Imagining a Far Greater Campus

Westminster Theological Seminary has been blessed with its historic Glenside campus since 1937, a little less than a decade after the fledgling seminary got its start in a Philadelphia brownstone. Although J. Gresham Machen passed away before he had a chance to enjoy the new campus, the stately mansion that has stood at the center of the campus bears his name. Pursuing his hope for a better home for his students, Dr. Machen spent the last years of his life developing the seminary and its vision, and speaking to donors about the purchase of the campus we occupy today.

     Under the leadership of the founding faculty guided by Cornelius Van Til, Westminster’s early students watched the campus develop dramatically over time. The carriage house was the first library, and the gate houses and upper floor of Machen Hall provided modest housing (as they do today). In fact, a founding systematic theology professor, John Murray, occupied the third floor of Machen throughout his career at Westminster. To this day, those rooms are referred to as Murray Heights.

     Over the years, Montgomery Library was built to house our outstanding and growing collection of volumes, and Van Til Hall was built to provide academic classroom space with a lecture hall and auditorium that has also doubled as our chapel space. More recently, the Andreas Academic Center, housing faculty offices and the Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards, was added to the Montgomery Library. These wonderful spaces, contributed by God’s people for the work of Westminster, have been welcomed by faculty and staff, and have shaped the experience of thousands of graduates.

     In more recent years, from the needs of a growing student body, a new far greater vision has emerged. Ideas and dreams for a next phase of Westminster’s campus have never been in short supply, but when a generous friend of our seminary proposed a new academic building that would become the center of Westminster’s mission to train the next generation of scholars and pastors for Christ’s global church, these dreams suddenly became tangible. This donor and his wife pledged $5 million as a concluding challenge grant for the project, and when it was noted that there was no master plan to build the campus, he generously offered substantial funding for a campus plan that would encompass all aspects of a rebuilt and improved campus.

     This far greater vision for our campus brought together the renowned architectural skills of Ayers Saint Gross and the effective leadership of Mr. Jim Sweet, our seminary’s general counsel. The design and planning unfolded over many months, culminating in the approval of Westminster’s master plan by township officials. Mr. Sweet calculates that, over the last six years, thousands of man-hours and attendance at scores of community meetings have been invested in securing the final approval of our master plan that is now in operation.

     This far greater vision enables us not just to imagine Westminster’s campus of the future, but to begin building it, brick by brick. We are praying that this next phase of Westminster’s campus will serve our Lord and our students well into Westminster’s second century of service that will begin in 2029—only eight years away.

"We are praying that this next phase of Westminster’s campus will serve our Lord and our students well into Westminster’s second century of service that will begin in 2029—only eight years away."

     What will this renewed, reimagined campus look like? How will it be far greater? In the spirit of the visionary verses of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:20–21, we know that our Lord can do far more than we can ask or think, indeed far more than we can imagine. So, with humble dependence upon Him, we are praying for a campus that is far greater than what Westminster has been able to serve on thus far. Truly, the Lord is worthy of far greater than what we’ve ever given Him.

     This renewed campus, then, envisions several improvements. First, a new academic building will be joined with a dedicated chapel. Imagine Westminster being able to train pastors to preach in churches around the world from a chapel building on our campus! We’ve not been able to do that before. Further, while we’re grateful for the decades of memories in Van Til Hall, we’ve outgrown its walls. Built at a time when energy costs were not a concern and modern technology for global outreach was not a factor, Van Til Hall will eventually make way for more modern facilities where we can continue to explore the profound theology of its namesake.

     Within the new academic building, constructed to harmonize with the stone architecture of our iconic Machen Hall, we will have the capability to implement the most recent technology to capture every aspect of the work of the seminary, and to make it available for our students globally, for Christ and His global church. Additionally, there will be a designated dining hall for daily meals with faculty, residential students, and staff. Further, it will be joined with the chapel, designed with a sense of transcendent reverence, while supporting other functions of our academic and institutional life.

     Furthermore, we envision, by God’s grace, a far greater ability to care for our students from around the country and around the globe by providing on campus residence halls. We pray that at this first phase we will be able to build at least one of our two planned residence halls, providing much needed living accommodations for single and married students. At long last, the convenience of studying and living on campus will be a possibility.

     Alongside these grand construction projects, we are intent on improving student experience in Machen Hall, benefiting admissions and student counseling and care, and doing the same in our library. Plans are being developed to make our rare books more accessible, even as we focus on the digital aspects of the library that will serve the students of tomorrow, making research more accessible and effective.

     Please rejoice with us that Lord has allowed us to launch this far greater vision with a successful revitalization project! Already this October we plan to dedicate this project during our annual Westminster Conference on Preaching and Preachers. Although in the Lord’s providence there hasn’t been much opportunity to show it off until now, in the last two years our campus has gained the necessary infrastructure for each of the buildings that we are praying for. Additional campus roadwork and parking have been entirely redesigned so that there is an altogether new sense of community in our corner between Willow Grove Avenue and Church Road. Cars no longer whiz through the campus, creating a sense of uncertainty when students walk from building to building or to their cars.

     We are rejoicing at a number of amenities that have been added to the campus making it more comfortable and enjoyable for students whether they will live on or off campus. These improvements include a walking path—sometimes referred to as the “Murray Mile” in honor of he and Dr. Van Til’s walking lectures—along which are the “Harry Reeder III Exercise Stations” for students and neighbors, in honor of the long career of our Westminster alumnus and board member. Connected to this is a children’s playground area available for seminary families and neighbors.

     One area we’re especially delighted in is the Jan H. Jacks Hospitality Garden behind Machen Hall, near the president’s office. It is now a beautifully-landscaped slice of creation that will welcome visitors to campus. Some more surprises include a refurbished basketball court and a new Polly’s Pickle Ball Court, named in honor of the wife of a donor. There will be the Light Charitable Pavilion generously provided by Mun and Eun Chung, Eric and Sandy Choi, and Chang and Sook Seo. The nearby Ressler Family Gathering Area includes a grill and a fire pit with seating constructed from large stones that were excavated from the campus. We hope this area will be a popular destination for comfortable fellowship as it is furnished with water, gas, electricity, and lights.

     These extraordinary features of our revitalized campus are truly God’s blessings. Yet there’s even more! In our $50 million Far Greater Campaign, we have, by His grace, raised approximately $33 million of our goal. We are praying that the Lord, if He so wills, will provide the remaining funds we need to ensure that we can build the academic building and the chapel. We are thrilled that there are donors who have promised to supply the needed funds for cutting edge, state-of-the-art technology for those buildings to realize their capabilities in order for Westminster to fulfill its vision for a truly global community.

"In our $50 million Far Greater Campaign, we have, by His grace, raised approximately $33 million of our goal."

     Along with all his generosity, we have also seen the beginnings of the funding of two endowed chairs: one to honor long-serving Westminster board member and founding-father of the PCA, Dr. Frank Barker. The second is to honor our alumnus Ren Broekhuizen, who served not only as a pastor in the Holland and Grand Rapids areas of Michigan, but also ministered for several years as a missionary in Nigeria. How good the Lord has been!

     If you had asked me a decade ago about what the Westminster campus would look like today, I would not have even guessed the scope of what I’ve just described. This is far more than I could have asked for or imagined. But the Lord is at work. This reimagined campus is the fruit of His Spirit working through His people to advance the work of the seminary for the glory of Christ.

     Would you continue to pray with us that the Lord will raise up those special friends and donors who will help us close the remaining gap to build our academic building and chapel? Please pray that the Lord would be so kind as to send generous donors who can help us build one or both of the residence halls as well! For indeed, the Lord can do above and beyond all that we ask or imagine.

     We are seeking to reimagine our campus, knowing full well that the Lord has far greater plans than we could ever conceive. Pray with us that the Lord will provide according to His purpose for the best ministry of Westminster. Perhaps the Lord is calling you to be an answer to these prayers. Please call if you’d like to know more about how your prayers and your generosity will touch the generations to come. Paul assures us that God’s mighty work in and through us impacts not just now, but “forever and ever.” Amen!

Rev. Dr. Peter Lillback (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is president and professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also serves as the president emeritus and founder of The Providence Forum and senior editor of the new Unio cum Christo: An International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life.

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