“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps 136:1). Christians have many reasons to be thankful because the goodness of the Lord is abundant and enduring. We at RTS Orlando have many things to be thankful for in 2023.
1. 35 years of RTS Orlando: In 2024, RTS Orlando will celebrate its 35th anniversary. With a commitment to the Bible as the supreme rule of faith and practice, Reformed Theological Seminary first opened its doors in Jackson, Mississippi in the fall of 1966. In the mid-1980s, the board of trustees made the decision to expand the growing ministry of RTS. The Orlando campus opened in 1989 and became a hub of the growing Reformed and evangelical community in Central Florida. Originally located in Maitland, RTS Orlando was the first accredited Protestant seminary in the state. In 1999, the Orlando campus moved to its current home on 65 acres along Long Lake in Oviedo. RTS Orlando has conferred over 2,000 degrees to date and alumni serve around the globe as pastors, counselors, missionaries, church planters, educators, and lay leaders.
2. Mike Copening: For the past three years, RTS has been engaged in a significant software transition from a variety of vendors to an integrated single-vendor solution that will allow us to better serve our students, staff, and faculty. Dave Veldkamp, Lanny Conley, and Caleb Burnison have worked hard to ensure a smooth transition to the new system. However, without RTS Chief Technology Officer Mike Copening spearheading this effort, it would not have happened. Mike has worked countless hours beyond his normal workload to make sure interruptions to normal campus processes were minimized.
3. Alums: It is always a joy to reconnect with RTS Orlando alums and hear about their ministries. In January, I was happy to have lunch with Gene Roberts (MDiv ’11). Gene continues to be a good friend and faithful supporter of RTS Orlando. In February, Dr. Mike Sacasas (MA ’02), the Executive Director of the Christian Study Center in Gainesville, FL, was on campus to help us think wisely about the use of digital technology. Laura Lebo (MA ’15) has served as a missionary in North Africa since her graduation. She was on campus this fall to share with our students about her labors on the mission field.
4. New staff: Tori Trimble, a recent graduate of Moody Bible Institute, is our new Student Life and Operations Coordinator. This past summer, after graduating from Covenant College, Matti Horton joined my office as Assistant to the President. Both women bring exceptional gifts to their respective roles and have already contributed in notable ways to our campus.
5. Orlando Heart of the City Fellows: The Fellows Initiative is an advanced leadership and discipleship program for recent college graduates. First Presbyterian Church of Orlando started the Heart of the City Fellows in 2017 under the direction of Bret Allen. We have been blessed in many ways by our partnership with Bret, First Presbyterian Church, and The Fellows. Coming to RTS Orlando from The Heart of the City Fellows have been alumna Samantha Fisher (MAC ’22), current students Annalea Krumm, Jackson Elling, Ben Willsey, and former student Abby McDonald. Current Fellow Kira Pahlau is an intern in our admissions department.
6. Mike Osborne: Mike Osborne wears many hats at RTS Orlando. In addition to teaching preaching and pastoral counseling, Mike serves as our Dean of Students and Director of Field Education and Placement. As a pastor to future pastors and a counselor to future counselors, Mike has played a critical role in the formation of our students since joining our staff in early 2019.
7. New graduates: This past May, sixty men and women graduated from RTS Orlando. Most are already serving in vocational ministry. Tyler Freire (MDiv) is serving as a Pastoral Intern at Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio. Luther Tate (MDiv) is an Assistant Pastor at Dundalk Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Maryland. Austin Snively (MA) is the Director of Student Ministry at Redeemer City Church (PCA) in Lakeland, Florida. Angela Davis (MAC) is a Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern seeing clients at Journeys Counseling Center in Maitland, Florida.
8. Alumni publications: 2023 has been quite a year for alumni publications. Liz Edrington (MAC ’14), Jim Davis (MDiv ’18) and Michael Graham (MDiv ’09), and Brandon Crowe (MDiv ’07) published important books that will serve the church well in days ahead.
9. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church: Under the leadership of Pastor Justin Borger (MDiv ’11), St. Paul’s recently completed renovations on the Timor House, which will provide housing for RTS Orlando students and St. Paul’s pastoral interns. We are thankful for churches like St. Paul’s that serve as “teaching hospitals” for our students, enabling them to be more fully prepared for service to Christ’s church upon graduation from seminary.
10. Leigh Swanson: Leigh (MA ’12) joined the staff of RTS Orlando in 2012 as Associate Dean of Students. In 2017, she took on the role of Vice President of Community Relations and, more recently, Executive Vice President. Leigh oversees development, student scholarships, and operations on the Orlando campus. She’s also the genius behind Teaching Women to Teach. Despite the financial challenges students often face in attending seminary, RTS Orlando enrollment continues its four-year trajectory of growth over the previous decade. Leigh’s exceptional work in fundraising for student scholarships is one reason why such growth is possible in our present economic climate. Indeed, by God’s grace, Orlando gift income reached an all-time high this past year. I am thankful for Leigh’s commitment to making residential theological education affordable for our students and proud to call her a colleague and friend.