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Laying the Groundwork
for Our Future – Vantage Magazine, Winter 2023
A Conversation with President Victor Aloyo About How Columbia
Prepares for its Third Century
In December 2022, at the end of his first semester as the 11th
President of Columbia Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Victor
Aloyo considers the grace and abundance that is Columbia and
how pausing to reflect and learn more about who we are can
help propel us into our third century of service to the Church
and the world.
Q: From your first day as President of
Columbia, you have communicated a
message of abundance and grace. What
are you referencing when you talk about
abundance and grace?
A: At the time of my arrival at Columbia, we were entering
an endemic time after multiple pandemics – a virus, wars,
political unrest, and religious divisiveness to name a few –
and scripture reminds us that in moments of despair, God is
always present. Conflict, crisis, and uncertain times aren’t
a reflection of God’s absence in our lives, because it is in
these moments that we need to take stock of the blessings
in our midst.
So, when I stepped onto Columbia’s campus, I saw God’s
hand in the 57 beautiful acres with buildings dedicated
to teaching and learning, and, even with a history that
is at times troubling, I saw a rich history of theological
education. I saw an opportunity to build upon those that
have come before us.
That is the abundance – the faculty, their research
capability, the discipline they bring to the formation of
present and future leaders. There is abundance among
our students. Their willingness and desire to serve and
their experience as they come to us from locations both
domestically and internationally because Columbia is where
they want to be. They feel that Columbia is the place they
I see an abundance of God’s presence in and through all of
And there is grace in that we have been called to serve in
such a time as this – to serve as administrators, faculty, and
staff. We have been given such a blessing to use our talents
and gifts to serve Christ in such a place as Columbia.
Q: Why is it important for us to be conscious
of and reflect on the abundance and grace
that is Columbia?
A: We are living in a time of great division, even in the pulpit,
where there are articulations of hatred due to the sense of
“otherness” found in our society. We see that division play
out in so many ways on a daily basis.
The pandemic itself changed so much and it also accelerated
change that was already happening. Take the Church. It was
in transition prior to COVID. We have watched as some
churches have closed their doors for good, and yet, God still
calls people to the ministry.
It would be so easy to take the negative and lift that up and
maximize it because we are so engrossed and overwhelmed
by what is happening around us and to us. But we can flip
that message by remembering to look at what we have.
Look at what stories, history, lives we represent. Look at the
churches that are thriving, the servant leaders that are doing
remarkable things in ministries all over the world and that are
choosing to come to Columbia to deepen their commitment
and further their theological education.
We need to focus and realize that God is creating this new
thing and we are part of it – a big part of it – not because we
merit it, but because of God’s grace and abundant presence
God has given us the opportunity to be in his vineyard to
serve and to be good stewards of the resources that abound.
We need to lift up the abundance and grace that is Columbia
amidst a storyline of division, anger, hatred, and uncertainty.
Q: In this first year of your presidency, our
community is taking time to pause and
reflect. What does it mean to you to pause
and to reflect?
A: As I mentioned in my State of the Seminary address,
pausing does not necessarily mean stopping, but it does
mean taking a moment to examine what we are doing and
why we are doing it. It is a chance to explore if what we are
doing is moving us forward. It gives us a chance to pivot if
our actions are not moving us towards the future.
Reflection in some ways goes back to the conversation
about abundance and grace – taking the time to appreciate
what we have and what we are doing well. It is also an
opportunity to think about what is not working and
serving us well now and won’t in the near future given the
demographic shifts, the pandemics of the last few years,
the social, economic, and religious issues that we are
The point of pausing and reflecting is so we can understand
how to better prepare ourselves so that we can prepare the
future leaders of the church.
I don’t think that we have fully absorbed or engaged the
consequences of the last few years. They have challenged
our mental health. They have challenged our institutions.
If we are going to be relevant going forward, we need this
time to pause and reflect and then move ahead thoughtfully
with the adjustments that need to be made.
Q: As you noted, part of the purpose of
pausing and reflecting is to be relevant
as we move towards the beginning of our
third century. We have commissions who
are studying various aspects of our culture
and practices and working on a strategic
blueprint for our future. It feels like there
could be a lot of action coming out of your
first year. Will there be time reserved to
pause and reflect as we implement that
A: Absolutely. Our blueprint is going to be filled with lots of
aspirations. For example, we need to examine our pedagogy,
explore and identify the degree programs that we need to
develop, and more. Those aspirations in our blueprint will
guide the prioritizations we need to make in four different
areas – academic pedagogy, governance, administrative
foci, and campus culture. These are the four areas of
institutional life that we have selected to prioritize for the
next three years.
Once that blueprint is complete, we are going to live into
that plan, but it will be incremental, because there is one
other important thing that is going on as well. We are
engaging in a culture shift. A shift from where a few people
have been part of the decision-making process to a place
where everyone is part of the conversation. We are creating
commissions that include our students, our staff, our
alumni, our executives, and our trustees.
Bringing these different perspectives, hearing concerns and
needs all throughout the development and implementation
of our blueprint will ensure that we have regular
opportunities to pause and reflect on what we are doing.
Q: What should our many constituents and
stakeholders know about Columbia and
how we are moving into our third century?
A: We are taking a very systematic approach to
understanding the realities of the day. Our number one
goal is not merely to restore what we had pre-pandemic.
We want to gain an understanding of who we are in this
moment through partnership and conversation with our
alumni, our trustees, our students, faculty, and staff so that
we can begin to see the opportunities that await us unfold.
We want students who are exploring their call to ministry
to realize that Columbia Theological Seminary will be
a village for their development and that they and their
stories are integral to create a kaleidoscope of experiences
within our institution. We may be working systematically
towards our third century, but the path is not going to be
a straight shot from where we are to where we need and
want to be. There is going to be experimentation and with
that experimentation there needs to be an understanding
that experimenting and developing new initiatives does not
mean that every initiative will succeed.
There also needs to be an understanding that the way
we measure success may be different than how we
have measured it before. There also needs to be an
understanding that a new program or initiative might have a
shorter shelf-life – maybe three to five years versus twenty
years. But we’ll recognize that because we will regularly
pause and reflect on where we are, where we are going, and
what is serving us on that journey. It is all about renewal.
After all, that is what the Reformed Tradition is all about.