By Luke Todd
In today’s post, Luke Todd, who currently serves as Director of Enrollment Management, reflects on his former role at Western as an admissions counselor, and the relationships cultivated along the way.
It’s a rare seminary prospect who visits campus with his or her parents, so I clearly remember when Jeremy brought his folks with him just over two years ago. They had come from North Dakota, and as we waited in line for sandwiches at East Side Deli (just down Hawthorne Boulevard from Western’s campus at the foot of Mount Tabor), I wondered what they thought of Portland. The art for sale on the walls that month was a rather risqué set of cartoon illustrations, and I wondered if ¿Por Que No?, just across the street, would have been a better choice.
Overall, the visit ended a fairly typical one. I was in the middle of a busy admissions season, so after we parted ways I was quickly sucked back into the whirlwind of phone calls and emails, questions and answers, yield rates and matriculation goals.
I saw Jeremy’s parents just the other night, at his wedding to Kate, and I told them with a wink that this joyful occasion was all my doing. In the ceremony and celebration that followed, I thought about the people present and the paths they had taken there that evening. I considered God’s goodness and generosity in weaving together the lives and stories of his people, and in giving me a part to play through my work at Western.
The wedding was a mix of family, friends from Western, and friends from church, with those latter two groups blending together. Kate is on staff at Western, and Jeremy was too for a time, working maintenance after he moved out here. They are members at historic Hinson Baptist Church, where Western was founded 90 years ago, and where a number of students, staff, and faculty members still attend and serve.
Neal was the emcee at the reception. Neal and his wife Whitney suffered through one of my first fumbling phone conversations as a new admissions counselor, but they ended up coming to Western anyway, relocating to Portland from Illinois. They had planned to go to school at the same time, but Whitney ended up studying while Neal worked. Five years down the line and Neal may get his chance soon. They go to church with Jeremy and Kate.
Chris and his wife (also named Kate) were present as well. They moved up from Bakersfield after I spent nearly two years wooing Chris over the course of a few visits and a great many email and phone conversations. There were other solid seminary options on the table, but eventually he made the (right) choice to come to Western. I helped connect Chris and Kate with a place to live here in Portland—an admittedly creepy abode with a tentacled furnace monster in the basement.
Trent was at the wedding too, and is one of the elders at Hinson. It had been a few years, but it was great to see him. He’s thought about attending Western, and we’ve talked along those lines in the past but his life is full right now. I’m still hoping it works out for him at some point.
I was trying to wrangle my three-year-old son when the toasts were happening, but I just managed to catch the best part. Jeremy’s brother shared his great joy at trusting Christ just a year ago, after visiting him in Portland and seeing the transforming beauty of Christ’s gospel at work in his life and community. I nearly wept at God’s abundant grace at work in this particular family, at the way God orchestrates our lives, and at the way he uses each of us in simple yet profound ways.
Keane, my own admissions counselor once upon a time, was there too. He’s still on staff at Western, but in a different role, where he works just a few doors down from Kate. I’ve never forgotten his prayer for me when I visited campus some seven years ago. When I started advising prospective students, I made sure to pray for them every chance I had. It was a great joy. Opportunities to do so now are rare, as my role at Western has changed too, but still, I’ve been privileged to see their lives unfold, and their training come to fruition.
For many, it’s meant staying right where God had already planted them—working in the corporate world or shepherding a church. I’ve seen others propelled into pastoral ministry or counseling in community mental health, as God has directed their path and vocation.
Life doesn’t always work out as planned, of course. “For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” as the wedding vows remind us. Some students have to pull back after a semester or two, some are still single in spite of desires and prayers to the contrary, some have lost jobs just as their program began, and some of us are still working at Western, when we thought we just took the job for the tuition benefit.
Still—as was preached at Jeremy and Kate’s wedding from Revelation 21—our hope is not ultimately in our own plans. Rather, it is in the gospel, and God’s certain promise that his dwelling place will be with his people, and that he will make all things new.
I could cry tears of joy at their wedding even as I’ve cried bitter tears at divorce and death, injustice and infertility. I am often kept awake at night, mentally tinkering with the specific challenges and situations we’re facing at Western, or the general challenges that seminaries face in serving the church well by training its leaders, but I can rest in God’s faithfulness to build his church, one living stone at a time, and take joy at participating with him as he carries out his missio Dei through his imago Dei.
The work of seminary admissions can be a grind. It can feel little more than percentages, policies, platforms, and promotion. But each of those percentage points is a person, like Jeremy. For those of you doing similar work, take ‘counselor’ more seriously than ‘admissions’ as you shepherd those who will someday shepherd others. Relish those opportunities to celebrate what God has done and his grace in giving you a part in it.