A Sense of Place

October 12, 2012

Westminster Chief Administrative Officer, Steven J. Carter, has begun a new series of updates from the business office and the office of development.  Below is the third of his monthly reflections on Westminster's progress as it seeks to train Christian leaders to proclaim the whole counsel of God throughout a changing world.

 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  (Genesis 28:16-17)

This favorite passage of Westminster students (once they’ve read Biblical Theology by Vos) introduces the intriguing concept of “a sense of place.”  A more mundane source, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, describes it like this: “Those things that add up to a feeling that a community is a special place, distinct from anywhere else.”

Most Westminster students eventually feel this strong sense of place. It can begin the first time you set foot on campus. The most common approach is on Church Road (aptly named!) from the west, up the gradual hill most first-time visitors climb after leaving the Pennsylvania Turnpike. You’re getting close when Church Road bends to the right and the hill becomes much steeper; near the summit you see the crimson sign behind the border of the ivy-covered wall, “Westminster Theological Seminary”!

Once inside the wall, the first reaction may be, “That’s all there is?”  The Seminary’s reputation is big but the campus is small. But after this initial reaction, you’re surprised to see how much green space there is. The gentle slope from Machen Hall to Willow Grove Avenue is a wide lawn, big enough for softball games. On the other side of the driveway a level field is roomy enough for soccer, football and now more frequently, ultimate Frisbee. This, despite the tennis court with the fading sign left from the John Murray era, “No playing on Sunday.” 

Standing by the two main entrances are the gatehouses. They are snug stone buildings that have suggested to some a hobbit-like coziness evidenced by the Church Road gatehouse bearing the name “Grey Havens” for a time. Students who live on campus drift off to sleep at night on the same plot of ground where lectures, reading, conversations and prayers bring heavenly things near. They likely are among the first to sense that this is a special place.

It’s hard to think of a better first impression than entering the Machen lobby and facing the portraits of Van Til and Woolley. The old, large dining room in Machen is a place students can find quiet for study, beneath the portraits of Machen, Stonehouse and Murray. The great teachers of the past, though dead, yet speak in their writings, their influence that continues to shape the faculty, and in something intangible that we can call the memory of their presence. 

For so many students, Westminster gradually becomes a gateway to heaven. Blessings descend from the Lord on the ladder that is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the heart of the whole counsel of God. It happens while working late in the library, listening intently to lectures in Van Til, speaking with friends in the Carriage House, and a host of other experiences. We’re grateful for this wonderful place and all the memories it evokes.

Steven CarterTo support Westminster's mission to train Christian leaders to proclaim the whole counsel of God throughout a changing world, visit our online donation page here.