There will be nothing like it in the West Valley.
Grand Canyon University, which in 2016 opened the College of Theology’s graduate school, Grand Canyon Theological Seminary, is infusing millions of dollars into giving the school a physical presence that will position it as a hub for the city’s pastoral community.
“This is going to be a really big investment in the West Valley,” said Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology.
Not only is GCU dedicating incredible resources to create a physical seminary space for the graduate school, which until now was largely online with in-person residencies, but it is offering future students a significant tuition and a housing discount for those who qualify.
The initiative is a major step for the University as it continues the faith-based legacy it embarked on in 1949 when it started offering biblical studies and training pastors.
GCU is repurposing roughly 17,000 square feet on the first floor of its main office building on 27th Avenue and Camelback Road, converting the area into a dedicated seminary space with access to more space in the four-story, 325,000-square-foot structure.
When it opens to its first on-campus graduate students in September, it will house a reception area, classrooms, conference and study spaces, faculty offices and what the University is banking on being a major draw — a seminary-focused library collection separate from its undergraduate collection on the second and third floors of the Student Union.
“There is no theological library collection like this in the West Valley,” said Hiles.
The seminary currently supports learning among its large online student body with a robust collection of ebooks and electronic periodicals. With the opening of the new on-campus facility, faculty will coordinate with GCU Library staff to populate the seminary’s library with a substantial number of print resources, which are expected to be crucial to pastors.
“Part of what you’re called to do is to actually minister to people through prayer and the Word of God. We’re people of the word, so you’ve got to know what it says and what to do with it, so books are just a really big deal to any pastor and minister,” he said.
If someone comes to you as a pastor and they’re suffering, you open up the Book of Job to help that person and, “You go, ‘Wow!’ This is powerful. I wonder what others in the history of Christian thought have done with this? So you find these amazing conversations across two millennia. … People find that incredibly helpful given the complexity of what it is to be human and the complexity of what it is to serve humans.
“As people of the word, if you know how to apply the word to specific challenges people are facing — families, communities — it can be really amazing, but you have to be a lifelong learner to be able to keep pace.”
And Grand Canyon Theological Seminary, with this new physical space, hopes to invigorate the Christ-centered community and help its lifelong learners keep pace.
The initial focus will be on educating students to receive their Master of Divinity degree, the gold standard in theological education and the basis for ordination across many different denominations.
The Master of Divinity program requires students to complete 82 credit hours. It’s a three-year program for students who attend full time.
While some students will choose to continue to attend Grand Canyon Theological Seminary online, Hiles said the new physical space offers that in-person option. Classes will be offered in the day but also at night to accommodate students who may have jobs or other daytime obligations.
Beyond the physical space, GCU also is investing in seminary students who will be launching their programs in the fall. The cost of tuition is being cut in more than half. Those who qualify also will get half off of campus housing.
And with plans to reopen the Canyon 49 restaurant adjacent to the seminary space in Building 71, “It’s going to be pretty incredible,” Hiles said, to see students grabbing a cup of coffee, preparing their sermons, heading to the library to research text for those sermons, then meeting up with faculty if they get stuck on a particular text.
“This is the kind of space where you’re going to be able to pop in, talk to people, meet people,” Hiles said. “… This is going to be humans, an activated space, lots of energy.”
And lots of possibilities.
It’s a chance for GCU to play a part in Arizona raising its own pastors — to train pastors right here in the state who will remain here after graduate school.
It’s also a chance to connect with churches and for those Christ-centered communities to connect with GCU.
Think of pastors being on campus and sharing the same space as a Worship Arts student who might drop in to perform for an event. When that pastor needs to fill a worship minister position, he or she will have access to those students.
Or, “If you’re a pastor and you’re really relational … and you can’t figure out where to start a conversation, this gives you that access (to have that conversation with faculty and other pastors),” Hiles said.
“The University in some ways needs to be owned by the local churches, and that’s a win-win for them to think of this as their university. … I’d love for them to take some ownership of this space.”
GCU wants to be that centralizing force for the pastoral community.
“One of the most amazing things about GCU is … we’re coming together as a Christ-centered university — we share Christ in common and we’re trying to draw people together on the basis of that.
“There’s something unique about GCU doing that at this scale. It sets a culture and a tone that’s incredibly positive.”
The fall seminary cohort starts Sept. 4.
GCU Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or 602-639-7901.