An academic year “like no other in the history of American seminaries” awaits faculty, staff and students of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, President Jeff Iorg said in a convocation address Aug. 27.
“We are currently moving the primary campus of one of the 10 largest seminaries in the United States 400 miles to Southern California, while at the same time building a secondary campus in the Bay Area – all while remaining fully operational,” Iorg said in an address titled “A Great Adventure.”
“We haven’t curtailed any academic programs, canceled campus activities or closed campus facilities,” Iorg noted while expressing thanks for the support received by the seminary and voicing optimism for the future.
In addition to the new Southern California campus in Ontario and the Bay Area campus in Fremont, Golden Gate also is changing its name to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The first of two affirmative votes for the name change occurred during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, in June; a second SBC vote is required, slated for the 2016 annual meeting in St. Louis.
Golden Gate President Jeff Iorg predicts in convocation message that the coming academic year will be “like no other” as the seminary moves to two new campuses in California.
Iorg, focusing on the progress of the moves to Ontario and Fremont in his convocation address, reported that the seminary has about 2,000 students enrolled this year across all its programs, with virtually no decrease, in spite of the move.
“While enrollment has declined at this campus,” as expected, he said of the seminary’s current Bay Area location in Mill Valley, “the students haven’t gone to other seminaries. They have either enrolled in our online program or at regional campuses – many planning to transfer to Ontario next year.”
Iorg called students who have come to Golden Gate Seminary in the past two years “special heroes.”
“They accepted the risk of coming to a school in major transition,” he said. “Some of them have told me they chose Golden Gate because of the transition. As one student said, ‘I could have gone to school anywhere. I can only watch history being made once.’ That’s the spirit that makes Golden Gate students such amazing people.”
Construction on both the Ontario and Fremont campuses has begun and is on schedule, Iorg said, reminding the chapel audience of God’s providence in providing facilities.
The building in Ontario, constructed in 2009 and never occupied, allows the seminary to complete the interior to its own specifications, at a cost of 30 percent below the price to construct the facility today, Iorg said. At more than 150,000 square feet, it will provide 20 percent more academic and administrative space than Mill Valley.
The Fremont campus is being built on property given to Golden Gate by a church and is located on a major thoroughfare, close to major freeways and public transportation in the Bay Area. An appraisal set the property value at $2.9 million.
Iorg reported that a special $500,000 gift has enabled the seminary to purchase a missionary-in-residence house near the Ontario campus, completely furnish it and provide a vehicle. In addition, an $850,000 cash gift by first-time donors has allowed establishment of a special scholarship fund for church planters. Other gifts have been designated for special parts of the building projects.
Thus far, the seminary has received nearly $5 million in special gifts in the past 16 months, Iorg said.
Recounting the steps the seminary has taken to prepare for the transition, he noted, “First, we have communicated openly through the Transition Update newsletter. Second, we have provided timely information about aspects of the change. Third, we have involved many people in designing the new facilities. Fourth, we have planned alumni events to help people crystallize their closure with this location. Finally, we have been dealt individually with every person who was employed on the day the change was announced. All our employees continue working hard, choosing a positive attitude and accepting the decision to relocate as part of God’s plan for the seminary and for them.”
The new locations will help the seminary “to better accomplish our mission,” Iorg said.
“The primary reason for selecting the Fremont location is its centrality to the transportation patterns of Bay Area commuter students,” he said. “There are several reasons why Ontario is the best primary campus location.”
The Ontario location will allow the seminary to employ more faculty and senior staff because they will be able to afford housing in the area, Iorg said. In addition, Riverside and San Bernardino counties will have an estimated 3 million new residents by 2050, putting the Ontario campus in an area with a population of more than 7 million people in the next 35 years.
“This population growth will come from the nations of the world, creating a wonderfully diverse mosaic perfect for us as we train leaders for global ministry,” Iorg said. “We have chosen to place our primary campus in a corporate office park, next to an airport, at the junction of two major freeways, and within a mile of a huge mall that claims to have more daily shoppers than people who go to Disneyland.
“We made this decision intentionally,” Iorg said. “We want Gateway Seminary to be where the action is – where churches are growing, where new churches are being started and where ministries to meet human needs will proliferate. We believe a seminary is a training facility – not a retreat center. We have put ourselves at the economic, political and social crossroads of the fastest-growing region of the West.”
Iorg reported that the seminary is embracing a student housing model for students to live in surrounding communities, with the seminary aiding them in finding housing.
“We want students to live in communities – real communities, not artificial Christian communities,” he said. “If you are a student, we want to you train for ministry while living in the kind of community you will live in for the rest of your life.”
Iorg quoted his own words when the move was announced 16 months ago: “You are part of one of the boldest moves by any seminary in the past century. We are selling a campus, not closing our doors. We are relocating and repositioning for future success, not abandoning our vision. We are sacrificing short-term comfort for long-term fulfillment of our mission. We are positioning ourselves strategically, geographically and financially to impact the Western United States and the world like never before.”
Using Luke 8:22-25 as a text, Iorg said that when one of Jesus’ disciples awakened Him in the boat to calm the storm, they failed to trust His direction in His initial invitation to cross over to the other side of the lake.
“The principle parallels our situation,” Iorg said. “God has directed us, and confirmed His direction to us, to relocate to two new campuses in California. We are in the boat with Him. It’s already a little windy, and it’s likely to get stormy in the next few months. Our challenge is resting in the direction we have been given and staying steady in the storm.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathie Chute is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, with campuses currently in Mill Valley and Brea, Calif., and in Denver, Phoenix and the Pacific Northwest.)