ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE LAST REMAINING Church of Christ higher ed school in Canada discusses the legacy of Western Christian.
With the closing of Western Christian College in Regina, Saskatchewan, there remains only one higher education institution in Canada associated with Churches of Christ. On a small campus nearly 1,700 miles east of Regina, the eight full-time students of Great Lakes Bible College prepare for ministry among Canada’s 34 million souls.
Don Rose is the former president of the Waterloo, Ontario, college and chief administrator of its sister institution, Great Lakes Christian High School in nearby Beamsville. The high school has 104 students, with 35 more in its preschool program.
Rose is a graduate of the high school, formerly known as Great Lakes Christian College, and earned a master’s from the University of Waterloo before returning to teach at his alma mater. In 2011 he stepped down from the presidency of all three schools and now serves as chief administrator for the high school and preschool.
Rose preaches regularly for Churches of Christ in Ontario and has taught teenagers at Omagh Bible Camp for 23 years. He now directs the camp program. He and his wife of 19 years, Corrie, have three children.
In an interview with The Christian Chronicle, Rose talked about the impact of Western’s closing on Churches of Christ to the north — and south — of the U.S./Canadian border.
What has been the relationship between Western Christian College and Great Lakes Bible College?
I am struck with the reality that the God-driven purpose, values, fears, hopes, challenges and opportunities of the two schools are the same. We have been sister schools for 60 years. Western began in 1945 and Great Lakes in 1952. Like siblings, there have been seasons of cooperation and competition and a number of families, staff and key figures who worked with and supported both schools.
Our journey, though, has been more of a parallel one defined by geography. WCC has served western Canada and some northwestern U.S. states, and GLCC has served eastern Canada and some northeastern states.
Throughout our history, our enrollment has been similar, and our core support constituencies have been similar in size. In the past decade, we have made more effort to invite members of each school to the other — to share in opportunities to promote our Canadian schools in the U.S. and to pray for and encourage the support of each other’s work.
Without Western, will there be a greater drain of young Canadians to the U.S.?
There has been, historically, a significant drain south, but I do not believe this will increase substantially in the wake of WCC’s closure. Having said this, the few who are intent upon dedicating their lives to ministry or missions will, with one less option in Canada, more likely choose to be educated in the U.S. — and many will not return.
Our primary concern, however, should not be the loss of promising Christian workers to the U.S. Rather, we need to be more effective in stemming the loss of promising young Christians to worldly lifestyles embraced at secular Canadian universities and colleges.
How will the closing of Western impact Canadian churches?
In the short term, there will seem to be little to no negative impact, save the sadness of the closure, but I believe that the impact in 10 to 20 years will be felt in the dwindling pool of active and engaged congregational members and leaders.
Western’s college program offered foundational, intensive, biblical instruction for leaders and servants and enabled the training of workers in the uniqueness of our Canadian context. The high school provided a daily reinforcement of biblical values in a world that is more aggressive and pervasive in its influence than it has ever been.
In Canada, provincial curriculums emphasize humanistic and atheistic perspectives more than ever before. The secular influences of the world are, literally, inescapable. This suggests to me — especially in the majority of Canadian congregations where youth groups and support are in short supply — that Christian education is needed more than ever.
Is this closing an indicator of the health of the Canadian church?
I believe that there is a high correlation between the health of our schools and the health of the Canadian Churches of Christ. Recent figures produced by the Canadian Churches of Christ periodical, The Gospel Herald, reveal some sobering results. Essentially, Churches of Christ in Canada have not grown in 30 years. Though there has been a redistribution of the congregational populace, there has been no real growth overall.
Just as congregations are losing a generation of leaders, so do the schools lose a generation that deeply valued Christian education, would sacrifice for it and who constitute the majority of supporters for it. Both the Canadian church and the schools are negatively impacted by these trends.
What degree of significance should Canadians and U.S. citizens alike attach to this closing?
It is significant. We need to bolster our outposts. This requires financial support but should, more significantly, be about active, effective engagement. How can we better engage our own people, attract some energetic and experienced workers from afar and win this highly resilient culture for the Lord?
I believe this closure is an indicator that this question isn’t being answered — at least adequately. That presents a significant challenge to the church north and south of the border.
How important has Western been to the Canadian church?
I don’t want to overstate the importance of our schools. I believe in the autonomous nature of our congregations and in the significance of the local body driving the spread of the Gospel in communities.
However, without training within this culture — which looks so much like the United States but isn’t — we lose a valuable contributor to the overall health of churches in this country.
I wish I could quantify the value of Western Christian to the Canadian church with more objective data, but I can only share my personal, anecdotal observation. Most of the leaders in the church who I have met have some connection to one of our schools.
Sadly, fewer than half of the congregations in Ontario can support a full-time preacher (and just over half across the country), but there has been a significant contribution by our schools toward the enrichment of the teaching and preaching that is happening here.
In Ontario, fully half of our full-time preachers were educated at Great Lakes Christian High School, Great Lakes Bible College or both. In western Canada, I have observed a similar influence by Western on churches there.
I believe that Western Christian served its purpose well and that the full extent of its positive influence will reveal itself in the years after it is gone.