A Wycliffe “fixture” says farewell

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Nov 15, 2017

After 20 years, Wycliffe Business Director Peter Patterson is retiring at the end of this term. Peter’s leadership, expertise, and integrity have been integral to the success of the College; so has his example of humility, discipleship, and faithfulness to his calling. He has never taken a paycheque from Wycliffe, a fact he describes as “evidence of God’s blessing, that God provided some margin,” allowing him and his family to contribute in such a significant way.

Q:             Tell us how you first became involved with Wycliffe.

PP:           I came to Wycliffe in the first few months of 1998. For most of my career to that point, I had been in the insurance industry, working for the previous 10 or 12 years as CEO of a large insurance company that eventually merged with [another large reinsurance firm]. Throughout that period, I viewed my calling as being a Christian in the workplace, and I enjoyed that.

But when the company was purchased, I had to make a decision as to where I wanted to work going forward. I was fortunate that I was in a position where I had a choice, and I decided I would work in the Christian non-profit sector. My rector at the time had a connection with Wycliffe College and I got a call from them to help. I came with a view to helping for a few months; at that time they were not in very good financial shape, so I didn’t charge the College for my time.  

I’ve been so blessed in the time I’ve been here. It was clear God was using this place, and to see God enriching [the Church and culture] through it, it’s been wonderful to be a part of that.

Q:             Tell us about some of the most significant changes you’ve seen during your time here.

PP:           I’ve seen a lot of change. The donors have been so generous. The College today is on a very firm financial footing compared to what it was 20 years ago.

The leadership has also been wonderful. I’ve been here for three principals: Michael Poutney, George Sumner, and now Stephen Andrews, as well as two remarkable interim principals: Alan Hayes and Peter Mason. It’s been a great thing to see those kinds of leaders raised up for the College, and they’ve all made their mark.

The staff changes have also been critical, enhancing, and strengthening the College and making it an institution that I’m proud to be associated with.

Q:             What about the students? How have they changed?

PP:           Some things don’t change: the fact that they’re Gospel-centred, committed, and form lasting community. But the numbers have increased. There’s a much larger proportion of non-Anglicans than when I first started, with more than 40 denominations represented. There’s been quite an increase in the international flavor as well. So many of our students now are non-residents, online, part-time studies, and distance students. A lot of these things are driven by our increasing capabilities, but also by economics in the churches.

Wycliffe graduates proliferate the Church, and I always get a kick out of seeing students pass through here and go on to become so successful. 

Q:             Of course, much of this change has also been driven by the broader culture.

PP:           I often thought, when I was in the business world, that Christians in business had even more credibility than clergy. People expect clergy to be a certain way, because they’re paid to do so. Being faithful is a good business strategy. Because who wouldn’t want to be treated as a child of God? Ethical and kind behavior builds trust. I don’t think that’s changed.

But there’s more cynicism today. So the job for clergy is increasingly challenging. Many people simply haven’t had the experience of church or Christian community. How do you reach new generations given that reality? But we see many successful churches today run by Wycliffe grads.

Q:             You must greet this approaching life transition with some measure of sadness. What is your hope for Wycliffe for the future?

PP:           I do. It’s bitter sweet. But it’s a voluntary act on my part. Institutions go on. And we have excellent people here who are quite capable of picking up the things that I’ve done. I’m comfortable that the College will flourish and continue to be a beacon in the challenging world we live in. I think the school needs to be strategic, and light on its feet to be able to change direction. Not moving away from the Gospel, but in how it delivers the Gospel and prepares people for ministry. Wycliffe has done that continuously throughout its history. And we can count on God to help us be ready and capable of walking in that path in the future.

I’ll miss the people here. I’ll miss the growth moments, the “Aha!” moments. Much of the reward has been seeing God work in this place.

But I’m active in my church, Christ Church St. James, so I’ll still have the opportunity to see God at work there, and in the lives of my three grandchildren as well. I’m looking forward to having more time for my wife Barbara, and for them.

I do feel it’s been a gift to have been in this place.

I see God’s hand mostly by looking back, and see how he has influenced my life. And certainly, I see him in how I ended up here.

It’s very reassuring to see God’s hand at work in your life. You can’t ask for more than that.