May 4, 2020
Alongside this year’s graduates, NTS is also celebrating the teaching ministries of Dr. Roger Hahn and Dr. Judi Schwanz, who are both retiring at the end of this academic year. Their contributions to the seminary and the church are innumerable, and there is much to highlight, thank, and recount of their combined 45 years as faculty at NTS. Under normal circumstances, I would recollect those prominent contributions: Roger’s 15 years as Dean of the Faculty, his directorship of the MDiv program, his steadfastness and pastoral leadership during four presidential transitions (two of which required him to serve as acting president), his commitment to biblical studies and his numerous publications and presentations. Similarly, Judi can be easily honored for her advocacy of chaplaincy ministries, her directorship of the chaplaincy certificate, the DMin program, and the Wynkoop Center for Women in Ministry. She has been a primary counselor, mentor, and friend to hundreds of students in her 19 years at NTS and a vital resource to the church through her work on clergy health and identity.
But these are not normal circumstances. This year for the first time in our 75-year history we did not gather for a traditional commencement ceremony (the virtual commencement can be viewed here), we did not host a graduate chapel (graduate awards can be seen here), we did not conduct the final six weeks of our residential classes on campus, nor did faculty meetings, staff meetings, or new faculty interviews occur in any of the ways we were accustomed to. Things were disrupted…well, kind of.
It is the “kind of” that has me celebrating something different and less known about Drs. Hahn and Schwanz today. As all of our lives were upended in light of Covid-19, NTS was uniquely prepared for the crisis. In March our classes and campus operations moved, almost seamlessly, into full synchronous video and asynchronous online formats for the remainder of the academic year. While students experienced uncertainty and instability in many areas of their lives, the seminary remained steady, calm, and supportive. I was struck when one student told me that classes had been her one constant—her place of stability—when all other practices and patterns were up in the air. There are few greater compliments in this season.
Preparation for this spring semester began well over 10 years ago when NTS made strategic investments to increase educational accessibility, advance learning technologies, and support new approaches to teaching. It was a paradigm shift, and those are never easy. Dr. Hahn led those efforts as Dean of the Faculty. Dr. Schwanz embraced those efforts, along with her colleagues, and redesigned courses and programs in light of the then novel and emerging platforms of ‘learning management systems’ and ‘videoconferencing’. What followed were extensive workshops and trainings, the development of new resources and positions like “ed-tech specialists,” and discovery and experimentation with new models and practices. Nobody quite knew where it would lead, or where it may still lead. I do know this: our students, and in turn the church, continue to be the beneficiaries.
NTS is committed to investing in its faculty and students to ensure we are offering the best possible learning experience. It is undeniable that our current adaptability and strength is due to the imagination and foresight of Dr. Hahn and Dr. Schwanz. While the adage, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, can be true, I think they knew better than to wait on necessity. NTS’s innovation came from a willingness to explore, experiment, assess, and push forward.
None of us can know the long-term impact of decisions we make or actions we take today. I am grateful for the responsiveness of my colleagues and predecessors, Roger and Judi, who opted to move NTS forward and paddle the rapids rather than back-paddle in what would have been an ill-fated attempt to avoid change and turbulence. I am grateful for their ability to adapt, and even more grateful for their wisdom in knowing how to balance change and continuity; how to differentiate essential and non-essential; how to prioritize students alongside faithfulness to their disciplines and to a tradition.
Rev. Dr. Josh Sweeden
Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Church and Society