaced, and encompassing the following categories. Instructions are included within the application form. 

  • Family and Faith of Origin
  • Early Childhood/Early Adolescence
  • Adult Life (post-high school)
  • Include any intercultural experiences that have been formative


Tip: Thoughtful, reflective writing will allow your application to stand out. Be authentic and honest. What should we know about how your interest in seminary and ministry has developed? We will hold what you share with care and confidentiality. 


4. Statement of Church Membership or summary of worship habits

Master of Divinity and Master of Arts applicants will submit a Statement of Church Membership, or if not a member, an email explaining current worship habits and church involvement.  

 A Statement of Church Membership is an email or document from your church office stating that you are a member in good standing. 

A summary email explaining current worship habits and church involvement is from the applicant and is needed only if the applicant is not a member of a church at the time of application. Only one is needed. 

Why is this important? 

It helps us identify what scholarships you may be eligible for. Denominational or “affiliation” scholarships will require a statement of church membership or confirmation that the applicant is in the process of becoming a member.


Tip: Please call or email your admissions representative if you have any questions about your statement of church membership! 


5. Letters of Recommendation

You will invite 2-4 individuals to provide a recommendation or reference as part of your application. This happens from within the application form. When prompted to request the references, enter the appropriate name, phone number, and email address. A form will then be sent directly to the recommender.  

The form will include questions about your resilience, ethics, spiritual maturity, planning and organization, communication skills, and ability to work as part of a team. These questions are primarily multiple-choice with space to add helpful feedback. This takes approximately 20-30 minutes to complete. 


Tip: Ask references for permission to submit their information prior to entering it into your application, Let them know when they might receive the link. (You can choose to have the form sent immediately or when you submit your application form.) If you have any questions or concerns about this, please contact your admissions representative.


Ready to get started?

By Dr. Chuck DeGroat
Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality

While a Reformation unfolded in Germany, Switzerland, and throughout Europe in the early decades of the 16th century, a woman was born 1000 miles south in Avila, Spain, on the bank of the Rio Adaja, just west of Madrid. Today, we know her as St. Teresa of Avila, a woman who started a reform movement centered around living according to the Gospels and committed to discovering the hope, beauty, and intimacy of God’s life within us. 

I met her in the summer of 1997 while studying Christian spirituality with the theologian Alistair McGrath. He spoke of her as if she were a friend, and it was clear to me, even at the age of 27, that I’d need to get to know her. That sparked a curiosity about the Spanish Carmelite tradition, including St. John of the Cross, author of The Dark Night of the Soul. Teresa and John’s work created space for doubt and disorientation in my life of faith but offered reminders that God holds us even in these spaces of disruption. They became companions in my pastoral and counseling work. I was so captivated by Teresa’s vision of life in God that I began writing about it five years ago, but black-and-white words on a page couldn’t capture what I saw in my mind’s vivid technicolor imagination. So, I set aside the 40,000 words I’d written and didn’t return until last summer. 

By last summer, a book I’d written called When Narcissism Comes to Church had been around for nearly a year and a half, and with that, a deluge of conversation and correspondence around issues of religious trauma, church scandal, clergy abuse, and more. Every day, I’d expect to see another 10-20 emails with stories of pain and powerlessness. Soon enough, my soul felt heavy, and my cynicism oozed over in conversations. I knew I had to find my way to the depths of God and the horizon of hope again. Over a coffee with a creative friend named Andrew, I asked if he could put my words about Teresa to compelling music and artful visuals, and we began filming Wild Country of the Heart: Navigating the Seasons of the Spiritual Journey with St. Teresa, a 70-minute journey into the seven dwellings of her most beloved work, The Interior Castle. 

Still image from Wild Country of the Heart

Teresa witnessed a church in crisis. Though 1,000 miles south of the Reformation epicenter, she felt its reverberations. Within her own church and monastic movement, she witnessed ritualism and apathy, performative practices of the Christian life without heart. She participated in it all until, at age 39, her eyes were opened to see her sufferings in Jesus, her life transformed by God’s solidarity amidst her pain. Now, she couldn’t help but name the crisis and pave a hopeful pathway forward that we desperately need. 

The church in North America is facing massive challenges today, if not crises. The late spiritual theologian Phyllis Tickle noted that about every 500 years, the church seems to experience a “giant rummage sale,” a reckoning with old and tired forms of religiosity and even abusive practices. And, it seems we’re at that 500-year mark again. In my work, I sit with survivors of abuse whose trauma burdens them so greatly that they wonder if they can find their way to church again. Polling through Gallup shows a precipitous decline in trust and confidence in religious institutions, from 60% in 2001 to 37% today. 

I created Wild Country of the Heart to offer hope through the compelling story of one who could’ve given herself up. A sufferer of trauma, burdened by chronic pain, and faced with sexism and racism (for her Jewish family background), Teresa’s experiences mirror many of ours. Indeed, in the patriarchal Spain of her day, clergy-sanctioned domestic abuse threatened the dignity of women and wives, in particular. She had every reason to seethe in anger, to resign to cynicism.  

“We at Western Theological Seminary seek to reckon responsibly with the ecclesial challenges but also prepare women and men to be hopeful ambassadors of God’s shalom. I pray that the film plays a small part in that hopeful way forward.”

And yet, she created a hopeful community, anchored in the Gospels and aimed at forming women and men for life in God. She wrote a magnificent work, The Interior Castle, offering a way forward through our disorientation, doubts, and even deconstruction, into hope, beauty, dignity, and intimacy with God. That’s a story worth telling today, as we at Western Theological Seminary seek to reckon responsibly with the ecclesial challenges but also prepare women and men to be hopeful ambassadors of God’s shalom. I pray that the film plays a small part in that hopeful way forward. 

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Members of Bridge to Grace Covenant Church in Roswell, GA, had a feeling that God was inviting them into something new. They wanted to make a difference in their neighborhood, which had changed significantly since the church was founded 40 years ago. The neighborhood was once made up primarily of single-family homes priced for middle- to upper-class buyers. Over the last decade, 10,000 new apartments were built across the street from the church. New neighbors moved in, many immigrating from Central and South America. 

Members of the church recognized the gift of their location and the growing diversity in their neighborhood. They joined the Churches in Mission cohort at Western Theological Seminary because they were eager to pay attention to the changes and faithfully respond to them. In their new neighbors, they saw increased material needs, language barriers, and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on day laborers. They began to wonder what it would take for people from different countries to learn from and with each other.

Congregation members pack food for monthly meal distribution to nearby apartments

Through the Churches in Mission process, the Bridge to Grace team explored their neighborhood and interviewed people who live and work there. They heard about pressing needs in local schools, recognized food insecurity, and encountered challenging language divides. After a season of discernment, the team decided to create a collaborative non-profit called Love Our Neighbor, inviting partnerships with other churches and non-profits. They hope to expand their food distribution program, support counselors and teachers at local schools, engage in reciprocal language activities, and open their building for neighborhood childcare.  

God keeps showing up in surprising ways. A local Spanish-speaking congregation made an offer to buy part of the property. The pastor of a Haitian congregation asked to use the Bridge to Grace building as a worship space. A neighbor requested to expand her at-home daycare into the church building. A neighbor offered to share a bus that she uses for food distribution. Each of these new ministry opportunities aligns with things the team has been praying about. The Holy Spirit is on the move in Roswell, GA, and continues to open doors for Bridge to Grace and her neighbors to join in.

“Discerning local mission demands curiosity and a willingness to change.”

Responding to God’s Call

Congregations who join the Churches in Mission cohort agree to listen deeply to people inside and outside of their church to discern what God is calling them toward in local mission. Each team engages in an in-depth process of listening and discovery in their neighborhoods. Along the way, they learn from neighbors they’ve never met before; wrestling with what they hear becomes the foundation for discerning the next steps. In response, each church team designs a creative way to thank their neighbors for reshaping the church’s imagination about what’s possible.

Worship fueling Bridge to Grace’s desire to serve their neighbors

Join the Conversation

Is God inviting your church to something new in your neighborhood? If so, we’d love to talk with you. Get connected to a learning community whose goal is to love God and their neighbors right where they are.

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Meet the Churches in Mission Team

Shari Oosting, Churches in Mission Director

Hannah Stevens, Churches in Mission Associate Director