When Nick Hopkins and Katherine Hirschberg walked across the stage to receive their Master of Divinity degrees at Calvin Theological Seminary’s commencement in May 2012, only God knew where their first steps of ministry would lead.
Fast forward six months to find the two serving at Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church, a rooted and growing congregation just two miles from the seminary where Katherine and Nick studied. Today Nick serves as Shawnee’s pastor and Katherine as its ministry coordinator.
The paths that led Katherine and Nick to Shawnee are punctuated with promptings, pauses, and redirections from the Lord. Yet perhaps precisely because their journeys have been surprising, both say they are clearly called to serve the Lord and the people of Shawnee Park in this first season of ministry.
Forking Roads and an Identity Shift
Nick Hopkins, a transplanted Canadian from New Brunswick, grew up in Florida. His father was a pastor in the Wesleyan church, and Nick’s involvement in worship leadership started early.
“I grew up singing in the church,” he remembers. “It’s where my musical side was birthed.”
While Nick’s childhood allowed him to explore the church world, only later did he suspect a call to ministry. As a young teen, he sensed the Lord leading him to help people through speech pathology.
On the college hunt, Nick looked for a school with three characteristics: a Christian framework, a speech pathology program, and a gospel choir.
“I had never heard of Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church,” he says. “But Calvin fit.”
Nick found a home at Calvin. He exercised his worship-leadership gifts in the gospel choir. And he pursued his program of study, speech pathology, with a passion.
Then, in Nick’s sophomore year, his professor called him in for a meeting. “I got the ‘You’re a fine student, but grad school isn’t for you’ conversation,” Nick says. “I thought, ‘What do you mean, professor? God has been leading me toward speech pathology for a decade.’”
With his academic path unclear, the next year Nick served as a student leader on Calvin’s Barnabas Team. His job was to help other students in his residence hall continue to grow in their Christian faith.
He found that he loved the ministry role. “During that time, I began to say, ‘I want to do Barnabas for the rest of my life.’ My burning question became, ‘How do I give ministry away?’”
He also began leading worship at his local church, Madison Square CRC, and in his senior year became the choir director. What to do after graduation was still an open question.
“I thought, ‘I don’t really know what’s next. But I love Grand Rapids, I love my church, I love my mentor. I’m not leaving.’ And one Saturday morning as I was praying I felt like the Lord said, ‘Go apply to seminary.’”
Nick applied to Calvin Seminary, but not to be a pastor. “I wasn’t willing to admit that I was going for an M.Div. So I applied for the master’s degree in worship.”
But God wouldn’t let Nick forget about the M.Div. Several conversations with professors led Nick to reconsider, and when he returned for his second year at seminary, he enrolled in the M.Div. program.
There was still some question of denominational fit. How does a person who grew up Wesleyan find his way to becoming a Christian Reformed pastor?
For Nick, the answer had less to do with theology and more with his experience of hospitality. Belonging to a Christian Reformed church throughout college and seminary helped Nick find a home in Reformed Christian faith. So did interactions with his seminary professors, who respected Nick’s denominational roots and taught him about Reformed theology in a compelling way.
“Dr. Mary Vandenberg [newly appointed associate academic dean for Calvin Seminary] was one of my closest professor-encouragers,” Nick says. “She’s so unapologetically Reformed but also so gracious. She made me feel like I belonged in this academic and ministry world.”
A Heart for Missions Meets Closed Doors
Like Nick, Katherine Hirschberg traces early inclinations to ministry back to childhood. The granddaughter of a Christian Reformed pastor and the niece of one of the first women ordained in the CRC, Katherine has been on a path toward ministry almost since birth.
As a preschooler, she already recognized God’s claim on her life. “We would sing ‘Here I Am, Lord,’ and I always felt this special connection with God. I really was saying, ‘Here I am.’”
Despite being very shy, 4-year-old Katherine had an evangelist’s heart for a neighbor, Grandma Nell. She remembers initiating an impassioned dialogue with Grandma Nell about the importance of loving Jesus.
“I said to her, ‘Grandma Nell, do you love Jesus?’ And she said, ‘Sure honey, everyone loves Jesus.’ I said, “No, not everyone does love Jesus, and it’s very important that you love Jesus.”
“Through Grandma Nell I realized that there were all these people out there who needed Christ. It opened my eyes to the need to spread the gospel.”
Fifteen years later Katherine found herself at Calvin College, studying English and math. She intended to teach high school and do evangelism in Africa.
Then she took a religion class to fulfill a core requirement. “I was writing a paper on spiritual gifts, and I found myself reading commentaries and wishing I knew Greek!”
She took spiritual gifts assessment for the same class. “All my gifts lined up with being a pastor. I felt that God was clearly telling me, ‘You’re going to seminary.’”
“I told God, ‘All right, but you know I’m terrible with public speaking. So you’ve got three years to show me how to do that.’ He took care of that in amazing ways.”
The next day, Katherine shifted to a pre-seminary program. She was convinced that God wanted to use her overseas and spent a summer with Christian Reformed World Missions in India.
“My time in India was amazing,” Katherine says, “but I got dengue fever and typhoid at the same time and nearly died.” Her doctor’s advice—that she should never again live in a developing country—devastated her.
Back at home, Katherine’s grandfather wisely waited awhile; then remarked, “Well, Katherine, now you know a large portion of the world where God does not want you to do ministry. So maybe that can show you where you should be.”
The next summer Katherine had the joy of leading a couple of children to Christ. “It showed me God could use me in North America; the gifts I had could be effective here. I felt called to be a pastor, and the next fall I started seminary.”
As Katherine started seminary, God still had a few things to work out, including her reluctance to be up front. But she found the barriers coming down.
“If you’ve got this passion from God, God can shift your abilities and natural personality. That’s when I think you really know you’re doing what you’re called to do. When someone who is naturally incredibly shy and never wants to be in the spotlight is excited about preaching, that’s God at work.”
The Way Opens at Shawnee Park
During Nick’s third year at seminary, a church he had never visited sent him a letter inviting him to apply for a newly created full-time ministry coordinator position. The search committee at Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., had heard about Nick through a seminary staff member.
Nick hadn’t planned to leave his job as Madison Square’s choir director. But he found himself accepting Shawnee’s offer. He agreed to facilitate the church’s various ministries, with a special focus on worship, for two years until he completed his M.Div. degree at Calvin Seminary.
As graduation approached, Nick communicated his desire to resign as ministry coordinator effective upon receiving a call to another church. He started looking for his replacement among seminary peers while he and his wife, Megan, explored going home to New England to plant churches.
Then Shawnee’s pastor took another call, leaving a vacancy at the church.
“At that point I was thinking, ‘It doesn’t matter that Pastor Everett [Vander Horst] is leaving; we’re going to be church planting in New England,’” Nick says.
“But it became clear that Shawnee was where I felt called. New England was what I wanted to want, but it was not where I was called.” Nick was ordained as pastor at Shawnee Park in September 2012.
Shawnee welcomed the new pastor but still needed a ministry coordinator.
Rewind six months to spring, when Nick had approached his classmate Katherine Hirschberg about applying for the ministry coordinator position.
“At the time, I asked Nick if he thought [the position] could be ordained,” Katherine says. “And he said, ‘Probably not.’”
“So I thought, ‘Well, it’s nice that he thought of me, but I’m called to be a pastor.’ So I said no.”
Over the next four months, Katherine continued search processes with other churches and again declined interviewing with Shawnee.
“But then I started thinking, ‘I could use my gifts well at Shawnee.’”
Three days later, Katherine’s phone rang. A member of Shawnee’s search committee said, “We’re asking you to reconsider. We’re partway through the interview process and your name keeps coming up.’”
Katherine interviewed the next day. She and her husband, Tim, found themselves in a discernment process.
“One of the things Tim said was, ‘All along I’ve been praying that you would find a ministry position where you could use your gifts. I haven’t been praying that you’d be ordained.’
“So we decided that this could be where God was calling me. I accepted the job.”
Katherine recruits and trains church members for ministry. She also facilitates communication and cooperation with Shawnee’s ministries and their volunteers. About once a month she preaches.
“I very much feel called to be here at Shawnee now,” Katherine says. “My overarching calling is to be a pastor. I don’t know if I will be ordained in one or two years, or 15 or 20 years. But I’m doing ministry now, and it’s so deeply good,” she says.
Supported on the Journey
As Nick and Katherine’s first year together at Shawnee unfolded, they recognized a need for more training in leading a growing ministry. So they contacted Calvin Seminary president Jul Medenblik, who came to the seminary after 16 years of pastoring a growing church in Illinois.
“We said to Jul, ‘You grew a church; we’re in a growing church. What do we do?’” Nick remembers.
The three met for lunch to begin this conversation.
“The seminary is training people to be lifelong learners. That means the door is open,” Medenblik says.
“Meeting with Nick and Katherine helps me as president stay connected to alumni and students.”
“I wanted them to know, ‘You’re not isolated; you’re not alone. We want to come alongside you.’ That’s our vision at Calvin Seminary: to help church growers and planters.”
Now on the cusp of their second year at Shawnee, Katherine and Nick depend on each other’s ministry strengths and reach out for support available to them.
And they rely on God’s Spirit. With delight, they watch God on the move at Shawnee and witness his surprising ways.
“I’ve found that I’m sometimes used when I least expect it,” Nick says. “The Lord uses you when he will use you, not necessarily when you think you are at your best.”
Pray for Seminary Students from Around the World
Emmanuel Saba Bileya, Th.M.,Nigeria
Nigeria’s official language is English; about 50 percent of the population is Christian. Sharia law has been introduced in Nigeria’s northern states, challenging the country’s government and threatening Christians in the affected states.
Please pray that God will equip me to serve him faithfully as I study. Pray also that God will protect my wife and six children from the religious and ethnic crisis back in Nigeria, and that he will restore peace and justice to Nigeria. Pray that God uses the Nigerian government to serve his purposes.
Yakuv Gurung, Th.M., Nepal
Nepal is home to eight of the 10 highest mountain peaks in the world. Poverty is a challenge: 47 percent of the population is underemployed and working less than half time. Nepal is predominantly Hindu, but a Christian church has been planted in each of its 75 districts.
Please pray for my studies, for my financial needs to be met, and for the health of my family. Please pray that my home church will take the gospel around Nepal and establish many new churches so that the gospel is planted in every corner of the country. Pray also for political stability and for the November constitutional election in Nepal.
Eduardo Gonzalez-Rodriguez, M.A. in Worship & Educational Ministries, Honduras
Ninety-six percent of Hondurans identify themselves as Christian, and children make up more than half of the country’s population. Widespread poverty is a root cause for the difficult socioeconomic challenges Honduras faces.
Please pray that God will grant me wisdom to discern what I am learning at seminary and make applications in my context. Pray for courage, as the move back to Honduras with my family represents a major challenge. Pray also that violence would cease in Honduras: that drug trafficking, gang activity, and organized crime would lose hold of our towns and citizens.
Jiyong Kim, M.Div., South Korea
Six of the 10 largest Christian churches in the world are in South Korea, and about one-third of South Koreans identify as Christian. North Korea’s Christians are a very small minority, about 1 percent of the population.
Please pray that I will continue to grow in the Word and in the Spirit as I study, and for more fruitful relationships to be a part of my life. Pray also for North Korea, because the oppression and persecution of Christians and peaceful citizens is horrific. Pray that God will open up and heal North Korea in his time, in his way, and through our prayers.
Ali Salim, M.T.S., Indonesia
The Christian church in Indonesia has grown over the past 50 years. Even so, today only about 5 percent of Indonesians are evangelical Christians in this predominantly Muslim country.
Please prayfor health for family, that I can finish my program next year, and for leading about future studies after I graduate.
In Indonesia, children are educated according to their own religious convictions. But it is often the case that a Christian student may learn about Christianity from a Muslim teacher and be misinformed. Pray for God to provide Christian teachers, specifically Christian teachers who can teach Christianity, so that the gospel of Christ will spread throughout Indonesia.
Note: Information about these countries was adapted from operationworld.org.
Calvin Theological Seminary Factoids
- One of every six students studying at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) is from Canada; one of every five is female.
- Three of every 10 students come from outside North America.
- 322 is the total number of students for all course enrollments.
- CTS professors taught more than 2,170 individual classes last academic year to their residential students.
- 20 seminary students served as pastoral ministry interns this summer in 20 Christian Reformed congregations across North America.
- In 2012, CTS students fulfilled 253 requests for Sunday pulpit supply—that’s almost five churches per Sunday that welcomed pastors-in-training to their pulpits and encouraged them in their preaching.
- 38 students are enrolled in the Distance M.Div. program at CTS.
- CTS has awarded 51 Ph.D. degrees to scholars from around the world in the last 20 years.
- Students, faculty, and staff consumed 3,456 donuts last year during the fellowship break after Wednesday chapels—a different kind of “heart” health.
President Jul Medenblik has lost count of the road and air miles he’s logged since he became president two years ago. But he hasn’t lost count of the warm reception he’s experienced from hundreds of faithful friends and supporters of the seminary as he crisscrossed North America and beyond. During his travels, he’s given away more than 475 towels to symbolize the CTS theme Called to Serve.