Refurbishing Seminary Apartments as Ministry

If you ask facilities coordinator Jim Farman about his student work crew, he beams about the dedication and quality work his “kids” contribute. If you ask the students on the Facilities Team what they like about these part-time jobs, they talk about how they are being shaped for ministry.

Before Farman was hired to oversee maintenance in the seminary student apartments, the work was outsourced to professional painters, cleaners, and repairmen. 

But with Farman’s pedigree of maintenance know-how and his native ability to teach others how to do new tasks, and by hiring and training students, Calvin Theological Seminary was able to create many more student part-time jobs (to help students finance their educations), get better results, and at a cost savings.

Often students come to seminary apartments with their families and a course of study that can take three or four years (even more for the Ph.D. program).

About 30 percent of the apartments need to be turned over each year: cleaned, painted, and repaired as needed for the next students and their families to move in. Summer is the busy season.

The facilities team students, many of them international students, have been taught how to prep and paint trim, walls, and doors, or how to systematically do the “deep cleaning” of appliances, bathrooms, cupboards, and floors. It’s not long before they are able to work independently on the tasks.

Because they feel a sense of loyalty to the facilities team, they take ownership of the work by getting the job done well and on time, said Farman. 

Farman chuckles when he tells the story of women students who virtually took apart every component of a stove cooktop to clean the grease and grime that had built up over a few years.  They clean “better than my wife”—and her standards are very high, he said.
But the story beneath this story is the formation for ministry that is taking place in the midst of cleaning ovens, sanding walls, and rolling paint. These students see object lessons in the work of making apartments like new again.

“I like to renovate because it reminds me of the need for spiritual renovation in human life. Sin distorts man’s behavior and conduct. The gospel of Jesus Christ can renovate humanity and bring people back to a new life,” said one team member.

A fresh coat of paint is like a fresh coat of grace needed to restore a sinner back into community.

Students also reflect on how working with their hands on rather menial tasks helps to hone their humility, an essential quality of the servant-leaders they are becoming.

And it’s not lost on them that Jesus, trained in carpentry, and Paul, the tentmaker, knew what it meant to work with their hands. 

“Working with our hands makes us humble, helps us to understand and respect others who are working with their hands,” said a student.

A final lesson they learn is about being and building community. In spite of their diversity of languages and countries and callings, they are mentored by Farman and his supervisor Jim Lakin to do their work as unto the Lord—as a team.  

During the summer, they begin each day with a student-led devotional and prayers for one another as well as the particular work of the day. Then they practice what it means to work as a team with strong cooperation and mutual respect.

At Calvin Seminary, formation for ministry is not just happening in classrooms and internships and mentoring groups. It’s happening in and through the lives of the students who roll up their sleeves and work with their hands to make things new for fellow students joining them at Calvin Seminary.

About the Author

 

Jinny De Jong, Calvin Theological Seminary

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