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Colin Watson Earns First D.Min. from Calvin Seminary

May 29, 2024
Colin Watson, Sr., former executive director of the CRCNA, earned a doctor of ministry degree from Calvin Theological Seminary.
Colin Watson, Sr., former executive director of the CRCNA, earned a doctor of ministry degree from Calvin Theological Seminary.

Wearing dark robes and a red stole, Colin P. Watson, Sr., recently strode across the stage at the Covenant Fine Arts Center to receive both the diploma for his doctor of ministry degree and a big hug from Jul Medenblik, president of Calvin Theological Seminary.

As he took part in the ceremony on Sat., May 18, Watson, former executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, became the first person to complete all of the requirements to earn a degree in the seminary’s new doctor of ministry program.

Earning the degree and being able to reflect on and share what he has learned, said Watson, has been another step in a years-long journey that has included leading the CRCNA through the many challenges that faced the denomination during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By God’s grace I’ve been able to live and have a career in a range of very different spaces,” said Watson, who worked as a corporate executive in various settings for many years before retiring and then serving in a series of ministry positions, both in his home church and then in the denomination.

In recent years, as he neared retirement from the CRCNA, Watson decided he wanted to do scholarly research on issues dear to his heart. This worked out for him when Calvin Seminary started a doctor of ministry (D.Min.) program in 2020.

“I entered the D.Min. program as a way of trying to make sense out of my experiences and how God has both been leading and at work in me. I especially wanted to think deeply about the issue of race.”

With this goal in mind, Watson undertook a research project that, among other things, led him to interview and chronicle the thoughts and experiences of a handful of Black CRCNA pastors and church leaders. His effort culminated in his dissertation, titled Leading in White Spaces: The Experience of African American Pastors as Leaders in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA).

“I worked and went in-depth with past and current pastors and leaders who were involved with local churches and missions,” he said. “I looked at issues of race and racism and how this impacted their lives and ministries. I also wanted to look at matters of leadership and multiculturalism and how we do church.”

Although his dissertation is yet to be published, Watson will discuss some of the findings at the first-ever Doctor of Ministry Public Lecture starting at 6:30 p.m. on June 4 in the Calvin Seminary Auditorium. The event is open to the public.

Even before presenting his lecture, Watson will be teaching a seminary course on transformational leadership. At the same time, by his very presence in the classroom, he will likely exemplify many of the traits that have characterized his steady, openminded approach to leadership.

“It is important as a leader to have a heart to see God at work in the community and have a holistic view of what God has called you to do,” Watson said. “I believe it is important to have the perspective that all people are valued and that this is what God has called you to do and embrace.”

Growing up as the son of a senior postmaster in British Guiana, now Guyana, Watson said his initial interest was in such areas as mathematics and science. Yet, at the age of 10 he went to a crusade and heard an evangelist, a former gang leader from Harlem named Tom Skinner, preach.

 “What he said and how he said it opened up the door for me to see God’s truth in a way that had never happened for me before,” recalled Watson, who grew up in an Anglican home.

While Watson said he had not considered a career in ministry, Skinner’s words stayed with him over the years. Church and connection to God remained.

After retiring from the corporate world, Watson, along with his wife, Freida, got involved in their local church, Madison Avenue CRC, in Paterson, N.J. That led to serving on various boards and committees for the CRCNA, which eventually took him, always with the gentle but firm push and pull of the Lord’s leading, he said, to top positions in the CRCNA.

Looking back on his movement from role to role, he said, “it’s been important to remember that we are all created in God’s image. So often it seems that the world misses that point and only gives it lip service.”

Even before diving into research for his dissertation, Watson said, he believed that bridging the racial gaps that divide us can only come if we are committed to overcoming the personal barriers keeping us separate.

“The only way to have a full understanding of the other person means we have to be willing and able to become comfortable enough to talk about the deep aspects of our lives,” he said.

One on one, and in groups, we must make the decision, and follow through on it, to learn about – with the sure help of the Holy Spirit – the long and painful history of those things that have divided us along racial lines, added Watson.

“I believe all of this requires training and interaction. You have to get into conversations in which we ask, ‘What does it mean to serve and live as different races together?’”

In his dissertation Watson seeks to examine the many issues and challenges that Black pastors and leaders have faced as they have worked in churches and other settings. He also delves into the teachings and concerns of such Black leaders as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and theologian Dr. Howard Thurman, seeking to offer a look at the visions they offered in the struggle for racial reconciliation.

In the process, Watson lists and describes the ongoing struggles that remain in truly bringing people of different racial backgrounds together under God’s all-encompassing tent. Doing this is hard and can be very discouraging, he said.

“But in the midst of all of this, we continue to have hope,” he writes in the dissertation. “This is not weak wishful or magical thinking . . . but the profound knowledge, belief, and conviction that the Holy Spirit continues to be at work—in us as individuals, in us collectively, in our communities, and in our nation—and the Holy Spirit cannot and will not fail.”

Through the stories of the pastors and other leaders he interviewed, coupled with quotes and reflections from books and articles that examine the hard-fought efforts that try to bring unity among God’s people, Watson seeks to offer a way forward for the church he led for many years.

He gives practical recommendations, based on his research, on how to open our minds and hearts to one another – a significantly difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible task. But it is an effort, Watson writes, worth our energy and commitment.

Considering what he learned from all the leaders he interviewed, Watson believes that being the church means being linked by understanding and holding one another, along with our many differences, together in the hope that Christ brought with his death and rising again.

In his dissertation, Watson writes: “With all of this in mind, the church of Jesus Christ needs to have a new commitment to the ministry of reconciliation: a new commitment to the creation of a multicultural, multiracial society in our church community as a picture and a signpost for society of what adherence to the gospel looks like. This commitment entails a critical consideration of specific factors affecting Black leadership in the context of a historically white institution.”