On opening a new building…

Posted by on Aug 26, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

John Olley Centre 2Four years ago Vose Seminary, where I serve as principal, decided to embark on a building program. It has been a faith stretching time. Last night saw the official opening of our new conference centre and lecture rooms, the John Olley Centre – named after our second principal, Dr John Olley. As I prepared my talk for the opening, it struck me that others might be interested in what was said and why we embarked on this project… So here is the talk… 

Thanks so much for joining us on this wonderful occasion – the opening of the John Olley Centre. Actually, though it is officially opening tonight, we have now been using it for 2 months – and already we don’t know how we managed without it.

The project began a little over 4 years ago – starting as an unfunded vision. Visions are great, but unfunded ones are a little more problematic. Knowing that the three great challenges Christianity faces today are the accusations that it is

1)      Intellectually vacuous

2)      Morally suspect

3)      Experientially empty

we wondered what Vose’s contribution might be to help to turn this tide of negativity towards faith and the Christian Church in particular. We were especially concerned at research showing that anywhere between 50-90% of young adults abandon their faith between the ages of 18-30. We realised that Christians are being sidelined in the serious discussions about the future of society, and started to dream of what might happen if we could birth a Christian University over the next 20 years – one that would see a place regained for Christians at the table of ideas. We committed ourselves to work to make this happen – and there have been four slow but steady years of progress.

First we knew we would need to enlarge our facilities. Steady growth at the seminary meant that while there was just enough space for the work of the seminary, anything else would be a pipe dream. And so the first draft of plans for this centre was drawn – it was to go through a few edits – but today we have a fabulous complex that will help us move into the future.

We also knew we would have to enlarge our programmes. For over 50 years we have trained pastors for our churches and the mission field. We knew we would now have to start to train for the marketplace as well – and so needed to target fields of study in which Christians make a real difference. The most obvious is education – and today we work with our sister college in Sydney, Morling, to offer the Master of Education and Master of Education (Leadership) program. We have a small cohort of 9 students taking this – but it will grow steadily as the years pass. We are currently negotiating the introduction of a Masters degree in Counselling, and this to will take us a step further in the journey of equipping people for both the church and the marketplace.

Since our initial dream back in 2012, we have also introduced a Korean cohort, and commenced offering our degrees on-line as well as face to face. Vose’s reach has grown every year… every year.

It is therefore not surprising that we knew we needed extra and more contemporary facilities, but how were they to be funded? The answer is ‘by the goodness of God working through the generosity of His people.’ Our first appeal letter went out in April 2012. It resulted in initial gifts and pledges of over $185 000 – a pleasing start, but still a long way short of the 1.2 million needed. Funds continued to come in steadily… but it looked as though it was going to take forever. And then… and then… in 2013 some wonderful people, who insist on remaining anonymous, pledged over $500 000 to the project. They were true to their word, and the money came through later that year. Suddenly we were more than half way there. For all that, we still needed another half a million – and it has come in steadily – from churches, from individuals and from trust funds. One trust fund took our breath away by promising up to 90 000 to air condition the library – saying that if we were upgrading, we needed to upgrade what is perhaps our greatest treasure, the library. They too have kept their word and today our students read and study in comfort, free from the onslaughts of both summer and winter. Previously it had really only been a hospitable space in autumn and spring. And yes, by one $50 donation followed by a $5000 one, and then by a $5 one – the target got chipped away at and today we have raised 1.2 million dollars, with only a very small shortfall between the build and fitout costs. Thank you to each one of you. You and your churches and foundations have given generously and in faith. We commit ourselves to honouring the trust you have placed in us and doing all we can to ensure that a steady stream of godly servant leaders graduate from Vose.

As the building approached completion, we had to decide what to name it. It was a bit of a no brainer. The seminary is named after our founding principal, Noel Vose, who helped turn the soil for this build, but died on 2 May this year, shortly before its completion. We have honoured him in the naming of the seminary. But there is another legendary figure in the Vose story – it is the story of John Olley, our second principal. John helped cement Vose’s reputation for academic excellence. He also organised that the seminary’s accreditation would shift to the Australian College of Theology – a move that has been instrumental in our growth.

An outstanding scholar, John is a humble man, who gives his time generously to all. As the third principal, I owe him a debt I cannot repay. He has stood by me, gently guiding and encouraging, and for a season coming back to help as our academic dean – even though he was supposed to be retired. I have requested many things from John, and he has always said yes. He epitomises the servant heart that we try to cultivate in each of our students. He is also simply a wonderful friend and mentor. I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am that we are naming this centre after him.

Thank you for being here. Your prayers, support and encouragement make all the difference. Together with each other and with God, let’s work to birth a new spiritual climate – one in which it is far more likely that people will say yes to following Jesus…

As always, nice chatting…


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