Editor’s note: The following is adapted from President Martin’s State of the University address on September 21, 2016.
This is a unique moment in our history, as we are recognizing and celebrating our 125th Anniversary. A lot has happened in the 125 years since Seattle Seminary, the forerunner of Seattle Pacific University, was founded in 1891.
John opens the book of Revelation saying, “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.” I consulted with Rob Wall, one of our resident theologians, about this particular verse and he really helped me understand its richness and depth and how to think about it.
He said the words, “Who is, who was and who is to come” are used by John to convey his core belief that God in all his power, love, and holiness has always been present and therefore invested in what is happening in the world he created. The God who was with Israel and Jesus of Nazareth is the very same God who is present with us today and promises to remain.
This moment in SPU’s history is an opportunity to look at “what was and is” and then conclude with thinking about what “is to come.”
On April 4, 1893, when classes began, 12 students were enrolled and campus property included 5 acres of donated land — what is now Tiffany Loop. Today, SPU spans 43 acres, comprising 36 buildings and 50 homes totaling nearly 900,000 square feet — and that doesn’t begin to count an even greater footprint across western Washington, including Camp Casey and the Blakely Island Field Station.
In 1891, it was evident our community would be ecumenical in nature, thoroughly Christian while non-sectarian in our teachings. In 2016, this identity continues, as our Statement of Faith illustrates. We are a community that is orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan, and ecumenical. Given our grounding in Christ, it shouldn’t surprise us our mission hasn’t changed in 125 years.
In the beginning, Alexander and Adelaide Beers were SPU’s only faculty members, offering first grade through high school education. By 1910, the Board of Trustees voted in favor of creating “Junior College work.” We became Seattle Pacific College in 1915, and University-wide accreditation followed in 1936. Fast forward to 2016, with SPU boasting 53 minors, 51 concentrations, 48 master’s programs and concentrations, 5 doctoral programs, and 12 graduate certificates.
Indeed, the past decade has brought the largest undergraduate and graduate enrollments in our history. And along with numeric growth, we have cultivated greater ethnic diversity. Our incoming freshman class has grown from 15 percent diverse in 2005 to 40 percent in 2016.
Our first graduation was held in 1896 and our first graduate was Winfred Grantham. Our Alumni association was established in 1922 and now serves over 45,000 alumni.
Through the years, our alumni have gone on and done great things in our world: fed, housed, and secured land rights for the poor, taught and preached. They are entrepreneurs, business professionals, psychologists, scholars, and cutting-edge researchers; they are treating illness and curing diseases. They are some of the great thinkers of our day while also some of the world’s most compassionate and other-focused people, as they seek to meet some of our world’s deepest needs and address its greatest injustices. Thousands of our alumni are taking Seattle Pacific’s vision to engage the culture and change the world to the far corners of the earth.
While so much at SPU has grown and evolved over 125 years, there is one thing that hasn’t changed: our mission. We are a community that is large but small, broad but deep, diverse yet whole, independent but collaborative, close but not cloistered, faithful but not dogmatic, demanding yet graceful, strong while hospitable, and progressive yet grounded — a place of thoughtful, honest, and earnest convictions though earnestly open.
As we celebrate 125 years of anchoring our faith and our work in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we look ahead to all that is to come. As we confess our faith in an Almighty Creator, we acknowledge a steady God whose powerful grace and empowering love is always with us and for us, a God who goes with us into the future.
Recognizing that God has been with us, is with us now and will be in our future, what is the future we are moving toward? We have been blessed with a 125-year history and thousands of people who have invested in this place, and there is much more ahead. Let us have the courage, resolve, and faith to envision a future worthy of our boldest aspirations, to continue our trajectory as one of the nation’s leading Christian universities. May God continue to richly bless us this anniversary year and beyond.