After 13 months of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, I returned to my upstairs office in the century-old house that serves as a center for the day-to-day work of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. It is a grand old building, a little shabby but well-used by generations of faculty and staff working with students preparing for pastoral work, missions, teaching and service in the fields of counseling and community development.
The seminary joined forces with Fresno Pacific University in 2010, a move that opened our small corner campus to new activity. These days, my upstairs office is giving me a terrific vantage point from which to watch the growth of FPU’s new Warkentine Culture and Arts Center (CAC) that is being built next to the Seminary House. It is a fine juxtaposition of old and new and we anticipate both buildings serving well into the future.
The CAC is designed to be a flexible space able to host everything from concerts and plays to lectures and worship services. The grand foyer will be able to serve as a gathering space for dinners and other celebratory events. The building is meant to serve both the FPU community and our neighborhood, and it is made possible by a host of small gifts together with the generosity of people such as Al and Dotty Warkentine, long-time supporters of the work and mission of Fresno Pacific.
Visitors to my office are likely to find me pushing them toward the windows. “See how it grows!” I want to tell them. And while there are days that I find the construction noise a serious distraction to the work I am supposed to be doing, I am also aware of how good it is to see something growing. The building taking shape outside my window has become a tangible symbol of hope.
The Bible is infused with a message of hope. We hope in God’s goodness, God’s provision and especially God’s ultimate saving work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We proclaim that God is at work and will one day restore all things to God’s glory. In the in-between time, however, we are left dealing with the very real consequences of sin in the world. It manifests itself in broken relationships; it holds us in bondage to destructive habits. It turns us away from, as our USMB Confession of Faith puts it, “holiness, justice and righteousness.”
A new building, of course, doesn’t repair that brokenness. It can, however, serve as a launching pad for engagement with a world in deep need of God’s hope and healing. The physical spaces we build and occupy can be used to welcome people into the Christian community.
Recently, the seminary and university have been working hard to enlarge the ways we engage with the community around us. While teaching and preparing leaders for the church and the world is at the center of our work, we’ve also been able to imagine new ways of engagement.
Through a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment, our Center for Community Transformation is resourcing local congregations and pastors to help them develop ministries that serve the physical, social and spiritual needs of their communities.
Through our Center for Anabaptist Studies, we host webinars for USMB pastors and denominational leaders to gather and learn about timely issues. Our OnSite Counseling Center is offering mental health services through contracts with local schools, Christian nonprofit organizations and even a large farming operation. These things also represent hope as we engage with the world around us.
May God continue to nurture our imaginations for ministry and service in the various places we occupy so that we may point to the signs of God’s kingdom and say, “See how it grows!”
Valerie Rempel has served as dean of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and vice president of Fresno Pacific University. She has degrees from Tabor College, MB Biblical Seminary and Vanderbilt University and has served on a variety of Mennonite Brethren and inter-Mennonite boards. In September 2021, she will begin working as the director of accreditation for The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS).