February 21, 1999
Dear Members and Adherents of Knox Church:
In the Fall of 1997 I was nominated by three presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in Canada to be the Principal of Knox College in Toronto, and by one presbytery to be the Principal of The Presbyterian College in Montreal. I declined both nominations. At the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada in June 1998 a new Principal was appointed for Knox College. The Senate of The Presbyterian College, however, asked for permission to begin a new search.
In the Fall of 1998 I was nominated by thirteen presbyteries from Vancouver Island to Saint John, including our own Presbytery of East Toronto, to be the Principal of The Presbyterian College. After considering my nomination, the Search Committee unanimously recommended my name to the Senate of the Presbyterian College which in turn unanimously recommended my name to the Committee on Theological Education of the General Assembly. The Committee on Theological Education, meeting in Toronto this weekend, has unanimously endorsed the recommendation of the Senate, thereby making me the official nominee to the 1999 General Assembly.
My name, therefore, will be placed before the General Assembly which meets in Kitchener-Waterloo during the first week of June at which time the final decision will be made. If the appointment is approved by the General Assembly, I will begin my ministry as Principal of The Presbyterian College, Montreal on August 1, 1999.
During the past two months we have been engaged in a period of intense spiritual struggle as we have been seeking to know the mind of Christ. The elders have shared in something of this struggle. I am deeply sensitive to what this means for Knox Church, and I assure you that this has weighed heavily on my heart and mind and soul as your pastor. I have no desire to leave this congregation, I am truly happy here, and I have been so grateful for what the Lord has accomplished in our midst through your support during the past four years. By God's grace, we have experienced a period of stability, renewal, and growth. At the same time, there now appears to be this clear and strong call from the wider church to give leadership in theological education. This is not the timing I would have chosen. This is not a ministry I sought. It has come as a kind of "Macedonian Call" (Acts 16:6-10). God seems to be asking you to send us forth as missionaries to the wider church in the ministry of theological education.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada has two theological colleges for the training of ministers — Knox College and The Presbyterian College. We also participate in a third seminary through St. Andrew's Hall at the Vancouver School of Theology. In defining its mission for the future, The Presbyterian College is committed to the historic Christian faith as set forth in the distinctives of the Reformed tradition: the sovereignty of God, the centrality of Christ, and the authority of Scripture.
We have been praying in Knox Church for decades that God would renew our theological colleges. In the providence of God, and as difficult as it may be, this may well be the way in which God has chosen to answer those prayers. My appointment as Principal would signal the first time that a conservative evangelical minister has been given the opportunity to lead one of our colleges since the early part of this century.
As your pastor, I ask for your prayers and your understanding and your love as we walk through this experience together. Let us not allow it to become an occasion for the evil one to sow fear and suspicion and disunity. Rather let us seize it as an opportunity for faith and hope and love. The Lord Jesus is faithful. He who watches over us will neither slumber nor sleep. Let us trust in him.
September 8, 1999
Since I wrote the above letter to my congregation in February much has transpired. In June the General Assembly unanimously appointed me to the principalship of The Presbyterian College. After a wonderful farewell by the gracious and generous people of Knox Church, my family and I headed to Montreal where I took up my new responsibilities on September 1. In recent months I have often been asked why I would even consider leaving a large strategic congregation for a small struggling theological college. Among the many issues with which we wrestled as we sought to the know the mind of the Lord on this matter, three things stood out.
First, I believe in the strategic importance of theological education. In recent years John Stott has been urging upon us all the importance of theological colleges to the future of the church. He believes that if we are to see any genuine and lasting renewal in the church it will depend in large measure upon what happens in the theological colleges of our churches. I believe he is right.
Second, I believe in the future of The Presbyterian College within our denomination. Small struggling institutions are places of opportunity. The leaders of Presbyterian College have been thinking much in recent years about its mission, its identity, and its unique contribution to the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the wider Christian community. As an evangelical and ecumenical seminary in the Reformed tradition, Presbyterian College is committed to training ministers who can become missional leaders for the church of the twenty-first century. Without a doubt the challenges will be great. But the opportunities will be greater still.
Finally, and most importantly, I believe in the call of God through the church. It would have been easy, and indeed perhaps even preferable in the eyes of many, to resist this opportunity — except for the fact that the call of the church through the presbyteries, the search committee, the college Senate, the Committee on Theological Education, and the General Assembly, was unmistakable. As one of my colleagues put it when I was seriously questioning the wisdom of a move to Montreal — "John, you can't say no even if you want to — the call of the church is clear."
I wish to thank those who have phoned, written, and sent faxes and e-mail. Your support has been a gracious expression of the goodness of God. Please pray for us, and for the ministry of Presbyterian College. And may I say that I look forward to working with the wider church in my new role.
The Rev. Dr. John Vissers was installed as the Principal of The Presbyterian College at a special service on Sunday, November 14, 1999 at 7:00 p.m. at St. Andrew and St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Montreal.