Post 95, Andrews University After 36 Years

This short reflection was published five years ago in Andrews University Focus. It is more-or-less the story of how I started to engage with Adventist Studies.

Early in December 1957, three wise men from North America arrived on the campus of the Australasian Missionary College (now Avondale College of Higher Education) to offer the first-ever Seminary Extension School in the lands “Down Under.” Elder Melvin K. Eckenroth lifted our sights toward more effective  evangelism and “Christ-centred Preaching.”  Elder Arthur L. White inspired us with his “Prophetic Guidance” narratives. Dr Edward Heppenstall pushed back our Adventist horizons with classes entitled  “Law, Grace and the Covenants” and “Doctrine of the Sanctuary.”

A new graduate (BA, Theology) appointed as a ministerial intern to New Zealand, I deemed it an unusual privilege to attend the two-month Extension School before crossing the Tasman Sea. The event was so challenging that I decided I must experience more of it—at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs.

Getting to the Seminary involved far more than travel to the top side of the world.  My girlfiend’s pillow was wet with tears, more than once, just thinking about the potential stresses. But Joan Howse became my wife on 14 January 1959. We ministered together in New Zealand for nine more years and saved rigorously before transferring to the Illinois Conference. Finally, mid-1970, jobless and with three children, we arrived at Andrews University.

Desperate for work to pay Seminary fees and living expenses, Joan signed up to teach sewing. The potential returns looked promising indeed and the upfront payment was a mere $500—for the machine with which to teach. Neither the machine nor the job materialised; evidently, the company president needed our $500 to pay his personal bills! Providentially, the Michigan Conference employed Joan as an elementary teacher and then principal at Hartford. I established a landscaping business. Our children picked up stones in the lawns I planted in ancient glacial moraines, like the area of Kephart Lane. During the winter I worked night-shift, caring for the cows in the University dairy. Later, Dr Steven Vitrano employed me part-time in the University Religion Department.

Seminary classes, at last! In Old Testament, with Dr. Gerhard Hasel skilfully helping me implement Kate Turabian’s Manual for writing research papers; with Dr Raoul Dederen, master of the succinct summary of yesterday’s lecture and today’s topic; with Dr Mervyn Maxwell, narrative historian par excellence; with Dr Edward Banks, passionate enricher of marriages; with Dr Charles Wittschiebe, the white-haired advocate of the innovative idea (for Adventists!) that “God invented sex.”

There was an alphabet of memorable others for, like in the Antediluvian world, “there were giants in the land in those days.”  Other doctors like the wise Wilbur Alexander; Roy Branson who knew his Niebuhr; James Cox, cherisher of John’s Gospel; Siegfried Horn, man of both spade and Bible; Alger Johns, Old Testament seer; Arnold Kurtz, pracitioner of ministry; Hans LaRondelle, master of Protestantantism’s “Theological Heritage”; Gottfried Oosterwal, missionary to the world; Walter Specht, New Testament  exegete, and Kenneth Strand who  delighted in history. Outstanding was Dr Leona Running, who re-taught me Hebrew and Greek, after the manner in which Adventists baptise—by total immersion.

As Seminary Dean, Dr W.G.C. Murdoch felt certain that Andrews’ accreditation  for doctoral programs would be received quite soon. So, after an MDiv, I dallied with an MA in Systematic Theology and additional classwork.  Still the negotiations were incomplete. Dr Murdoch’s sterling help moved me on to Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, as the only Adventist amongst 300 students from 26 denominations.

Thirty-six years after finishing at Andrews, the grateful memories remain, in vivid technicolor. Joan also enjoyed the summer schools she attended, but she sacrificed graduation so we could return to pastoral-evangelism in Australia. I felt it was my duty to return to our home Division, despite attractive options for teaching and ministry in the United States.

How I savor those recollections of the Seminary. When I proposed a theme to Dr Dederen for a research paper about the biblical concept of the firmament, he cautioned me lest the discoveries made may be concerning for Australian church leaders. His earnest question was, “Can you handle that?” I assured him that I could: wasn’t I also equipped with Dr Harold Coffin’s explanations of the fossil forests of the Yellowstone? And Dr Richard Ritland’s  thoughtful searches for “Meaning in Nature”? I realised neither how well the Seminary prepared me to understand the issues that would so trouble the church, nor how painful the conflicts would be for so many teachers, ministers, and members in Australia, particularly through the 1980s.

We returned to Australia enthused with the information and vision of the Seminary’s giants. The huge investment of time and means seemed so worthwhile, then. After 36 years, we treasure the era we lived in Dogwood Drive and were impacted by Seminary faculty, students, and the James White Library—especially its primary documents relating to Adventist history and thought.

The Seminary was not to blame that my life-goals impelled me to study elsewhere: DMin (academic emphasis, Biblical Studies); MLitt (Ellen White Studies); PhD (Religious History). But I wonder if our two daughters and our son have forgiven us for the financial privations of their childhood, caused by a father who had to attend Andrews University?

Arthur Patrick, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College of Higher Education, 6 May 2008, posted on Australia Day, 2013