“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps 90:1-2).
The stability of God’s eternal and unchanging being is one of the architectonic themes of the divine kingship psalms found in Psalms 90-106. God’s eternal and unchanging being provides stability to God’s throne in heaven above (Ps 93:2) and it provides stability to the world below (Ps 93:1). God’s eternal and unchanging being provides stability to God’s covenant promises (Ps 105:8-10) and, therefore, to his often faithless and unstable people–“in all generations” (Ps 90:1). Because “his steadfast love endures forever,” we have more than ample cause to give thanks to our eternal God for his eternal and unchanging goodness (Ps 106:1).
RTS Orlando has been the beneficiary of the Lord’s eternal and unchanging goodness in 2021. As the year draws to its conclusion, I want to note some of the ways the Lord has blessed the seminary. Though these blessings are diverse and variegated signs of divine goodness, each of them is not only a testimony to God’s goodness toward us over the past year. Each of these blessings is also a promise, we trust, of God’s goodness in the years to come, “for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps 106:1).
1. Nicholas Reid’s ordination: In January of 2021, Professor Nicholas Reid was ordained and installed as a minister of the gospel at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Winter Park. RTS Orlando and St. Paul’s have a long history of partnership in the work of preparing students for the gospel ministry. Professor Reid’s new role at St. Paul’s represents a new moment in that great partnership and a sign of exciting opportunities in days ahead.
2. Zachary Cole joins the faculty: Upon the announcement of Chuck Hill’s retirement, the Executive Committee of RTS immediately declared an opening in New Testament at the Orlando campus. At the conclusion of its search to fill this opening, the faculty of RTS Orlando was thrilled to welcome Dr. Zachary Cole to its ranks this past summer. Professor Cole has already made a significant contribution to our community and we look forward to the ways he will serve the Lord in our midst in days ahead.
3. Elizabeth Pennock earns her PhD: In addition to the hire of Dr. Cole, this past summer Professor Elizabeth Pennock graduated with her Ph.D. from the University of Central Florida. Her doctoral work explored the relationship between theology and trauma in pastoral ministry. Professor Pennock’s expertise promises to help us better equip pastors and counselors with the wisdom they need to provide “trauma-informed care” to congregations and clients.
4. Faculty publications: 2021 was a productive year for the faculty of RTS Orlando in the area of research and publication. Among the books, articles, and reviews published by our faculty this year are: Michael Allen, Ephesians (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible); T & T Clark Reader in John Webster; A Companion to the Theology of John Webster (with David Nelson); Greg Lanier, Corpus Christologicum–a work of generational significance that all serious students of the Bible will want to acquire for their libraries; The Septuagint: What it is and Why it Matters (with Will Ross); and a Festschrift for Chuck Hill, edited by Greg Lanier and Nicholas Reid, Studies on the Intersection of Text, Paratext, and Reception.
5. Enrollment: RTS Orlando finished the 2020-21 academic year with its strongest enrollment in nearly a decade. We began the 2021-22 academic year on track to match or surpass the previous year’s enrollment numbers. The Lord continues to entrust our community with the privilege of training some of the brightest and godliest men and women he has called to serve the church. We look forward to the ways our students will serve the Lord in decades to come as “scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven,” prepared to bring treasures old and new out of Holy Scripture (Matt 13:52).
6. Graduates–with graduation ceremonies: After having to hold a “drive thru” graduation in 2020 due to the pandemic, we were delighted to hold in person commencement ceremonies in May 2021. Among our class of stellar graduates, I’d like to mention two who served me very well as teaching assistants during their time at RTS Orlando, Jennie Campa and Skyler Flowers. Jennie is now serving in counseling and communications at Orangewood Presbyterian Church in Orlando. Skyler, in addition to being a joyful fan of your MLB national champions, the Atlanta Braves, is serving as student pastor at Grace Bible Church in Oxford, Mississippi.
7. PCA GA alumni event: Speaking of graduates, several of us had the opportunity to see a number of recent and not so recent graduates of RTS Orlando at our PCA GA alumni event in St. Louis this past summer. Somehow Donny Friederichsen outsmarted or outbribed his fellow alums and ended up with the copy of the Oxford Handbook of Reformed Theology that Leigh Swanson (see below) brought to give away. (A special ad interim alumni committee has been appointed to investigate exactly how this happened).
8. Lanny Conley’s 25 years of service: At our staff Christmas party earlier this month, we recognized Lanny Conley, RTS’s Chief Registrar, for 25 years of faithful service. As all of our faculty, staff, and students know, Lanny is one of the greatest assets of RTS Orlando. Lanny’s professionalism, devotion to our students, and sense of humor are a blessing to all of us. (Less widely known, he also holds the prestigious Chair of Mayonnaise Studies on campus.) Thanks, Lanny, for 25 years!
9. RTS Orlando’s faith and work initiative: In 2021, RTS Orlando received a generous five-year commitment from one of our donor families to launch a faith and work initiative on campus. We’ll have a lot more to say about that in days ahead. Stay tuned for an official announcement in 2022. And mark October 25, 2022 on your calendars for RTS Orlando’s inaugural “Bavinck Lecture,” one of many exciting components of our new faith and work initiative, to be delivered by Professor James Eglinton of the University of Edinburgh.
10. Leigh Swanson’s promotion: I first got to know Leigh Swanson ten years ago as a student when she took my covenant theology elective. After she graduated, she joined the staff of our student life department. Five years ago, when I became president of the Orlando campus, I asked Leigh to assume the role of Vice President of Community Relations, where she took the lead in cultivating relationships with donors, churches, and alumni. Leigh has been one of the key contributors to RTS Orlando’s growth in student recruiting and scholarships over the past five years and she’s proven to be an invaluable partner on the leadership team of this campus. In recognition of her outstanding service, Leigh was recently promoted to the role of Executive Vice President. While continuing to provide oversight of RTS Orlando’s development efforts, Leigh will also exercise expanded leadership in campus administration.