On May 12, the day after graduating, M.Div. recipient Benito (Ben) Aguilera was ordained at Christ Memorial Church in Holland, MI, where he has accepted a position as Pastor of Community and Global Missions.

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Ben grew up in Southern California and didn’t become a Christian until high school. His first church was a non-denominational charismatic congregation where he learned about the Holy Spirit, gifts and strong leadership. There he developed a deep passion for sharing the gospel. When Ben got to his first chapel service at Northwestern College in Iowa, he was in for a culture shock.

“It was interesting, it was different, it was new,” he says. “I began to see the beauty in liturgy, in the tradition that the RCA has, but I also saw some of the challenges that the RCA faces, for example—diversity.”

Ben has dedicated his studies and his ministry to understanding and appreciating different cultures outside and within the church and learning to meet people where they are. He is passionate about sharing the gospel with the un-churched and with those on the fringes of society.

“I always tell people I’m from the best of both worlds,” he says. “I’m from a charismatic background but also have this strong biblical foundation that I love in the RCA. It challenges me. It challenges the way I think; it challenges the way I walk with God, and I think it’s really important that I always have those two be a part of my life and my ministry.”

Ben has been working as the director of community development at Christ Memorial, where his job has been to maintain relationships with 20+ non-profits and ministries in Holland. One of his goals is to get the church out of the pews and into the community.

Ben and his wife Hannah will be staying in Holland for the foreseeable future, but they are open to the Lord’s direction. Ben has a heart for urban ministry and hopes someday to become a church planter.

WTS is pleased to announce the addition of our newest program, the Graduate Certificate in Disability & Ministry.  Directed by Dr. Ben Conner, this program will include 24 credits divided between core courses and specialized courses addressing the intersection of theology and disability. Visit the GCDM page for more information!

The seminary’s second-largest graduating class received their degrees on Monday evening, May 11, in Dimnent Memorial Chapel on the campus of Hope College. Western Theological Seminary awarded 42 Master of Divinity degrees, five Master of Arts degrees, three Master of Theology degrees, three Doctor of Ministry degrees, and three Graduate Certificates in Urban Pastoral Ministry. Prominent church historian Dr. Justo L. González was the commencement speaker. He spoke to the graduates about the Ascension of Christ, emphasizing Christ’s absence and Christ’s victory. He stressed that there is love in Christ’s absence, allowing us to steward creation and God’s people with the help of the Holy Spirit. “The victory,” he said,“is that Christ is seated with God where we will join Him someday. Like a mother teaching her child to walk, who is waiting around the corner for him, Christ is absent from us,allowing us to learn to walk towards him until the day he will finally embrace us.”

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Alumni/ae and friends of the seminary are invited to attend our Commencement and Alumni/ae day on Monday, May 11. 

Please join us at 2:00 PM in Mulder Chapel for a presentation by Commencement speaker, Rev. Dr. Justo L. González. Then at 7:30, join with us in celebrating our 2015 graduates at the 139th Commencement ceremony in Dimnent Chapel. The public is welcome for these events!


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Alumni/ae Reunions

12:00 noon, Classes of ’55, ’65, ’75
Lunches $10/person, locations tba

for more information, contact LuAnne VanSlooten.

Afternoon Presentation 
2:00  “Remember the Future: History Works Backwards” by Commencement speaker, Rev. Dr. Justo L. González.
Held in Mulder Chapel, public welcome

139th WTS Commencement
7:30 PM
Dimnent Chapel (campus of Hope College)
Doors open at 6:45

for more information, contact Beth Smith.

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Have you ever felt called to seminary, but weren’t able to leave your current setting? Western Theological Seminary’s Distance Learning program could be for you.  Our DL students are ministers, professionals, parents, and more. With fully online classes and two week-long intensives between semesters in Holland, MI, the DL program allows flexibility around your schedule while maintaining the same quality theological education WTS is known for. Watch what some of our current students have to say about the program, and find more information on our Degrees page.

We are sorry to report that the event at WTS is cancelled.  Daoud will not be able to make it to the U.S. He will be meeting with Israeli court officials to continue an ongoing legal battle over the ownership of their family farm. However, the event at Christ Memorial Church will still be held at 7 pm on April 30. A representative of the farm will be there, speaking on Daoud’s behalf. Daoud will be present through pre-recorded videos.


Western Theological Seminary announces that Dr. Leanne Van Dyk, vice president for academic affairs, has been chosen by Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA as their next president. Dr. Van Dyk will complete the school year at Western and take up her new responsibilities at Columbia the end of June. She succeeds Columbia’s ninth president, The Rev. Dr. Stephen (Steve) A. Hayner, who passed away in January after a year’s illness. Columbia was founded in 1828 as a seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA). With a faculty of 30, it has 350 students in five degree programs, all offered in-residence. The 57-acre campus is located six miles from downtown Atlanta.

Dr. Van Dyk arrived at Western Theological Seminary in 1998, first teaching in the area of Reformed theology and then moving into administrative roles such as dean of the faculty (2002-05), academic dean (2005-15), and finally the vice president of academic affairs (2006-15).

In those years of academic administration, Dr. Van Dyk increased the quality of Western’s distance learning degree program, began a new Master of Arts degree, assisted in the partnership with the Newbigin House of Studies (San Francisco), headed up the re-accreditation process for the school (done every 10 years), implemented an assessment process for student learning, and led the Faculty Fellow program in which racial-ethnic scholars are brought into the WTS community to teach while working on their PhDs.

When asked about her favorite accomplishment, Dr. Van Dyk says, “I am most pleased with my work chairing ten faculty search committees and bringing marvelous new faculty colleagues to the seminary.”

Leanne Van Dyk is a graduate of Calvin College (B.A.), Western Michigan University (M.A.), Calvin Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). Her career began as an elementary school teacher in DeMotte, IN and Kalamazoo, MI. Although she loved working in early childhood education, she began to sense a call to ministry that grew stronger as the years went by. She decided to leave teaching in 1981 and began seminary at Calvin Theological Seminary.

“Even though women were not at that time welcomed into ordained ministry in the Christian Reformed Church, I was convinced that I was obeying a call from God,” she says. “I am so grateful that my call has led me to rich and fruitful ministries in theological education.”

Van Dyk was ordained in 2007 in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Her ordination was transferred to the Reformed Church in America in 2009.

Her years in San Francisco, where she served on the faculty of the San Francisco Theological Seminary from 1992-98, sharpened her focus on the issues of cultural diversity that face the church today. She gave Western an excitement for the rich resources within the Reformed tradition for speaking theologically across cultural and religious boundaries. She cares deeply about racial-ethnic diversity and is pleased that Columbia Theological Seminary has grown remarkably in recent years in that area.

“I am eager to serve Columbia as president and lead them to continue to live into their mission,” Dr. Van Dyk says.

“Columbia Theological Seminary’s great gain is Western Theological Seminary’s deep loss,” says WTS President Timothy Brown. “Leanne has given our school boundless energy and lavish joy as she has guided our academic well-being with remarkable wisdom. We all wish she wasn’t leaving but clearly understand why Columbia has chosen her. We are mighty proud of her and pledge to her our abiding love and continuing prayers!”

Our 2015 T.I.M. Summit will prove to be one alumni (classes 2010-2014) will NOT want to miss! Any alum, whether currently placed in full time ministry or not, is invited to join in conversation to explore the ins and outs of organizational leadership. There will be fun with your peers, learning skills needed for your ministry and…door prizes!

This year’s summit will focus on how to make your ministry and vocation all about the people in the midst of the administrative and ministerial tasks that surround you every day. At the summit, you will hear from area corporate and church leaders explaining how to do what matters most in your ministry. You will be surrounded by friends and mentors who will help you, in a fun and engaging way, learn how God empowers us to empower others in ministry.


Session 1 – Catalyzing Strengths
I’m good at names, good with ideas, but terrible with numbers. I can share a vision but struggle to empower others to participate. How do I build on what I do well without getting discouraged or procrastinating on the other?

Session 2 – Workshops


Administrative Assistants Make Life Better (or “I’m better at this than you, let me help”) – Cathy Dreyer, Pillar Church

Recruiting Volunteers: Picking Friends is Better than Picking Your Nose – Martha Wing, Holland Rescue Mission

Strategic Planning: Where Dreams Do Come True – Kyle Small, Western Theological Seminary

Session 3 – Honest Feedback & Working with Boards

Fearless Feedback: Receiving Feedback without Falling Apart  – Kyle Small, Western Theological Seminary
The Bored-room No Longer: Working with Consistories, Non-profit Boards and Ministry Teams for Energy and Action  – Jeff Munroe, Western Theological Seminary

Session 5 – Panel Discussion

Organic Energy – leadership insights from seasoned leaders
Panel Participants:


John Spoelhof, former president of Prince Corp. and Jeff Monroe, V.P. of Operations at WTS.

Jody VanderWel, investment manager at Grand Angels
Steve Spoelhof, former head of Advancement at Willow Creek Community Church
Martha Wing, volunteer coordinator at Holland Rescue Mission
Chris Theule-VanDam, regional director for Young Life

Session 6 – Generosity and Closing

Steve Spoelhof talks about generosity from his experience in fundraising.

The Rev. Chris DeVos joined WTS on January 19 as the new Associate Director of Journey for Ridder Church Renewal. 


 Chris grew up in Grand Rapids, MI, where his family was deeply involved in both an RCA and a CRC church. While attending Calvin Theological Seminary, he sensed a call to pastoral ministry with the need to bring renewal to the church. He spent six years in campus ministry at the University of Colorado before answering a call to a CRC church in Dunwoody, GA. There he spent seven rich years learning what it meant to be a pastor before sensing another call to Kingston, Ontario. Finally, in 2003, Chris moved to Holland to lead Pillar Church, where he participated in Ridder Church Renewal. Chris brings the unique perspective of working in both CRC and RCA churches in the US and Canada, as well as being a pastor who has gone through the Ridder process.

What is Ridder Church Renewal?

Ridder Church Renewal is really more of a movement than a program. It is a process of transformation for pastors and churches, geared toward those who want a more vibrant mission and life as a congregation. We work primarily with pastors and leadership teams of six people. We teach pastors and leaders to take responsibility for their own growth.

It’s as if you hadn’t been eating a great diet for a while, and you begin to ask, “Why do I eat as I do? What do I mean by health and how do I reach it?”

We start out with Faithwalking, digging deep into the hidden assumptions within the personal lives of the pastor and church leaders. Out of personal transformation comes corporate renewal. The entire process is spread out over five years with training and teaching.

What interested you in leading this?

Ridder has made such a big impact on my life and in the life of Pillar Church. To be a part of that with other churches excited me. Even the congregation, although they didn’t want me to go, could see that this was really a good fit for my gifts, passions and experiences.

What impact has Ridder made on you?

The situation of the church right now in North America means that churches have to wrestle with change. Pastors need to learn to be a less-anxious presence in the midst of hard conversations about change and mission. The Ridder process has developed me to be much more capable in that way and much more honest. I’ve had people say to me at Pillar, “You’re a different person than you were when you came here.”  

Have you witnessed other renewal?

Every one of the churches involved with Ridder is gaining clarity on what it means to be in mission for God with integrity, authenticity, love, and courage. In the first two and a half years we see a lot of transformation in the lives of pastors. As the process continues, churches help their members see how God is calling them to their own ministries in their community. 

Why is Ridder is catching on so fast?

It is the testimony of churches and pastors saying that it has made a deeper difference than just a program. It’s not a quick fix. Ridder focuses on being more genuine and faithful to the gospel.

How many churches are involved?

There are 56 RCA and CRC churches. A year from now there will probably be 120. The churches are located across the U.S. and Canada. They belong to several RCA synods—Great Lakes, Wisconsin, Albany, Mid-America and New York. A number of CRC classes are also represented. We hope to expand into a Pacific NW region and to Iowa, the Dakotas, and Minnesota.

What are your dreams for Ridder?

My dreams all center on what would help pastors and churches grow in their capacity to be in God’s mission in the world. The more we can facilitate that, the better. My main work is to steward this movement as it grows.

We’re exploring ways to craft an even deeper collaboration between Ridder and the academic life of the seminary. I’d love to see more involvement with our faculty, as well as a Doctor of Ministry track for pastors engaged in Ridder.

As our work expands, I want to see more and more pastors and leaders take up the challenge to learn, live, and act in ways that are required of us to be more faithful and fruitful in mission today. I’m committed to doing that in my own life.

Visit ridder.westernsem.edu to learn more

What do a poet and a theologian have to say about being diagnosed with incurable cancer in the prime of life? Listen to the conversation between famous American poet Christian Wiman and Reformed theologian J. Todd Billings.