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Developing Christian Imagination

Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan, has established the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination as part of its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative Phase 2 grant. This piece is part of the In Trust Center’s ongoing series about the Pathways project.

Karen Stiller interviewed Winn Collier, director of The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Christian Imagination, about the project.

Briefly describe the project.

The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination seeks to continue the kinds of conversations Eugene Peterson was having in the Church, connecting with pastors, artists, creative, and writers, as well as befuddled Christians grappling with what it means to be a faithful Christian today. In many ways, the particularity of this project is geared toward pastors. We are helping to create circles of friendship through an annual gathering and conversing with pastors who minister in a very tenuous time in the North American Church. Our goal is to connect their program to the unique and particular work that God is doing at Western Seminary.

What have you learned so far?

Pastors are really exhausted, discouraged, and worried, yet they remain hungry and hopeful. There’s an interplay between this connection and a clear-eyed vision for the trouble we’re facing and the personal impact of that in their lives and hearts. Yet, there’s a simmering hopefulness rooted in the Resurrection suggesting that somehow the Spirit is at work. The dire predictions aren’t the only story. The key lies in the posture and question we continue to ask: “What small role do we play in helping to come alongside people in that place?” while we ask the same questions ourselves.

What has surprised you along the way?

There are two very different aspects to consider. First is how hungry people are. The response has been very strong. It signifies a discerning sign that we’re moving in the right direction and asking the right questions. Second is how broad the response is. While traditionally we’ve partnered with the Reform Church in America, we’re connecting with communities spanning the spectrum.

We’ve intended to launch a podcast and are surprised at how challenging it is to create content that is both beautiful and helpful. We’ve had a couple of ideas but still question whether the world really needs another podcast. I’m not interested in putting out just more information; it needs to be relevant and sacred. I still have this inkling that we might have something good to offer, but we are still unclear on what that is.

What have been a few successes?

Our Doxology gathering has been a big success, selling out for a second consecutive year. The Kingfisher groups, which we initiated with pastors, are making great progress. Recently, we collaborated on a new album with Porter’s Gate, using songs inspired by “The Message.” We’ve hosted author events, which were beautiful and energizing. Our Doctor of Ministry cohorts have been well-received, and overall, there are many good highlights.

It is obvious to me that our central sweet spot lies in serving pastors. That’s the bullseye, and that’s become clear. The real fire revolves around these pastor conversations.

What aspects of the project are you hopeful about?

I’m hopeful that as we reach a conclusion that we will have established small, vibrant, and self-sustaining circles of friendship among pastors, serving as little outposts of life and hope.

What are you learning that could help other schools?

To hold things with an open hand, and avoid rigid adherence to the plan or the template. There’s been improvising, particularly when the goal is to discern where the Spirit of God might be awakening new life. The things we plan or the way we plan might not be the reality.

It’s not about administering a program - we don’t serve the program. Instead, the program serves as a tool to help us articulate often mysterious ways in which God raises dead things to life.

At a glance: Western Seminary’s Pathways Project includes two parts: solidifying Western Theological Seminary's Hispanic Ministry Program and launching the newly established Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. Winn Collier and Alberto La Rosa Rojas are Project Directors. This interview focuses on one part of the Pathways grants awarded to Western Seminary. Find out about the Center here and the Hispanic Ministry Program here.

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