“In the days of famine they have abundance” (Ps 37:19). This verse has come to mind several times over the past year. During a season of extraordinary trial, the Lord has repeatedly demonstrated his abundant kindness to RTS Orlando.
Covid-19 has robbed us of many good things in 2020. In addition to the enormous losses of health and life, the global pandemic has highlighted and aggravated personal, social, economic, political, and ecclesiastical ills in the United States and around the world. Often our desire to protect each other from harm has meant that we have missed out on weddings and funerals. In far too many cases, the loneliest members of our society have suffered even greater degrees of isolation than their lives would ordinarily admit. The days of “Coronatide” have been “days of famine.”
But in these days of famine, we have also received abundant blessing from the Lord’s generous hand. The Lord is not weakened by our weakness; nor is he impoverished by our poverty. Time and again he has caused springs of divine goodness to flow in the desert. As recipients of divine goodness, we have much to be thankful for this year at RTS Orlando.
In keeping with my annual custom, I’d like to highlight some of the ways God has blessed the seminary this year. A statement of public thanksgiving not only provides us with the opportunity to honor the divine giver for his gifts. It also serves a social purpose. A statement of public thanksgiving enables us to thank the Lord together for his abundant goodness, even in days of famine.
Below are ten things I am thankful for in 2020.
(1) Chuck Hill At the end of the 2020-21 academic year, Chuck Hill will retire from his position as John R. Richardson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at RTS Orlando. Chuck has served our campus with distinction over the past three decades. He’s been a leading scholar in his field, a beloved classroom teacher, and an example and mentor to younger faculty members (a number of whom he recruited through his service on three faculty search committees). In honor of his distinguished service at RTS Orlando, the Executive Committee of the RTS Board recently voted to make him Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Early Christianity upon his retirement. I am very grateful for Chuck’s friendship and ministry and I am thankful that he will continue to teach special electives at RTS Orlando during his retirement, thus ensuring that his influence on our faculty and students will continue in days ahead.
(2) Rob McAdams Rob McAdams, Director of Operations at RTS Orlando, has done a remarkable job this year of managing the campus in the midst of the global pandemic. Rob prepared classrooms and students for a return to in-person classes this fall, kept everyone informed of current county requirements, and made sure our campus provided a healthy and hospitable environment for the seminary community. During a time when many institutions of higher education across the country had to shut down, Rob worked extremely hard, usually behind the scenes, to help us keep our doors open.
(3) Caleb Burnison Caleb Burnison and his team in the admissions department (Jeanna, Duckett, Skyler, Angel, and Sara) have done a truly incredible job this year recruiting new students in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. Under the Lord’s blessing, the result has been the largest incoming class we’ve seen at RTS Orlando in the last 8 years! Caleb has led and developed an admissions team that is characterized by good cheer, hard work, and personalized attention. Above all, they exhibit an exemplary commitment to the seminary’s vision of furnishing the church with well-trained leaders.
(4) New additions to the RTS Orlando family This year two RTS Orlando staff members welcomed new additions to their families. Rob and Elizabeth McAdams welcomed Scott (not named after anyone we know, unfortunately) on July 6; and Tyler and Jeanna Freire welcomed Maggie on October 12. Congratulations to the McAdamses and Freires!
(5) Bob and Laurie Curtis New RTS Board member Bob Curtis and his wife Laurie have been a tremendous blessing to our campus from the moment they joined the RTS family. Not only have they offered wise counsel and consistent encouragement to campus leadership, they have also exhibited generosity and hospitality by opening their homes in Tampa and Lookout Mountain for various recruiting, alumni, and donor events. I am so grateful for their friendship and partnership in the work of preparing the next generation of pastors, counselors, missionaries, and teachers.
(6) Reformed University Fellowship Reformed University Fellowship is the campus ministry of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. This semester, we had the privilege once again of welcoming Keith Berger, Assistant Coordinator for RUF, to campus. Keith shared the vision of RUF with our students and talked about how they might become involved in RUF campus ministry. While I’m on the topic, let me give a special shout out to Brian Thomas, the RUF campus minister at the University of Florida, where my oldest daughter is a student, and Hardy Reynolds, recent RTS Orlando grad and newly appointed campus minister at the University of Central Florida.
(7) The Fellows Initiative Offered in multiple cities across the country, The Fellows Initiative is a 9-10 month program that prepares recent college graduates to engage their vocations from a Christian perspective. Bret Allen (Orlando Fellows Director) and Jonathan Ingraham (Chattanooga Fellows Director) have been wonderful advocates for RTS Orlando this year. We are excited about further opportunities for partnership with The Fellows Initiative in the future.
(8) Mayonnaise Oft-maligned by enemies of the true, the good, and the beautiful, mayonnaise does not get the credit it deserves. I’m not saying it’s the only appropriate condiment for Christian culinary use. But, then again, what would a chicken tender Pub-sub or a tuna fish salad sandwich be without it? (And, just so you know, Duke’s mayonnaise is the best.)
(9) Books This has been a productive year for the faculty here in Orlando. Professors John Muether and Nicholas Reid (along with RTS Jackson’s Guy Waters) edited a book on covenant theology that is sure to be a standard reference work on the topic for years to come. Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives includes chapters from RTS Orlando faculty members Michael Allen, Mike Glodo, Greg Lanier, John Muether, and Nicholas Reid. RTS Orlando Academic Dean, Michael Allen, continues to produce books of exceptional learning at a superhuman pace. His new commentary on Ephesians in the Brazos series sold out before he received his author copies. In addition to his Ephesians commentary, Professor Allen’s reader in John Webster’s theology also appeared this fall, as did a work that we edited together, The Oxford Handbook of Reformed Theology. Mark Futato’s Basics of Hebrew Accents and Greg Lanier’s Is Jesus Truly God? How the Bible Teaches the Divinity of Christ are both examples of the ways RTS Orlando faculty are using their scholarship to help all of us become better readers of the Bible. I should also mention here Carl Trueman’s most recent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, one of the most important books to be published in 2020. Though Carl’s day job is at Grove City College, he also serves as a Visiting Professor at RTS Orlando and is a regular participant in the Paideia Center for Theological Discipleship.
(10) Christina Mansfield For the past three years, Christina Mansfield has served as Assistant to the President at RTS Orlando. She’s kept the president’s office in good order, played a vital role in the communication and administrative flow of campus activities, and helped me complete a number of research projects. Not least of all, she introduced me to her native Oregon’s Tillamook ice cream, for which I am forever in her debt. We will miss her bright smile, exceptional gifts, and energy as she transitions to a new role serving the institution as Financial Aid Coordinator. Thank you, Christina!