Standing tall over the Pine Grove at the center of Hope’s campus is the squat, gothic bell tower of Dimnent Memorial Chapel — as well as the narrow, stretching steeple of the Mulder Chapel at Western Theological Seminary next door.

John R. Mulder Memorial Chapel at Western Theological Seminary

The two schools — Hope College and Western Theological Seminary (WTS) — don’t just occupy adjacent land as neighbors. And they aren’t only connected by a shared history through the Reformed Church in America, which founded both schools (WTS worshipped on Hope’s grounds for the first 30 years of the seminary’s existence, from 1866–1895). 

Even today the college and seminary continue in close partnership, collaborating together in a number of ways. Here are just a few:

Hope-Western Prison Education Program

Through the Hope-Western Prison Education Program (HWPEP), Hope and WTS are partnering to provide a Christian liberal arts education to men incarcerated at Muskegon Correctional Facility.

Students at the Muskegon campus are enrolled in a full-time course load, receiving a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree from Hope when they successfully complete the program, which has standards just as rigorous as those expected of Holland-based students. 

Although graduates receive a degree from Hope College, it’s actually a highly collaborative project, drawing teaching faculty from WTS as well as engaging WTS students in work as teaching assistants. The program is co-directed by Dr. David Stubbs, professor of ethics & theology at WTS, and Dr. Richard Ray, provost emeritus and professor of kinesiology at Hope.

“The degree to which both Hope and WTS faculty and staff are working alongside each other in furthering their institutional missions through HWPEP is so encouraging,” Ray said. “It requires people from both institutions to slow down and try to understand how the two institutional cultures are alike and how they are different, and then emphasize the best of each in forwarding HWPEP’s goals.”

Vita Scholars Program

The Vita Scholars Program is a 5-year B.A.+M.Div. program that is meant to form students as followers of Christ, as pastors, and as leaders empowering the reception of the Gospel in every part of life. 

Vita Scholars take an accelerated course of learning to earn their B.A. in religion and their M.Div. from Western in a far shorter time than is typical for ministry preparation. 

This semester, Vita Scholars have begun meeting with program director Dr. Keith Starkenburg to be mutually formed in discipleship and ministry. 

“We’ve been reading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and learning how to practice and experience the Gospel as individual disciples and as folks preparing for ministry,” said Starkenburg. “Next semester, the focus will turn toward learning how to articulate the depth and connection of the biblical story as we continue to seek ways to practice the Gospel in our lives and ministries.”

Hope College Campus Ministries

Dimnent Memorial Chapel at Hope College

“We love Western Seminary,” said Senior Chaplain Jennifer Ryden, who is a graduate of WTS — as are Dr. Trygve Johnson, dean of the chapel, and Charly Peña, chaplain of discipleship. Another chaplain of discipleship, Shomari Tate, is a current student at Western.

“We have lots of formal and informal connections,” Ryden said, before ticking through an (admittedly incomplete) list:

  • Chapel Services: WTS President Dr. Felix Theonugraha preaches at Hope’s Chapel every year; he’s also taught Campus Ministries student Bible study leaders. And, in addition to Dr. Theonugraha, other Western professors have come to preach at Chapel. “Depending on the Chapel season, we’re likely to have one or two or three more,” Ryden said. “It’s a gift to have such talent right next door.”

    Here’s Dr. Theonugraha’s most recent Chapel sermon:
  • Teaching and Board Appointments: Trygve Johnson is part of the teaching faculty for a D.Min. cohort at WTS’s Eugene Peterson Center. Jennifer Ryden serves on the Girod Reformed Theology Board; as part of the Girod program, she also meets regularly with local pastor theologians. And, Ryden recently led breakout sessions for the Bast Preaching Festival at WTS.
  • Campus Ministries Interns: Campus Ministries currently has two interns who are students at WTS, one of whom works with the athletics ministry and another who works with the discipleship chaplains. “Our interns connect well with students and are a valuable part of our team,” Ryden said. “Would love to continue to have interns and to grow that element.”

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