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Jay & Billie Wilbur and the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation

Wilbur copyGarrett-Evangelical has been at the forefront of Protestant seminaries in developing studies in spiritual formation. Beginning in 1984, Dwight Judy, now emeritus professor of spiritual formation, taught a doctor of ministry course in spiritual formation, an innovative class for Protestant seminary education at the time. Today spiritual formation classes permeate the curriculum at the certificate, masters, and doctoral levels. As Garrett-Evangelical celebrated its first 25 years of leadership in spiritual formation, it recognized that it was uniquely positioned to continue developing and enhancing studies in this area. However, this would only happen if there would continue to be a full-time faculty person teaching in spiritual formation. Thus, in 2010 seminary administrators decided to raise $2 million to permanently endow a faculty position and to name it in honor of one of its distinguished alums, Bishop Rueben P. Job. Bishop Job has been at the forefront in spiritual formation within the life of the church, serving as a consultant in Christian spirituality, spiritual retreat leader, spiritual guide, and author or co-author of more than 20 books. Upon learning of the seminary’s plans, Bishop Bruce Ough, a colleague and friend of Bishop Job, said, “I rejoice that Garrett-Evangelical is seeking to establish the Rueben Job Chair in Spiritual Formation.

Faithful and fruitful leadership in the 21st century is more dependent than ever on clergy leaders who balance technical competency with the heart-desire to be formed in the image of Christ. Rueben Job has embodied this balance throughout his life and ministry, and Garrett-Evangelical continues to champion the integration of spiritual formation and academic rigor. This is a fitting recognition of Bishop Job and a wise and essential investment in the next generations of spiritual leaders for the church and the world.” A committee was formed, chaired by seminary trustee Jim Beddow, and the seminary publicly launched its fundraising efforts in April 2010. Hundreds of people responded out of deep appreciation for Bishop Job’s ministry and in recognition of the importance of such an endowed faculty position at a seminary.

However, by October 2012, the seminary had raised less than half of what was needed to fully endow the chair. That month Bishop Ough, Jim Beddow, and David Heetland, vice president for development, had a conference call with Bishop Job to inform him of the status of the fundraising efforts and to let him know that Dwight Judy would be retiring in December 2012. If the chair was not fully funded by then, the faculty position would have to remain vacant until the funds were raised.

“Are you sure you have done everything you can do?” Bishop Job asked. He had offered his name and endorsement to this endeavor, recognizing that this faculty position would continue his life’s work when he was no longer alive. Now in frail health, would he live to see this dream fulfilled? Following the conference call, Ough, Beddow, and Heetland talked about what else they could do. They had made numerous personal visits, written countless letters, and hosted gatherings. What more could they do? That night it struck Heetland that perhaps they had not done enough of the one thing Bishop Job emphasized throughout his ministry—pray! He began to pray fervently each day that God would lead them to one or more persons who could help complete the funding for the endowed chair.

A couple of weeks later Heetland received an email from someone he did not know. She introduced herselfas Billie Wilbur and said she was the lay leader of a small membership church in rural Texas. She frequently took online courses to grow and develop knowledge and skills since educational opportunities were very limited where she lived. Through one of those online courses, she was encouraged to enter a discernment process about her own vocation and call to ministry. As a result she drove to Dallas for a weekend and took a class at Perkins School of Theology entitled, “What God Wants for Your Life.” It was there she first heard of spiritual direction and learned of a new two-year training program in spiritual direction being offered. She signed up for the program, and it had a profound impact on her spiritual journey. She wrote that she believed spiritual formation classes, like the ones she took, could help form transformative lay and clergy leadership.

“People in the pews need what seminaries offer,” she wrote, “not just through the education of our pastors, but through access to those wonderful teaching resources ourselves!” She went on to say, “It is my understanding that Garrett-Evangelical has a commitment to spiritual formation and spiritual direction through the work of the Rueben Job Chair.” Therefore she and her husband, Jay, were considering an initial grant to the chair from the family foundation they were in the process of establishing, and were seeking further information. Heetland called Wilbur. She shared with him that the person who is often her own “spiritual companion” is a Garrett-Evangelical alum, Billie Blair, pastor of two small membership churches in Kansas and founder of Tallgrass Spiritual Retreat Center. Blair is a spiritual director and certified in spiritual formation, having been taught by Garrett-Evangelical’s Dwight Judy. Heetland told Wilbur about the seminary’s spiritual formation program and encouraged her to visit the seminary website (www.garrett.edu) to learn more. He concluded the conversation by saying, “You need to know that your email is an answer to my prayers.” Wilbur responded, “You need to know that this conversation is an answer to my prayers, as I have been praying to find an institution which shares my values and vision for spiritual formation.”

After several more email exchanges and phone calls—and much prayer—the Wilburs decided to postpone establishing their family foundation and to make a gift directly to Garrett-Evangelical to complete the funding for the Rueben Job Chair so that it could continue its pioneering work in spiritual formation studies without interruption. As Wilbur explained, “Having been exposed first hand to the type of leadership that Garrett-Evangelical is responsible for made the decision very easy!” Their gift was received in early December 2012. Later that month it was time for another phone call to Bishop Job—this time to share the good news that the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation was now fully funded. “My prayers of petition have turned into prayers of thanksgiving!” he humbly responded.

In January 2013, a faculty search committee was formed to begin the process of advertising for, interviewing, and selecting the first holder of the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation. In May the board of trustees approved the faculty recommendation to hire Frederick Schmidt as the Rueben Job Associate professor of spiritual formation. Schmidt began his work at Garrett-Evangelical in July.

There is one more interesting piece in this remarkable story. Who so inspired Bille Wilbur in that two-year program she took in spiritual formation? Unbeknownst to Garrett-Evangelical’s faculty search committee, it was none other than Frederick Schmidt! Informed of the appointment of Schmidt to Garrett-Evangelical’s faculty, Wilbur responded, “The prayer of my heart was to be able to share what I gained from those two years of study with others. Through the work of the Job Chair, God has answered my prayer in a big way.”

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The United Methodist Church, welcomes
students from a wide range of faith traditions.