NBTS E-Story

Groundbreaking: NBTS Departs 'Holy Hill'

On the last day of July, some 200 neighbors, alumni, students, friends and family climbed Holy Hill and then mounted the steps to the Gardner A. Sage Library (dedicated in 1875) to witness a moment in history.

Many had a deep connection to the
buildings and ground that are
undergoing a dramatic transformation.

But a few stepped inside for the very
first time, though they had frequently
passed by on their way to work or school.

When you demolish most of a campus
and rebuild from the ground up, people notice.

New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill committed to the Seminary: "New Brunswick is honored and proud to be the home of the Seminary since the early 1800s. As the first Seminary established in North America, NBTS has provided exceptional ministry education for really thousands and thousands of students, sent forth from here to carry out the mission to transform people, institutions and society all for the better. So we look forward to the day in a year when the Seminary will have the facilities to enhance the teaching experience for students and teachers alike. New Brunswick remains committed to providing an atmosphere conducive to all your good work."

Christopher Paladino, executive director of DEVCO, praised Chairman Jon Hanson and President Mast: "Jon has guided this process, helped us to see the opportunity, focused on the task at hand, and most importantly taught us all the importance of finishing the job. President Mast has succeeded where others have come close. He broadened the vision, guided a rather cumbersome process that will result in a new building, but maybe more importantly, created an unlimited opportunity for the Seminary and the community that it serves. He's accomplished this with grace, a lot of patience, and most importantly, humor."

Jon Hanson, Chairman of the Hampshire Real Estate Companies in
Morristown, NJ is the senior consultant on the project for NBTS. Twenty years ago, Hanson and Mast served together on the board of Hope

"When you do a project in the real estate development business, you must have a plan. And how do you stay on plan? Patience, perseverance, and most importantly, you have to have passion. All of us involved have passion about this project."

Robin Suydam, chair of the
building committee, led the community in a
mind-tour of the new building with its tall glass structures, communal student areas and new chapel.
"Our classrooms will be enabled with technology like we have never seen before," she said.

Then and Now . . . WHY this project is so critical

Sandra Fisher, Moderator of the Board of Trustees of NBTS, read the lesson for the day from the book of Genesis: "Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
(Genesis 28:10-17, for the full lesson)

NBTS President Gregg Mast drew sharp contrasts between the present Seminary and the Seminary he attended 40 years ago. The parcel of land the Seminary is selling, known affectionately as 'Holy Hill,' was a place of spiritual formation and refuge for two centuries. As a seminarian at NBTS, he said, "we lived on campus, our professors lived on campus, we were a community."

But when Mast returned as president seven years ago, that kind of residential community had simply disappeared. Dormitories and buildings stood empty and aging. "No longer do seminarians leave their homes and devote three solid years to ministerial formation. Most of our students are bi-vocational and second-career," he explained. "So this move comes a little late. We're no longer a residential community."

Today many seminarians remain fully employed in careers such as military service, medicine, law, criminal justice, finance, education, administration, and politics. They enroll part-time or full-time in day and evening classes on two campuses, in New Brunswick and in Queens.

Ho Sung Lim, Vernon Linzi and Lateya Fox, presidents of NBTS' student organizations--Korean Students Association, Association of Black Seminarians, and Student Society of Inquiry--led the community in a prayer litany.

Race and gender provide another sharp contrast: Until the mid-1970s, seminarians were predominantly white and entirely male. As Mast described his own classmates, "The Class of 1974 looked a lot like the class of 1874. We were a homogeneous group."

Members of the Class of 2013 were more than 50 percent people of color. And the Seminary has made progress with its own systemic racism: first, a majority of the faculty are now people of color, and second, with the promotion of the Rev. Dr. Willard Ashley, Sr. as Dean of the Seminary, the first black dean of the seminary is one of very few among seminaries in the U.S.

"It's perfectly fitting that we come off the hill onto the main street of the city in which we work," said Mast. "We have become a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational and multi-generational community of faith and learning. Our new campus will communicate who we are."

Sending Forth

Dr. Mast invited the community of friends and neighbors to turn up the old earth for a new purpose.

"And so I invite us all to continue the
journey of making theological education
both rooted and relevant. As we do,
let us follow in the footsteps of
John Henry Livingston, called by God and the
Reformed Church in America,
to begin this work in 1784 in New York,
and continue it here in New Brunswick
in 1810. . .

Let us give thanks for the vision of
those who led us to this new campus in
1856 and those who transformed it so
dramatically more than a century later.
Let us give thanks for the historic
presence and partnership of Rutgers
University, with whom we have shared
this ground for more than two centuries.

Let us give thanks for so many
teachers and students, families
and faithful ones who lived on this
campus and served in God's world.
With the breaking of old earth
for a new purpose and vision,
let us move forward again.

And as the journey continues, let us
give thanks for our partners in this
work, for those whose dreams have
led the way, for those who surround
us with their love and affection, and
those who support us with their
gifts and prayers."

A Glorious Day

As the senior member of the NBTS Faculty, Dr. John Coakley led the prayer for the ceremonial digging: "Give success to this project, O God, we pray. May your hand rest upon all to bring it to completion. Bless the industry and skill of all who give their minds and set their hands to its completion. Shield all workers from accident and danger, so that at its completion, we all may be gathered once more to behold the loveliness of

your dwelling, where all who wish to serve you may enter for years to come."

Breaking ground for a new seminary are Chris Palladino, Robin Suydam, Jon Hanson, Gregg Mast, Ho Sung Lim, Lateya Fox, Vernon Linzi, Mayor Cahill, Sandra Fisher, Richard Edwards, John Coakley. But many others took a turn at the shovels!

God couldn't have provided a more glorious day for a ceremonial groundbreaking. The next day the skies would release a downpour so torrential as to sink bulldozers and work crews in a colossal mud bath of reddish Jersey clay!

Sharing with Family and Friends

Above all, the Building a New Future groundbreaking was about celebrating the heritage and promise of the Seminary with families and friends.

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