“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.
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.