On Planting Trees

“I’ve planted four trees in our yard this year.”

Words, words, and more words…. so many words. Mostly we forget them, and perhaps we should. But some words stick, defining our days, sometimes our lives.

We have been making a decision over the last ten months, slowly coming to see its hope and meaning, and in the last few days have decided to accept the invitation to join the faculty of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, an appointment which will begin this fall. Some things we know, which draw us in, and some things we don’t know, and we can only leave them to grace.

What we know is that I will be the Professor of Marketplace Theology, and will help bring into being a new master’s degree in Leadership, Theology and Society. We also know that Regent College is a very good place with very good people, marked by a remarkable history which has had as its heart the belief that theological depth and breadth should be integrally woven into the life of ordinary people in ordinary places. Every year men and women come from all over the world to study at Regent, each one wanting to learn about the truest things, and take that learning back into the marketplaces of the cities and societies from which they have come. That that is true of Regent draws me in.

Dr. Steven Garber Appointed Professor of Marketplace Theology and Leadership

The conversation began with innocence. Last summer I taught a week-long course, “Vocation as Common Grace for the Common Good,” and thoroughly enjoyed it. The students were eager, the ideas were stimulating, and the setting was collegial. At the week’s end, the president and chairman of the board (who had taken my course) asked if I would ever be interested in “doing more with us”? I told them that I thought that Regent was a unique institution in the world, doing a work that no one else had imagined or tried— and so “yes, I would be glad.”

In a surprising but wonderful way, that conversation continued on for six months, literally every week with a deepening seriousness that increasingly intrigued me. And then in November, I had a long conversation with the academic dean who asked if Meg and I would be willing to come talk with them about “another idea.” Because of her responsibilities as a school librarian, she couldn’t, but I did travel to Vancouver in December for a day of discussion about my interest in teaching at Regent. When I began to understand the concreteness of the question, I told them, “I’ve planted four trees in our yard this year.”

Not that that meant I wasn’t interested, but it also is an indication that I had not been thinking about living somewhere else, about working somewhere else. When asked by Jeff Greenman, the president of Regent, what it would take to press into this more fully, I told him that he would “need to meet my friends.” A conversation and question like this was one with communal consequences, and for Meg and I to choose a way forward with Regent could only be made in relationship with the community that is ours, the folks whose lives are woven into ours.

A month later, he flew to Washington for a day, and we spent hours talking together, back-and-forth, hearing from each other, hearing from Jeff, trying to understand his vision for Regent and his question to me.

The next months have been ones marked by me responding to questions from Regent, ones that prospective faculty are required to address. All of this culminated in a public lecture for the Regent community several weeks ago, a visit to Vancouver that Meg and I made together. The Regent faculty recommended my appointment to the Board of Governors, who then approved that recommendation, offering me the position. We spent the last two weeks pondering, thinking and praying, thinking and praying again, and then said, “yes” to the invitation.

There is much in it which is wonderful. I cannot imagine accepting an invitation like this from anyone else, as there is not a school that I respect as I do Regent for its long commitment to the vision that vocation is integral to the mission of God. Over its history many men and women from all over the world have made their way to Vancouver to learn from very gifted professors, who in many different ways have embodied the belief that theology and life must be seamlessly connected.

There is more that could be said, and someday will be. But for now, I wanted you to know that this is our plan, born of hopes and dreams that still run through our hearts, longing to do good work among good people as we do. Regent College has been that for many over the years, and we are very glad to be drawn into its life, looking forward to finding our place in the community of learning that it is.

While all is not yet clear, at this point our plan is to have the work of Regent College be the umbrella of my work, so that the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture will be folded into Regent. Because the website has readers from all over the world, what its life will be in the future is not yet decided. The jointly-produced ReFrame series, the ten-part video curriculum exploring the meaning of faith for all of life, was brought into being by the Marketplace Institute at Regent and TWI, and as the Marketplace Institute now resides within Regent’s larger life, so will the Washington Institute. The particulars are still unfolding.

(And yes, I love dogwoods, and have planted many in our yard over the years.)

ed. note – Since this post, things have developed a bit differently.  The Washington Institute has become a ministry of McLean Presbyterian Church, under the direction of Dr. Bill Fullilove, and Steve will serve as a Senior Fellow of the Institute, contributing regularly to a renewed writing ministry while he serves at Regent.

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  • PaulLam

    Congrats Steve! As I have the privilege of knowing both the Regent community and yourself, I am confident that the Regent College community will be blessed!

    • Steven Garber

      Thank you, Paul. One of the reasons I was drawn in was meeting you and Lis las summer. Many times in the months since then, I have thought of our conversations, and hope that they continue.

  • As both a Regent as well as Reframe alum, I can say I am thrilled for
    this news, and at the same time relate so much to the symbolism (and
    sadness) of moving from a “planted” place of fertility, abundance, and
    growth. I too plant trees (in my neck of the woods, palms) but at the
    same time remember with fondness the Pacific NW. Regent will be all the
    more better for having you!!

    • Steven Garber

      I only wish I knew more of you, Wayne. Thanks for the note, especially knowing that you too plant trees. I look forward to meeting you someday.

      • Daniel So

        I love the interconnectedness of our world — the two of you should definitely meet sometime!

        Wayne, it’s been a little while, brother — hope all is well 🙂

        Steve, as always, I’m deeply moved by your words. As is the way with the Gospel, each joy is tinged with sorrow, reminders that every step is both beauty & brokenness. I’m thrilled for you and for Regent (and, I’m wondering on behalf of my lovely wife, if you’ll be leading any kind of D.Min programs in the future!).

      • I am hopeful as well. I have a feeling I will have the honor someday; I begin a Dmin on Faith, Work, Economics and Vocation this Fall at Fuller (Daniel I may have to hit you up!) — so I trust the common thread will allow us to cross paths!

        • Steven Garber

          Mark Roberts is a good friend, a very good friend, and I am sure that you will become his friend too.

  • Travis P

    Way to go Steve. This will be a great position for you (I saw the posting, thought about applying for it, and then thought, this would be great for someone like Steve Garber!)

    • Steven Garber

      Sounds like I should know more about you, Travis. Is that possible? Here is my email: [email protected]


      • Steven Garber

        And now I know! Thanks, Travis.

  • Jay J

    Steve, you have been — and I trust will continue to be — a valued friend and mentor for many years. I wish you hearty congratulations and many blessings on this next season in your life and Meg’s. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I’ll really miss you for those 7 1/2 months that you won’t be around Northern Virginia, dear brother!

    • Steven Garber

      We are deeply bound together, Jay, and I want that to continue. In every way that I can, I am committed to you, and to the good work you have made yours… a signpost of the way the world should be that it is.

  • Alistair Mackenzie

    Congratulations from Downunder on your new appointment! Regent has offered a lot of encouragement to me and many other Kiwis interested in the theologies of vocation and work and cultural transformation. Especially Paul Stevens and Paul Williams. I know this will continue with your involvement. I hope we can keep connected. With our prayers and very best wishes