Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, President Dr. Stanley E. Porter is writing weekly letters to update and inform the MDC community.


June 4, 2020

Dear MDC community,

I am glad to be able to write to you again in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hope and pray that you and those close to you are able to remain safe and well.

The major feature of this crisis that has emerged over the last several weeks is the instances of the unusual in the midst of much that is routine and continues to be routine.

We have become used to social distancing, frequently washing our hands, paying attention to where we are and where everyone else is, and even wearing a mask just to be on the safe side. When we do our business, we try to stay behind the line or sheltered by the plexiglass barrier, and we keep our distance as we line up to enter the store. When we go for a walk outside—often timing our walks so as to avoid greater numbers of people—we are careful to make plenty of room for fellow walkers, and we don’t dare get too close if we can help it. We are not sure how long this is going to continue—even though we notice that some people are relaxing their standards a little more than we are comfortable with—but we realize that we may be in for the long haul. Phased re-opening has been delayed and a vaccine is still in the making—and even then may only offer immunity for a relatively short period of time.

Nevertheless, there are moments in the day when the unusual strikes us. Wendy and I were at home (as usual) one night a couple of days ago, and Wendy noticed that there was lightening flashing outside, even though we did not hear any thunder. We stepped out onto our deck and were witnesses to one of the most unusual and inspiring displays of silent lightning that we had ever seen. The lightning was surreal, as it flashed amidst the clouds high in the sky and only gently moved across the heavens. The large, bright flashes of lightning illuminated huge sections of the sky, with a variety of patterns. We had never seen anything so large, silent, and powerful.

Wendy and I began to wonder about this display of lightning, viewing it as our own personal display of God’s magnificence. We also began to wonder whether our ability to see the lightning so clearly was because the skies were clearer during the crisis or whether this simply was a unique opportunity.

Our COVID Response Team is concentrating on a number of matters. We have noticed that the phased re-opening of Ontario has been delayed, but we may get more encouraging news next week from the provincial and health authorities. Many people are getting anxious to return to their previous routines, even as we wonder together what the new normal will look like. MDC remains closed except for necessary services until at least June 30. We are contemplating various plans for our staff to work in staggered schedules as they return to the building. In the meantime, I wish to commend all of our staff on the efficiency with which they have worked throughout this crisis, most of them at home. We have been very productive as an institution during this period, and I commend our Directors and Cabinet members for how they have kept MDC moving forward under these circumstances.

We are thankful for those who continue to monitor our building and keep it clean and safe as we await reopening. Our plans for reopening make clear that we will be requiring masks for everyone while they are in public spaces in the building and we will be monitoring those who are using the building to ensure that they follow safe procedures. In other words, even as we reopen, we want to be cautious as we see the effects of more social mobility. We will be having appropriate signage throughout the building to continue to remind everyone of the need to maintain the appropriate distance and to wash our hands frequently and take other precautions.

With the previous academic year drawing to a close, our faculty are looking forward to a change of routine, even if not a change of location. We have just finished reviews of the activities during the year, and I have been impressed by how all of our people continue to work to do their best in these circumstances. However, we will soon be turning to the new year with increased intensity. We are in the midst of receiving applications for our MDiv and MTS programs, and have been actively dealing with applicants to our other programs as well.

Although we anticipate an academically challenging year in the midst of unusual circumstances, we think that it can, and will, be a very productive academic year and rewarding for all of our students in all our programs. We are ready for a full year of courses, supervision of research, and all of the related academic activities of MDC.

We continue to monitor our decision regarding our hybrid format for the Fall term, and are close to making a decision regarding the Winter term. Some academic institutions have already decided on their instructional format for the entire year, but many are still waiting to see what the possibilities are. We have decided not to follow those who are returning to face to face contact in the fall, out of consideration for all of our MDC people, students, faculty, and staff. We will keep you informed of our decisions as they are made. Nevertheless, please be assured that we are doing our best to make informed decisions guided by the best information available.

In the midst of all of this, I pray that God’s peace will sustain you during turbulent times. Wendy reminded me the other day of the story in the Gospels of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus told the wind and waves to calm down. The most interesting part of this story is not that they did so, but that the disciples who were with him were so filled with wonder at who Jesus was on the basis of this action. They were distressed by the events around them, but the right response was to turn their attention to who this Jesus really was. If you are like me, you have probably wondered why God has not more openly demonstrated who He is during this crisis. I hope that we have not missed seeing who God is in ways that He has chosen to reveal himself (perhaps in a silent show of spectacular lightning), rather than expecting Him to act as we would like.

I pray for your safety and security during this time, and look forward to opportunities to be together, if not now, sometime in the future.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean

 

May 28, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

I hope and pray that all of you continue to be well during our time of navigating through the ever-changing waters of the COVID-19 crisis. This last week has seen some important developments in the world around us as we contemplate the next steps in this pandemic.

The MDC COVID-19 Response Team continues to actively monitor the situation at MDC. Many of you will be aware that, as we get closer to the Fall term, various higher education institutions are reaching different conclusions regarding how to negotiate the approaching academic year. Some are more optimistic than others in hoping to teach face to face and others are more pessimistic and have already opted for an entire year of online learning. This range of opinion seems to be present not only in Ontario but across Canada and the rest of North America and beyond.

I am sure that you have been following the various media regarding the progress of the pandemic and the medical responses to it. I was greatly encouraged to see that Ontario, as well as Canada, appeared to have flattened the curve of incidents, although then we seemed to have a backlash in Ontario that has delayed our implementation of the next phase in any re-opening. I appreciate the provincial government keeping a close eye on the situation and not being too hasty in moving toward re-opening. I realize that there are many financial and economic implications, but I also think that, according to the experts, everything must remain tentative until a successful vaccine has been developed and then widely used so as to ensure the safety of as many people as possible.

Earlier this week, I was on a Zoom call with fellow seminary presidents, as part of the annual meeting of CHEC, Christian Higher Education Canada, an organization to which MDC belongs. It was interesting to hear the various perspectives of these Canadian presidents as they are responding to the same crisis. There are many things we have in common—concern for health and safety, students, finances, the longer-term picture—and various ways of responding to it in light of circumstances. Some institutions are trying to reconvene a traditional semester in the Fall, while others are already planning for online. For most, I was pleased to hear, the effects of the crisis have not jeopardized their work, and they too are looking forward to the future.

In response to these developments, our MDC building—in which you will remember we celebrated our dedication of our new facilities as our last public event before the close-down in response to the crisis—remains closed until June 30 except for essential services. This coincides well with the coming summer months, which are traditionally a slower time in the building. Our Spring term, which has been entirely online in delivery, is coming to a successful close, and then we will have several months to prepare for the new academic year.

We are optimistic that our new academic year will bring a number of new students to MDC, as we also welcome back our current students. We all realize that this COVID-19 crisis has affected everyone’s view on travel, education, and even how we live everyday life. We want everyone to be as safe and secure as possible, but will rejoice to see our students even if that is only electronically.

So far, we are content to plan for our Fall term to be in Hybrid mode, with our classes scheduled to meet face to face at various scheduled times during late October and early November. However, as we monitor the situation, if in the next couple of months we see that this is not feasible, then we will move to an entirely online format.

In any case, we are developing protocols for when we re-open. We are not sure when this will occur, but when it does, the re-opening will be a phased process, with appropriate scheduling of staff. We are also in the process of securing the necessary protective equipment, and are anticipating receiving our first major shipment of such equipment within the next couple of days, with more to come in the weeks ahead.

We are also aware that there will be many people who are still quite hesitant regarding reconvening with others even if appropriate measures are taken, and we will be working and planning to the best of our ability to ensure that all are safe and are able to feel safe, even if it means not coming to MDC.

With all of the discussion of what the next steps are going to look like, MDC continues our economic forecasting, in relation to students, faculty, and staff. The President’s Cabinet will be meeting next week to assess our situation, in anticipation of our June Board and Senate meetings (which will take place online, of course!). We will not know for sure the effects of the crisis until the Fall term, however we are also thinking in terms this coming Fall, but also the next Winter and then the subsequent Fall. In other words, we are trying to take the long-term view of this crisis, so that we are not fixated upon present uncertainties, but are able to see them within a larger picture.

As I examine from afar, and from within my own home, how the rest of the world has handled this crisis, I sometimes shake my head in amazement at how impatient some people are. Their impatience does not always seem well-founded. I am hoping that those in our area will continue to be self-monitoring and contain their enthusiasm for the great outdoors a little more wisely than have some others. Nature is wonderful, but one of the things we have learned in this crisis is that often nature does better when we leave it alone and view it at a distance—at least for now.

We remain convinced that God’s hand is on MDC, and we want to remain open to God’s leading during this time of crisis. We appreciate the support and encouragement that we have received from many during this pandemic, and trust that God is continuing to guide all of you in the decisions that you make regarding day to day life and your longer-term plans.

Please do not hesitate to be in touch with us at MDC if you have any questions.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean

 

May 21, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

As I write this letter, the weather here in Hamilton has finally begun to seem more spring-like—after snow just a week or so ago. I have begun to sit out on the deck when I am able, in order to take advantage of the fresh air and to replenish my depleted vitamin D levels. Like you, however, I stay pretty close to home, with only occasional trips out as necessary. Trips to the mailbox several blocks away have become welcome diversions from days spent on the computer in various meetings.

I know that you have your own experiences of what it means to be functioning during this unprecedented time of upheaval and uncertainty. I hope and pray that you are navigating them successfully and beneficially for you and your loved ones. I am constantly bombarded with reminders that the world in which we live today is very different from the one that we were living in only a few short months ago. Many of the members of our community remain highly affected by all of the implications of the pandemic, and so I would appreciate your continuing prayer for and encouragement of them.

Perhaps I am the only one, but it seems like, even with all of the electronic technology that we have available, everything takes a little bit—and sometimes a lot—longer to get done. I am not talking about such major things as shopping, which has become quite a nerve-wracking chore, but I am talking about even the simplest things taking much longer. What used to be able to be done in a quick conversation has now become an extended Webex meeting. Nevertheless, I hope and pray that you are adjusting and finding new rhythms of normality that will enable you to find peace and stability during a difficult time.

MDC has been noticed and commended among theological seminaries continent-wide for being proactive in our communications with our constituency and for our strategic forward planning. We have been able to make informed decisions before many, if not most, of our fellow educational institutions, and I want us to remain at the forefront in this regard. I especially want to thank the COVID-19 Response Team for their great efforts. They gather data and sift through it and then we discuss our various options to move forward. Our team continues to meet regularly and will do so throughout the crisis, and I hope that you have been following the progress of our planning through our email notifications and postings on our website.

There is a lot of talk these days about re-opening and what that means. We are following the discussion and witnessing the results both here and elsewhere. Whereas some places are re-opening more quickly, I think that Ontario is taking a wise course. I am very pleased to see that the provincial COVID-19 website indicates that we are flattening the curve and having fewer reported cases of the virus. The number of those in the hospital is decreasing and many more people are recovering from the virus. This is great news, even if it must be tempered by the fact that there has still been terrible suffering and far too many deaths in the course of getting to this point.

Nevertheless, we must continue to be vigilant and wise in our thoughts about the future. We remain committed to our Hybrid format for course delivery in the Fall term, as this will enable us to assess the situation for re-opening over an extended period of time. Our courses are not scheduled to meet face-to-face until later October and early November. We realize that even this may be too ambitious, as we have seen other educational institutions across the globe decide to go online for the entire year.

In the meantime, we are developing our protocols for re-entering the building, when this is a possibility. So far we remain closed and have not set a date for when we will re-open, but when we do we want to be prepared with the right procedures and protective equipment so that everyone remains safe, whether in their offices, in a classroom or simply in the halls. We imagine that this re-opening will be a slow and gradual process so that we can assess the situation every step of the way. I would appreciate your patience and your prayers as we figure out together what it will mean to re-inhabit the physical space we call McMaster Divinity College. I have many fine colleagues working together to figure this out as we move forward.

The balance between physical safety and the other needs that we all have—such as educational, financial, spiritual, and even emotional and psychological—is a very difficult one to weigh, and as our governmental officials consider various options I am sure that there will be some lurches in the movement forward. I realize that the situation has put an incredible strain on many people, including our students. We have allocated our COVID-19 Tuition Relief Fund to help students in immediate need and are continuing to monitor the situation and respond as well as possible.

However, I am encouraged that with the right phased program we will be able to establish our new norm, even as we do what is necessary to keep six feet between us.

I appreciate hearing from those of the MDC community as you are able. If you have questions or comments, please contact me.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean

 

May 14, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

This marks just about two months since McMaster Divinity College quickly responded to the COVID-19 crisis and moved from a physical to a virtual work environment. I doubt that any of us fully appreciated when we made this prompt transition what the next couple of months would hold for us.

There have, of course, been the usual changes that all of us have had to make. Institutionally, like you, we have implemented physical distancing, have restricted our movements to only those that are necessary, and have had to find means of conducting day-to-day life that we had not contemplated before. We have had to rely upon electronic media in ways that we have never done before in order to remain connected to those around us.

These have been the major physical adjustments that we have all had to make. However, we have also needed to make other adjustments as well. I have been thankful of the opportunity to hear from a number of different people during this pandemic, and I know that the effects of this crisis have been widespread. Some are experiencing greater appreciation for a lifestyle that is now less harried and busy, even if still demanding. Others have been frustrated by the restrictions that are required. I hope that all of us, however, have come to realize anew that life is valuable and precious, but it is also vulnerable and requires that we be intentional in how we live it day by day.

MDC continues to focus on its mission of providing the highest quality Christian theological education, and we have been deeply touched by those of you who continue to support this work. We have been the recipients of various forms of physical support, such as masks for our people, or contributions to our COVID-19 Relief Fund. Thank you so much for these contributions. We appreciate them very much. Our Spring term has been a remarkably positive experience for both students and faculty, along with administrators, as we navigate this new territory. We have over 100 students enrolled in seven subject courses and our language courses.

Our COVID-19 Response Team continues to meet, and we are now addressing the implications of the phased re-opening of Ontario. We are cautiously and, admittedly, somewhat anxiously waiting to hear from the Ontario government and other educational institutions on how this re-opening might proceed. I am acutely aware of the fact that, without a vaccine, we still remain physically vulnerable. I also realize that we need to establish a new norm for what it means to live in a COVID-19 world, while protecting all of our people to the best of our abilities. We are not anticipating a quick re-opening, but probably a very deliberate and slow re-opening as is needed within necessary limitations.

At this point, many educational institutions are still deliberating on what the Fall term is going to be like. We, at MDC, have already committed to a Hybrid format for our courses, hoping that by the time of face-to-face meetings, the safe gathering of a few classrooms of people will be feasible. We are ready to go completely online if that is not possible. Our President’s Cabinet continues to monitor the short and long-term prospects of our various options. We are confident that, whether we are in Hybrid or other format, we will continue to offer excellence in theological education in all of our degree programs, and so we are looking forward to welcoming back our returning students and greeting, for the first time, our new students, whatever format that may take.

I am pleased that our regular academic year has come to a close, and that our students who have fulfilled the requirements for their degrees will have their degrees conferred in the days ahead, even if the convocation ceremony has been postponed. We have also had the opportunity to award prizes to students who have distinguished themselves in the course of this last academic year or during their complete programs. All of these events remind us that our calling as a theological seminary and graduate school remains paramount, even during difficult times.

During this crisis, I am aware that MDC is not just an educational institution, and certainly not a building, but a vibrant organization of people committed to the church, academy, and society. This time has been rewarding as I see the great work of our faculty and staff in negotiating this crisis and fulfilling as I see our students continuing to realize God’s purposes in their lives. At many different turns, I have seen God’s hand at work in individuals and circumstances, even if it is more difficult to see the overall purpose of this pandemic in which we are immersed.

I hope that when “normal” returns, whatever that might mean, we will continue to enjoy the kind of camaraderie that we have established over the last two months. I pray that God will help us to continue to remember the important lessons that he has been teaching us over the last couple of months as we move forward confidently, even if cautiously, into the days ahead.

Thank you for your continuing support of and interest in McMaster Divinity College.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean

May 7, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

I trust that you continue to be well during the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. For a faith community, seeking after God’s will, even in difficult times like this pandemic, has provided a rare opportunity to take time to reflect upon God, his world, and our present circumstances. God is teaching me many things about faithfulness, friendship, tolerance, support, and patience, perhaps mostly patience. Have you noticed that most electronic meetings tend to take a lot longer than face-to-face ones? I hear that it is a “law” of electronic gadgetry. I hope that you too have taken time to hear from God in various ways, whether in the big or in the small things.

This is a very busy time of year at MDC. The faculty, staff, and students will already know this, as they are involved in a myriad of activities. The faculty yesterday had its last meeting of the year—an “all day” meeting that, yes, takes all day—where we wrap up many of the year’s activities and set the stage for next year. This year’s meeting of course had plenty of uncertainty as we looked to the future. We approved our list of graduands for this year and made recommendations for student prizes, but, as you know, we won’t be holding our Convocation Ceremony, which has been postponed until the Fall or later. During the meeting, as I looked at my computer screen with the many small pictures of each of my colleagues, I was very confident that the future of MDC is academically secure and in good hands.

Faculty are also busy with our Spring term or many other important events. We have numerous doctoral exams and defences scheduled during this time as our students present and defend their dissertations. We recently had the first two successful defences by Doctor of Practical Theology students, and so I wish to congratulate them. Their degrees will be conferred later this month. I myself had one doctoral defence last Monday, one earlier today, and will have another next Monday. This routine is typical for this time of year—except for the fact that all of these meetings are held through the wonders of electronic media.

Our staff are also very busy with doing all of the day-to-day activities that continue to be needed, even if we are not in the office. MDC remains physically closed, except for essential staff required to keep the enterprise going, but we are actively engaging with all areas of institutional life. We must be communicating with others, maintaining our website, talking with future and returning students, keeping our IT going, and remaining in contact with our constituents and faithful supporters.

Our COVID-19 Response Team met again this week, this time joined by an additional member, John Steadman, our Director of External Relations. We discussed the possible phased opening of Ontario and how MDC fits within that scheme, going into more detail than we have in previous discussions. We are in the process of securing necessary protective equipment for our staff and faculty for the time when we are able once again to gather in our building. Securing this equipment is not as easy as just stopping by a store and picking up a bottle or two of hand sanitizer, as you certainly know. We also realize that this re-opening may still be some time away, but we want to be prepared for the next steps, as far as we are able to anticipate them.

The President’s Cabinet will be meeting next week to discuss the most important administrative matters of MDC. Now that our financial year has closed, our audit is underway. We are very focused upon the financial implications of the COVID-19 crisis, especially its influence upon our Fall enrolment. We are in the midst of our robust Spring term, and we are also cautiously optimistic that our advertised hybrid format for our Fall teaching will provide the kind of flexibility that students are seeking. We are also running a variety of projections regarding other factors that may influence our budget, information that our Board of Trustees will be reviewing in its (now virtual) June meeting.

We are pleased that our COVID-19 Relief Fund has generated a positive response. We are truly sorry that our students need to apply for aid, but grateful that we have the money available to help them. We are making every effort so that we are able to support our students, as well as our faculty and staff, during this time. Our students, many of whom are living far away from home, are feeling the strain in unique and particular ways. Nevertheless, there are always glimmers of light in the darkness. I know of one of our students who graciously provided masks for others out of his own family’s small supply, thus showing that generosity can be and is being exercised even when many others are keeping things to themselves.

I grow increasingly aware of the fact that we do not really know the full implications of this crisis on the economy, our personal financial situations, the future, and so many things. I do know that incidents of anxiety and depression are going up by sizeable amounts. I am surprised that they have not gone up higher and more quickly, as we are definitely sailing into uncharted global waters. Nevertheless, this globe has been circumnavigated before and remains the charted territory of our God who is far greater than the threat of any virus—as frightening as that is. Our faith in Him gives us new opportunities to serve Him, especially during this restricted time.

Thank you for your continued interest in and support of McMaster Divinity College, as we continue to serve a God who is not confined to a single residence and who is not self-isolating and either socially or physically distant, but who desires close contact and communion with each one of us.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean

 

 

April 30, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

I am writing this letter to all of you on the last day of April. I know with my mind that it has been over a month and a half since we began our new COVID-19 reality, but in other ways it is very hard to grasp what has occurred and all that continues to happen surrounding this pandemic. We may be hunkering down at home during this time, but our busy lives continue around us. I hope that you are adjusting well.

What has become clear is that God is proving faithful during this time, despite the unusual and challenging circumstances. I am continually hearing stories of how God is helping or protecting or encouraging members of our community as they interact with the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I think that, as a community, we have been brought closer together as we work together for the good of both MDC and each individual—even if we do that work mostly through electronic media and not face to face, as we would prefer. Everyone is working hard to ensure that our faculty, staff, and students are supported during this time.

Our COVID-19 Response Team continues to meet, and I hope that you read their regular assessments and updates of our situation. Despite our best hopes for a speedy resolution of this pandemic, it appears that we are going to remain physically closed even as we are educationally open for business. The current projection is that we will remain as we are, with restricted physical access, until at least the end of June.

Nevertheless, in the eager anticipation that we will eventually be re-opening our physical doors, we are already beginning to think of and plan for the next stages. We will be learning more in the days and weeks ahead, but the Ontario government has announced a phased re-opening, and so we are monitoring this closely and planning accordingly. We are planning not only how we will phase our own opening but what we will need to be able to make this opening safe and successful. We will keep you informed of developments.

For the time being, the enrolment for our Spring term of courses has been pleasingly robust and we are in the midst of several of these courses, with more to come. We even had a number of last-minute enrolments as students saw their way to taking a course in the midst of uncertainty. Despite the last-minute shift to online delivery, our faculty are doing their usual excellent work in guiding the teaching and learning process. As I have mentioned before, all of our courses for the Fall term will be offered as well, but in a hybrid format with two meeting days per course scheduled during the last two weeks of October and first week of November. The course schedule should be posted very soon, so please visit our website for further information. We look forward to welcoming both new and returning students, even if we must do so virtually.

I realize that we were not able to bring the previous Winter term to its usual close, and so we were not able to wrap up our courses and say goodbye in the way that we might have wanted to. The faculty will be having their last meeting of this academic year next week to bring things to a close. I am also sorry that we will not be having our usual Convocation ceremony in May, and that this has been postponed until at least the Winter term (we will let you know). Despite these loose ends, we are hoping that we can maintain communication through various means in the days ahead.

In order to help our students during this time, we have set aside $50,000 for our COVID-19 Tuition Relief Fund. All of our students should have been notified of the availability of money to help them pay their tuition. If not, they should contact Sara Fusilier at sfusilier@mcmaster.ca and she will guide them through the process. For those of you who may wish to help support our students during this time, please do not hesitate to contact John Steadman at steadmaj@mcmaster.ca and he can ensure that your gift will be added to this fund and directly help our students.

The President’s Dinner Online came to a close with a lot of fervent last-minute bidding on choice items in our silent auction. Some of you even made positive comments about my two videos—I appreciate the kind words. We still have some donations coming in and it is not too late to contribute, but overall this was a huge success. I want to thank each one who participated, whether by donating an item for the auction, sponsoring a virtual table, or making a specific contribution.

I continue to pray daily for the MDC community, and I know that others do also. As we adjust to living life by online media, I pray that we will learn new things from and about God, and about ourselves and our own callings and responsibilities, that will better equip us for that time when we will be able to engage life in ways with which we are more familiar.

Thank you for the comments that many of you make in response to these letters. We at MDC remain confident in our calling to prepare the next generation of Christian leaders for Canada and beyond. Thank you for sharing in this calling.

Yours,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean


April 23, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

I hope that you remain well during this unusual and increasingly difficult time. I don’t know about you, but I have found that, despite finding an efficient routine, there are clear limits to how much I can get done by just using Webex and email. I do know that everyone I talk to is ready for all of the COVID-19 crisis to be over. Who would have imagined that I would now be writing this, my sixth, Thursday letter to the MDC community! However, the projections still indicate that we are a lot further from being able to return to normal than we had anticipated. As a result, many of us have begun to see this time as a holding pattern, in which our routines do not change very much, even though life must go on.

My email inbox received the first announcement of a book responding to the COVID-19 crisis. It seemed to me like a bit of an opportunistic advertisement, I must admit. However, the pandemic has been going on long enough that we have begun to reflect critically on what all of this means and how we should or should not have prepared for it and responded to it.

I look forward to our continuing contemplation of how God is intertwined in all of this. I think that this crisis provides an excellent opportunity for serious theological reflection. There have been articles comparing this set of events with the plagues of Egypt and others that have been creating not social, but theological distance between the two and not wanting them to be compared. We are all aware of cases where God’s hand has clearly been at work in individual lives. However, we must also consider the role that humans have played within our environment and how we have been involved or even complicit in this pandemic. Above all, I hope and pray that through the bad and the good we have individually and corporately learned important truths, as a church and as Canadians and people of other nations, about what it means to be custodians of the world that God created and responsible for resources that can easily be taken for granted. If two or three years from now we have returned to a state of normality no different than before the COVID-19 pandemic, then I will be disappointed that we as human beings created in God’s image, have failed to learn from our experiences.

You have probably been having similar thoughts punctuating your day as you go about the routines of life. The wider MDC community continues to do all that we can to ensure that we are faithful to our call as an institution of higher theological education. Many of our faculty members are feeling the pressure of having to get their grades in by early next week, marking the formal close of the winter term. Others are already ramping up for our Spring term, with our first class starting this past Monday. It’s not too late to register for a course—all of them are online so you can study while you are at home and it is a great opportunity to connect with others in the MDC community!

Our President’s Dinner Online was a great success—as it wraps up today! I announced the PDO last week and it is already over. We had great talks by David Guretzki from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada—of which we are members and supporters—and some enthusiastic bidding for items in our silent auction. As I am writing this I am keeping an eye on the website to see how the bidding is going and whether I want to encourage Wendy to bid on anything at the last minute. I hope that you were able to participate as well—and perhaps make a donation to the work of MDC.

As I mentioned above, even though we are living in a liminal space—in the world but not of it, so to speak—our day-to-day activities of life must go on. We are thankful for digital technology that allows us to communicate—whether faculty and students or administration and staff—so that we are able to do the work that God has called us to do.

Our COVID-19 Response Team continues to meet and respond to the needs of our situation. Our President’s Cabinet, joined by our administrative Directors, had a lengthy meeting by Webex yesterday to do our regular business but also to forecast the future on the basis of the data we have. We recognize that this is an unstable time for everyone, including our students, and so we are doing everything we can to address their situations, such as providing some financial help where possible. Some of you may wish to donate to this effort.

We appreciate hearing from those of you who are able to be in communication, especially those who are encouraging us as we stay the course during these times. I am looking forward to not just a return to the past, but a new time of greater awareness of how much, within God’s care, we need and value each other. We pray for God’s grace and strength for you as you navigate these challenging times.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean


April 16, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

I trust that you had a memorable and celebratory Easter, despite the fact that everything was unusual and even unexpected and perhaps tension-filled. Wendy and I celebrated together with good music, Bible reading, and communion. The COVID-19 environment provides many wonderful opportunities for such deep reflection.

Our COVID-19 Response Team met again earlier this week and issued a statement regarding immediate items of importance. At this point, there are not many large-scale changes that are occurring as we wait and see what will develop. One thing that I know for certain is that there are many good people working exceptionally hard in various venues to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. We can all be thankful for the many healthcare workers and other support staff who are constantly on the front-lines of this crisis. There are also many other subsidiary workers who are doing their parts, day in and day out. I want to thank all of them. We also have many dedicated faculty and staff of MDC who continue to keep our institution moving forward, to whom I say a heartfelt thank you as well.

As I examine the various sets of data regarding the COVID-19 situation, I think that I can perceive some flattening of the curve regarding instances of new cases. I hope that I am right, but only time will tell. I remain deeply troubled, as I am sure you are, by the numbers of deaths. I think that probably all of us have now had someone in our immediate sphere who has been directly affected by this dreadful virus, whether a death or hospitalization or their likelihood. Even if we are beginning to flatten the curve, it would appear that we have at least another six weeks or so under similar circumstances. That would allow for nearly three months of the crisis—but that may be an optimistic scenario.

In the midst of all of this, I pray that you will all remain healthy and well and will find the practices of physical distancing and social isolation not just routine but renewing as you find your new way of living a healthy and satisfying life. Each day presents a variety of opportunities to contemplate many things that we have perhaps taken for granted. I encourage you to follow the good practices of physical distancing and hand washing, but also good habits of personal, physical, and spiritual care.

MDC is continuing to monitor the educational and financial environment during these times. There are some encouraging signs. Our initial enrollment for our entirely online Spring term is healthy and we will have many excellent courses available. This might be a good time for you to encourage someone to take one of these courses while they are at home.

Our plans for the Fall term continue to develop as the situation flexes. Many educational institutions are weighing a variety of configurations for the Fall. Some are cancelling the Fall term, others are contemplating starting later, some are going online, while a few others are still trying to figure out how to turn on the computer. We are planning for all of our Fall courses to be in hybrid format. That means that there will be a face-to-face component at MDC for a day and a half for each course, while the rest of the academic term uses digital technology. We are scheduling all of these face to face times over a three week period in the second half of October and first week of November. Of course, if this is not possible in light of a continuing shutdown, then we are already well positioned for going completely online.

The biggest consideration, however, is whether students will enroll and then “show up,” even if electronically. We realize that many potential students—and probably many current ones—are anxious about their situation, due to finances, family concerns, or other matters. We are trying to address these, even though many of them are beyond our control. The effects of this crisis on the economy, and the knock-on effects, are mounting the longer the economy stays in a holding pattern. I feel especially sad for small businesses and other occupations that are deemed non-essential, and hope that we can re-open in time for them to restore their businesses.

The work of MDC, however, continues. We had a faculty meeting today by Webex, the second one we have had since the crisis. This one went even better than the first one, as we were all more used to the digital technology and the newly refashioned social relations. There were the typical technical glitches, but these are expected in a digital environment. It was thrilling to have fifteen or sixteen small picture boxes of our faculty members all up on the screen at one time, as they did the work that only the faculty can do. We discussed the current situation at MDC, and then made decisions regarding such things as student dissertation proposals. Our students and faculty continue to work together to produce meaningful scholarship during a time of crisis.

We launched the President’s Dinner Online today as well! Because we had to cancel our face-to-face President’s Dinner, John Steadman and Melissa West developed this great alternative. Thanks to John and Melissa for their hard work to make this happen. Please go to our website and take a look. You will find a variety of entertaining items, including items to bid on in our silent auction. I provide some comments as well. One of the reasons that MDC continues to be able to do our business even during adverse circumstances is because we have a faithful group of generous donors who realize the value of theological education. The President’s Dinner is the single biggest occasion during the year for our donors to express their support of MDC, and so we are pleased that they will have this opportunity this year through online technology.

I am acutely aware that this crisis has continued far longer than we had originally anticipated and certainly longer than we would like. I would encourage you to continue to use your time wisely and take advantage of opportunities that may not arise again. Above all, we need to remain focused upon the fact that the same God of the resurrection is the God of life today, and he continues to work his will, even if we are not always aware of how he is doing this.

Be safe and well during this time. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Thank you for the role you play in MDC, whether as student, faculty, staff member, or Board member.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean


April 9, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

I greet all of the MDC community on Maundy Thursday in great anticipation of Good Friday and then our celebration of Easter. Even if we will be doing all of this in new and unusual ways, the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection is probably more poignant this year than in many past years. We need His life-giving power at a crucial time such as this.

I hope and pray that this letter finds you safe and well during the chaos of the continuing COVID-19 crisis. I am struck by how different our lives are now that we remain in our homes and communicate by electronic means, even with those who are often close by. I am sure that we are all agonizing over the excruciating toll that is being taken on our world by this virus. The loss of human life and the resulting social upheaval is very difficult to watch without compassion and also anxiety.

In the midst of our new and altered norm, I want to assure everyone that, despite change all around us, McMaster Divinity College remains firmly committed to its mission—to develop effective evangelical Christian leaders for the Church, academy, and society through graduate level education, spiritual development, and vocational formation. In order to accomplish this mission, we must adjust to the changing reality around us. Driven by our mission, MDC is engaging in both short and longer term strategic planning to address the COVID-19 situation. We are examining all areas as necessary, including student life, programs and courses, and finances, among others.

It is hard to believe that we have now arrived at the end of the Winter term. This is the last week of class meetings, and grades will soon be due. Before we know it—and I am sure we are all anticipating it—the new academic year will be upon us, with new opportunities and challenges—many of them ones that we are already contemplating and addressing.

As I previously mentioned, we have shifted our Spring term courses to online. We are currently considering our alternative means of delivery for our courses in the Fall term of 2020. We want to ensure that we address the possible alternatives before the time arrives, so that our students will be able to begin or continue their programs smoothly and with minimal interruption. We are anticipating welcoming a great new group of students in the Fall to complement those already studying within our programs, but we have a lot of work to do to make sure that they can get registered and into our programs because of possible complications caused by the COVID-19 crisis. We will let you know as soon as we know the particulars of any changes for Fall courses, but we assure you that we are continuing to offer our full range of degree programs and the courses required to support them, even if we must change the mode of delivery at least temporarily.

We are also examining the horizon regarding the day-to-day workings of MDC and our long-term outlook. We continue to have only essential people working at MDC so as to ensure that the necessary tasks are done. We are also examining the future financial landscape. As you know, we are dependent upon a range of different sources of income, and we are doing all that we can to ensure that these sources of income remain robust even during a time of uncertainty. We have a number of possible plans so as to guarantee that business continues as usual at MDC.

One of the opportunities that I hope you will take advantage of is our President’s Dinner Online. We were scheduled to have our annual President’s Dinner on April 16th, in our new and beautiful Cullen Hall, but of course have not been able to do so. We have even moved in our new furniture into Cullen Hall, where it waits for the return of our students, faculty, and staff. We know that there are many of you who are disappointed that we are not having the dinner, because the President’s Dinner is a great opportunity to see fellow supporters of MDC and actively participate in our work together. However, all is not lost! This year we are having an alternative event, the President’s Dinner Online, beginning next week on April 16. Please go to our website and ‘like’ us on Facebook or check our other social media for more information on how you can be involved. There will be plenty of opportunities to hear from MDC, to share your thoughts and ideas, and to participate in the life of MDC through donations and even a silent auction! Don’t miss out on this opportunity to try a new way of supporting MDC through the President’s Dinner Online.

The COVID-19 Response Team continues to meet, and one of our regretful but necessary decisions is to further postpone our Convocation Ceremony until sometime in the Fall term. We don’t know the date yet due to the uncertainty of when and where we are able to gather again, but we will keep you informed once we have arrived at a new date. However, those planning to graduate this spring should be assured that we are going to arrange for the conferral of your degrees this spring, even if there is a delay in when we can celebrate in a formal and public way.

Despite the turmoil of COVID-19, I hope that you are finding time in your tumultuous lives to have occasions of peace and tranquility while all about you may seem to be on edge. Despite the fact that we have not appeared to turn the corner on this pandemic yet, there are signs that there will be helpful developments in the not too distant future and that, eventually, life will return to something resembling what it was before.

In the meantime, rest assured that God is still the same, yesterday, today, and forever, and that with his guidance we continue to do the work that he has called us to do, as fervently and industriously as we have in the past.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you wish to enquire about particular issues. In the meantime, please stay safe and well.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean


April 2, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

It’s hard to believe that this is now the third of my Thursday letters to the MDC Community—and I think that we all realize that there is no clear end in sight of the current COVID-19 crisis. Nearly three weeks ago we went into our emergency control mode, and we have continued to function in that way, attempting to anticipate and react in advance to the current situation. As a result, we continue to have only essential work being done in the MDC building. That does not mean, however, that we are not alive and attentive to your needs and to the needs of others in our community.

It is equally hard to believe that we are now nearing the end of our winter term. It is difficult for me to remember exactly where we are in the teaching term now that our days are not punctuated in the same way by traditional class meetings and other social events. We are adjusting, however, and I am optimistic that our transition to an online format has been able to accomplish our educational purposes during this winter term. For those of you who are students, I hope that you are able to get your work done and are pleased with the results of what you have learned. Our spring term will be online as well, so we are looking forward to expanding our online capacity and welcoming many of you to continue to progress towards completion of your degrees.

Wendy and I continue to pray fervently and daily for the MDC community. We know that some of you continue to work on the front lines of this crisis, for which we are very thankful. We know that others face grave uncertainty, whether because of health or job-related or other factors. Many of you are feeling the constraints of being at home day after day.

I hope and pray that all of you are finding new patterns of life that allow you to flourish in the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty that surrounds us. As I communicated in an announcement earlier this week, we are concerned about the mental and physical well-being of our entire community, whether you are a student, faculty, staff, or Board member. Please be attentive to these dimensions as you develop new routines through the day.

Our spiritual well-being remains the most important factor throughout this crisis. I realize that a pandemic such as this raises a host of theological questions, ones that we will be contemplating well into the future as a means of helping to understand these current events. I also think that this crisis forces all of us to consider more immediate spiritual questions as well. I encourage you to continue to seek God and to be in communion with him during this time and to maintain the kinds of spiritual practices that keep you grounded in your faith. God has not abandoned his people, even if his purposes are not immediately clear to us.

Our COVID-19 Response Team continues to meet and monitor the situation. As a result, we will be making decisions regarding our Convocation Ceremony this next week. Right now the event is rescheduled for June 18, but we are reconsidering this postponement in light of the fluid situation around us. We will let you know the results of our deliberations as soon as we can. In any case, we will ensure that our graduands graduate!

I mentioned the spring term above, but we are also starting to think of the fall term beginning in September. We would love to be able to welcome everyone back to the way things were, but we also realize that there may be many changes as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, so we are planning accordingly. We don’t know yet what all that means, but we will let you know as we know. However, despite whatever changes may occur in delivery models, we are anticipating a full slate of courses and programs in the fall. We will be welcoming a number of new students to MDC and providing as much support as we are able for them to become members of our academic and spiritual community.

Just as a reminder, all areas of MDC continue to be active in their various ways, so we are involved in long-term academic planning, we are engaged in important financial planning, we continue to develop relations with those who share the long-term goals of MDC, and we continue to let potential students know that MDC is still “open for business” for their degree programs. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with the appropriate person if you have concerns. We are here to be of service.

Let me close by simply saying that I realize that all of us are getting anxious to see an end to the current crisis. Some reports say that we should have much better information regarding the course of the crisis in the next couple of weeks. Even if that is true, there will no doubt be a time of readjustment whenever the crisis comes to a close. We are confident that God has called us, as MDC, to serve the Christian church in Canada and beyond, and we continue to function with the conviction that the work God has called us to do is not yet complete and there is much to do in the future. We want to be a part of that and will continue to work to that end, under his care and through his power. We look forward to God’s continuing guidance in the days ahead.

I wish for all of you to remain safe and well, whether you are working on the front lines of this crisis or whether you are in isolation. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have concerns that we can address.

Yours sincerely,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean


March 26, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

It has been a week since I sent out my first letter to the wider MDC community. A lot has happened during that week in the world around us, and in particular, at MDC. I trust that you have been adjusting to our new norm of washing our hands frequently, and physically—but not socially—distancing ourselves from each other in order to help contain the COVID-19 virus.

I encourage you to continue to be socially connected through various media. We look forward to the time when we will be in closer physical contact with each other and even enjoying the same events together. But that time is not now, so let’s still enjoy contact with each other, but at a physical distance.

MDC has continued to be closed to the public, with only essential staff working in the building. In this way, we anticipated the Premier’s announcement earlier this week of a province-wide shutdown. We have been functioning with a skeleton crew who are keeping our essential functions going, such as maintaining student records, planning for examinations, paying our bills, and the other essential items that must be taken care of, not as just a business, but an educational institution. We are now completely closed to students and other outsiders, so all student exams will be done through online communication. Some people may not realize that when an educational institution moves from face-to-face contact to online delivery that there are still those who are required to make all of this happen.

So far, I have been hearing good things about our move to online courses. I want to thank in particular Dr. Francis Pang, our Director of IT, for his tireless IT support of all that we are doing. Professors have already arranged to complete their courses and so have made suitable adjustments. If you are having difficulties, please do not hesitate to contact your professors or our Registrar, Dr. Phil Strickland, who can help to guide you.

As a result of the changes in human contact, all of our Spring Term courses are now being offered as online courses. Individual professors are adjusting their modes of delivery, and all of the courses will be reconfigured to ensure maximal student success in the new online format. I realize that this will still require patience by everyone, so bear with us. However, I am confident that what may not initially be seen as an optimum situation may well be an opportunity for new and different teaching and learning situations. Enjoy the online experience.

For now we are not sure what the fall will look like regarding mode of course delivery, but we are monitoring this quickly changing situation and will keep you up-to-date. We are already anticipating a full and successful fall term, so you will want to get registered for your courses when the opportunity is there.

As for Convocation, we have rescheduled the event to June 18 tentatively, but we will be reassessing this date in a week or so and should be able to report, with at least two months notice, what our plans for Convocation will be. We are weighing various options depending on the anticipated situation in mid-June.

In the meantime, although we are not able to enjoy it, we have welcomed new furniture into the building so as to outfit our new Cullen Hall. We were able to bring in some new tables and chairs, as well as furnishings for the Hurlburt Family Bookstore, before we closed down entirely, but we may not get the rest of the furniture for some time. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to Cullen Hall being fully outfitted and functional as soon as we are able to do so.

The President’s Cabinet had a four-hour virtual meeting yesterday to consider the various dimensions of MDC’s life, and we did a SWOT analysis and some projections regarding how the situation may develop in Southern Ontario. We are confident that even with online delivery—if we move to that in the fall—we will be able to ensure the highest quality of our courses and degree programs. We are also anticipating the effects of the developments in the stock market, as well as other knock-on effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

Our COVID-19 Response Team has also (virtually) met to consider options, and we were pleased to be able to anticipate and respond promptly to provincial demands for closing down. We will continue to monitor the situation daily.

We would continue to ask for your prayers for all of those in the MDC community. This includes our Board and Senate members, who continue to have care and concern for MDC, our faculty who continue to teach our courses, and our administration and staff who continue to work from home to see that the infrastructure of MDC is functioning. We may be a people of the diaspora, but we are still unified in our common calling.

If you need to reach someone regarding any of the issues above: for matters regarding students and courses, please contact Dr. Phil Strickland at strickpd@mcmaster.ca and for technology issues please, contact Dr. Francis Pang at pangfp@mcmaster.ca. If you have any other concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at princpl@mcmaster.ca.

Please continue to take necessary precautionary steps in your own spheres of influence. We continue to do God’s work even in these times of uncertainty, in the confidence that we will return to a state of normality in His good timing and providence.

Yours,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean


March 19, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

I hope that all of you are doing as well as can be expected during these stressful times. I realize that all of us, individually and institutionally, are moving into uncharted waters. This is requiring that all of us make adjustments in an increasing number of ways—the way we live, the way we communicate, the way we greet each other, and even the way that we trust and relate to one another.

I want to encourage you that we are doing the best that we are able to retain as much of our regular MDC function as is possible during this time of such turmoil. I am especially conscious of the fact that there are students who are hoping to graduate, and that there are other students who are wondering about their educational futures because their financial futures are now insecure. I also know that there are many faculty who are having to make some major adjustments in their teaching and research styles. You are not alone. We are constantly monitoring the situation and trying to find positive solutions so that all of us can move forward together as we await the next stages during this COVID-19 crisis.

I want to report on a few things, beginning with the fact that our COVID-19 Response Team is communicating and functioning well. We are happy to report that, after meeting several days running, we seem to have found a level of stability that requires fewer meetings. Faculty, staff, and students are working from home, as we have only essential staff in the MDC building at this time. They are monitoring the various functions that need to be performed. I want to thank those on the team for their efforts and their quick responses. We have been assessing advice from other quarters and think that the efforts we have taken at this time are appropriate, but we will be continuing to assess.

The faculty had its regular monthly meeting this morning and early afternoon—all by WebEx. We did the regular business of the faculty, including discussing where we are in the term and our plans for bringing the term to a successful close. The faculty are also contributing many great ideas on how we can ensure that our students successfully close out this academic year.

We are making plans for our Spring Term and will be notifying students very soon about any changes going forward regarding the current semester due dates for work, grades, convocation, and the rest. There are some changes that we need to make, so please don’t be thrown off by the need to alter some of our regular routines. Faculty and students can expect to hear from the VP Academic or the Registrar about some of the specific changes.

One of the great pleasures of this admittedly difficult time is the opportunity to work with excellent people who are stepping up and taking their responsibilities seriously. I want to thank all of the staff and faculty for their good work during this time, and to thank students for their patience and hard work.

One company with whom I was in communication reminded me of some things that we should keep in mind. There will be a time when we can gather together to enjoy sporting events or group activities again. There will be a time when we can be in classes again at MDC. There will be a time when we can greet each other and be together in the ways that we used to. We just don’t know now when that time will be. In the meantime, we need to continue to believe that what is happening has not come as a surprise to our great God and that, ultimately, the world and all that is in it is his.

If you need to be in contact with someone at MDC, please do not hesitate to contact either Dr. Phil Strickland, Registrar, at strickpd@mcmaster.ca or Dr. Francis Pang at pangfg@mcmaster.ca or me at princpl@mcmaster.ca.

Yours truly,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean


March 13, 2020

Dear MDC Community,

In light of recent events surrounding the continuing spread of COVID-19 and as a precautionary measure, McMaster Divinity College will be cancelling all in-person (face-to-face) classes after the end of day Friday, March 13, 2020. Instead, classes will be moved to online delivery for the remainder of the Winter 2020 term.

Additionally, all co-curricular activities and events are cancelled. This includes Chapel, Theological Research Seminars, Guild meetings, Linguistics Circle, Preview Days, and student gatherings. MDC will still remain open for essential services.

Faculty members and course instructors, in consultation with the VP Academic, will be communicating with students soon regarding how courses will be administered for the remainder of the term so that courses may be completed within the scope of the current academic calendar.

We want to assure all students, but especially those in the final stages of their programs, that MDC is making it a priority to ensure students complete their courses within the normal Winter 2020 timeframe.

Students should take the following actions regarding their courses:

  • Log in to Avenue to Learn and make sure that you can access all course shells for all your current courses
  • Email your course instructor and cc Dr. Francis Pang (pangfg@mcmaster.ca) if you are not able to access a particular course shell

Any non-essential public events on campus are being cancelled as of Friday, March 13, 2020 as well.

Public Health Officials recommend taking appropriate precautions to help prevent infection including:

  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.
  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid normal forms of contact (handshaking, etc.).
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Maintain at least 2 metres (6 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
  • Keep up to date on information regarding COVID-19, especially areas where the virus is spreading. If possible, avoid traveling and large crowds, especially if you are an older person, are immuno-compromised, or have diabetes, heart or lung disease.
  • If you or a relative have recently traveled to a place where COVID-19 is spreading widely, please follow public health guidelines for self-isolation.

We will continue to monitor the situation regarding COVID-19 and update you accordingly. Please continue to check this page for regular updates on this rapidly developing situation.

Regards,


Stanley E. Porter, PhD
President and Dean

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