Sunday, 3 May 2020

An ICS Update from Ron Kuipers

Dear Friends,

I hope this message finds you safe and well! Spring is definitely in the air here in Toronto, even while residents are being asked to refrain from public gatherings, such as the annual pilgrimage to High Park to witness the marvelous cherry blossoms exploding there this time of year. I don’t know about you, but after over a month of physical distancing measures, I am finding it difficult to embrace the turn into this new season, a time when our thoughts would otherwise bend toward themes of hope and renewal.

This year, my church’s Easter service came in the form of listening to a pre-recorded audio file, followed by live fellowship in the form of a Zoom meeting that over 60 families attended. While the service was meaningful and the digital gathering afterwards quite lovely, the whole experience made me realize how much I miss being able to gather in person. The traditional ritual at our church on Easter Sunday is for each person to approach a cross at the front of the sanctuary that has been covered in wire mesh, and insert a flower into it. By the end of the ritual this ugly symbol of Roman imperial torture is transformed into a sign of the new life we experience in Christ. I missed participating in that ritual this year, even as many of us made sure to have flowers beside or behind us for our Zoom gathering.

Is there a lesson in this strange Easter experience? I’m not sure. It has been hard for me to celebrate resurrection life when every time I turn on the TV I’m greeted by a mounting tally of disease and death, or when I hear terrible stories about people who are unable to be present for their loved ones’ final moments. Yet at the same time, like the flowers slowly yet steadily populating the cross, stories of resilience and hope also begin to percolate all around me. As I walk my dog through my East York neighbourhood, I begin to notice all the chalk messages inscribed on the sidewalk that my neighbours, and not just the children, are sending to each other. Simple yet profound messages of solidarity and encouragement. And I find myself encouraged.

In the midst of this pandemic, ICS is also continuing to look forward in hope. As we are learning how to host meaningful learning experiences from a physical distance, we are discovering that a powerful thoughtful discussion does not necessarily depend on people gathering in the same room. Could this be a way for students interested in ICS, but who for whatever reason cannot relocate to Toronto, to participate in ICS’s programs?

We have resolved to find out the answer to this question by launching what we are calling the “Summer Online Learning Initiative.” Beginning in May, ICS will be advertising a suite of courses that can be taken from anywhere. The initiative will begin with a six-week adaptation of my course on Hannah Arendt: Evil, Resistance, and Judgment: Hannah Arendt and Religious Critique. These courses will serve current program students as well as, hopefully, new students who would otherwise not be able to join us at ICS.

In these and other ways, we are continuing to pursue the educational mission God has entrusted to us, while striving to remain open to the new possibilities that are emerging all around us, like all the tiny flowers in the cross at my church. Thank you for journeying with us, and for all you do to add flowers of your own.

Wishing you all blessing, health, and peace. Be well, my friends!

Important Notice: Over the last two months, our communications via regular mail have been severely limited due to the physical-distancing policies in place across Canada. Given this reality, we ask that you help us get this communication, and others to follow, into the hands of those ICS supporters in your immediate community who rely on regular mail to get information from us. As you are able and comfortable, please share ICS email communications with them, and encourage them to send us along any email addresses at which we can contact them.

To our faithful donors: If you have recently mailed in a donation and have not received a response from us, please don’t worry! We have not had access to our mail for over six weeks due to physical distancing measures at Knox College. However, we are happy to announce that as of Wednesday, April 29th, the mail has resumed delivery to ICS. We deeply apologize for this inconvenience and ask for your continued prayers as we process this backlog as quickly as possible.

During this time, if you would like to make a donation, the best way to do this is to go to our “Donate” page on the ICS website and make a donation online through CanadaHelps. If you’re in the U.S., you can similarly make an online donation through the Friends of ICS website.

You can also find the latest, periodically updated information on the steps ICS is taking to work through the current public health challenges on the News section of our website.

As we continue to roll out courses over the summer, we will make announcements and update our website with the latest information. Currently, you can find details about the Arendt course on this page, with details about more courses coming soon! If you have any questions about current or upcoming courses, please contact our Registrar, Elizabet Aras at

Thank you so much for your continued support!

Prayer Letter: May 2020

Friday, May 1:

For many around the world, the beginning of May is joyously celebrated as the height of spring and the promise of new beginnings. In the midst of this continuing public health crisis, may our eyes be open to the many blessings God bestows on us amid the revival of plant and animal life. And let’s pray for God’s grace, strength and the continued health of our ICS staff and faculty as we continue to live through this COVID-19 crisis.

In the theme of new beginnings, we also give thanks with ICS Junior Member Julia de Boer and her husband Sankalp for the birth of their son Theophil John de Boer-Lal on April 30. Mother and baby are both home resting from a long and stressful labour amid both complications and abnormal public health conditions. We ask for prayers for their continued recovery and Julia and Sankalp’s adjustment to a new pace of life as parents. We are overjoyed at the blessing of new life among the ICS community, and look forward to welcoming this new addition in person at the first possible opportunity.

Monday, May 4 - Friday, May 8:

We want to give thanks this week that we are finally able to receive our mail at ICS. Not being able to receive communications from our friends and supporters has made this time of physical distancing even more difficult. But praise God -- the mail has arrived!

We ask for your continued prayers for the Leadership Team as they work toward finalizing the draft budget for approval at the Board meeting at the end of May. This is proving to be a complicated process as it is difficult to assess the impact of COVID-19 on future revenue and expenses. Pray for grace and insight as we endeavour to make the wisest possible stewardship decisions.

Monday, May 11 - Friday, May 15:

On Tuesday, the Summer Online Learning Initiative will begin with a six-week adaptation of Dr. Ron Kuiper’s course on Hannah Arendt: Evil, Resistance, and Judgment: Hannah Arendt and Religious Critique. Dr. Kuipers will be joined by ICS alum and recent University of Toronto graduate, Dr. Andrew Tebbutt, in the presentation of this summer online course which we trust will attract students and alumni from far and wide. Please pray for wisdom for Ron and Andrew as they lead the course, and for all the participants that they may benefit greatly from the opportunity to reflect deeply on the relevance of Arendt's very timely insights for today’s world.

We also ask for your prayers for the planning and execution of our new Summer Online Learning Initiative taking place May through August. Please pray for Gideon Strauss as he leads the academic program, for the staff involved in its administration and promotion, and for the faculty and students who will be teaching and taking the courses.

On Friday evening this week, the ICS community would have been gathering together for our annual Convocation. However, because of the physical distancing measures in place, Convocation 2020 had to be cancelled. We will greatly miss this time of giving thanks to God for sustaining and guiding us in our mission, and for the achievements of our graduating Junior Members. Despite the fact that we cannot gather together to celebrate in our usual way, we pray that we will remember with gratitude the diligence and insights each of our students has demonstrated these past years, and pray for them in the vocations to which they are called.

Monday, May 18 - Friday, May 22:

Please pray this month for our Junior Members as they wrap up their course papers, with some also working on their theses. It is an intensive period, with diligence and focus required. May God grant them clarity of mind and inspiration as they develop their insights in their writing projects.

Please pray this week and next for all the preparations that need to be made by the staff, Leadership Team, and Board members for the upcoming Board meeting at the end of the month. Please also remember to pray for Gideon Strauss and Elizabet Aras as they continue to prepare for the meeting of the Senate in mid-June.

Monday, May 25 - Friday, May 29:

On Thursday, May 28th, the Board of Trustees will meet virtually in two 90 minute sections, before and after lunch. Please pray for grace and wisdom for our Chair, John Joosse, and all our Board members as they deliberate together on the various matters before them during these unpredictable times. Pray also for ease of use of the virtual meeting technology so that the deliberations go smoothly with little or no disruption.

As we come to the last day of May, we want to express our gratitude to our supporters for all the ways you have encouraged us and blessed us during this difficult time.

Thank you for being there for us!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

An ICS Update from Ron Kuipers

Dear Friends,

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has suddenly, and perhaps, permanently altered our everyday reality. For example, I am writing this letter as I work from my home, and am not sure when I will be able to return to the office. Like many other organizations, the ICS campus has effectively closed for the time being, so that we can follow instructions from public health officials to practice social distancing.

As you no doubt experienced, this situation has been evolving rapidly, and in the middle of a busy semester we at ICS have had to react suddenly and rapidly to this emerging health crisis by adopting measures like suspending in-person seminars and replacing them with remote-access delivery modes like video teleconferencing. Our faculty and staff are also figuring out how best to continue to work together during this time of social isolation.

While it hasn’t been easy, I am very proud of the resilience and flexibility the ICS community has demonstrated during this difficult time. Classes have continued with minimal disruption, and administrative staff have remained diligent in the performance of their assigned duties. While we miss each other’s company and the camaraderie we enjoy working in the same space together, we remain in good spirits as we continue to pursue the mission in Christian higher education that our Lord has entrusted to us.

In the days ahead, ICS leadership will be tasked with making many difficult decisions, and so we ask that you, the support community that undergirds ICS, pray for us. Pray that God’s wisdom will bless our deliberations, and that we may rise to the challenge of this moment with a spirit of innovation and creativity that enables us to recognize new possibilities for advancing God’s Kingdom that is ever in our midst.

Over these past weeks we have seen the impact that both the stress of uncertainty and the loss of social connections can have on us, and on the people we love, but we’ve also seen the power of community. Our staying physically apart for this moment in time is simultaneously an incredible act of social solidarity and an expression of love for the vulnerable. This fact alone gives me hope that together we will continue to bear each other’s burdens in the challenging days ahead.

As a supporter of ICS, I finally want to thank you for the continued trust you place in us, and it is my prayer that we continue to earn your trust through the difficult period we are only now just entering. So much remains unknown, and this creates anxiety. The only balm for this anxiety is trust. Through the trust we place in our Maker that even now he is leading us on the way we should go, and the trust we place in each other as we together strive to discern that direction, we gain the confidence to proceed step by step to build a strong bridge to a new reality.
I wish you all blessing, health, and peace. Be well, my friends!

Important Notice: During the next few months, our communications via regular mail will be severely limited due to the social-distancing policies in place across Canada. Given this reality, we ask that you help us get this communication, and others to follow, into the hands of those ICS supporters in your immediate community who rely on regular mail to get information from us. As you are able and comfortable, please share ICS email communications with them, and encourage them to send us along any email addresses at which we can contact them.

To our faithful donors: If you have recently mailed in a donation and have not received a response from us, please don’t worry! We are temporarily unable to access incoming mail due to the lockdown at the university buildings but are working to resolve this situation as soon as possible–all the while protecting the health and safety of our staff. We deeply apologize for this inconvenience and ask for your continued prayers as we devise a contingency plan for mail-in donations.

In the meantime, if you would like to make a donation, the best way to do this is to go to our “Donate” page on the ICS website and make a donation online through CanadaHelps. If you’re in the U.S., you can similarly make an online donation through the Friends of ICS website.

Thank you so much for your continued support!

Prayer Letter: April 2020

Wednesday, April 1 - Friday, April 3:

Once a month, the administrative staff of ICS gather together in one room to update one another and to provide support where needed on the various projects that everyone is involved in. This Wednesday is our April meeting day, and instead of meeting in one room, ICS will have its first virtual meeting via Zoom. Pray that as we gather together online we will experience the same support and camaraderie with one another that we have when we are together in person.

Just like last year, ICS will be holding this month its spring retreat for staff, faculty, and students -- but with a big twist! Gideon Strauss and Elizabet Aras have been hard (and creatively!) at work making a virtual spring retreat a reality. We’re grateful for their efforts and ask for prayers for their continued strength and inspiration in their work. We pray that this important culminating event in the school year will be uplifting and hope-filled as we build community and reflect on the various lessons, insights, and blessings in the past academic year.

During these trying times, we request your prayers for our Junior Members June, Abbi, and Theoren as they journey back home for the summer months. We pray in a special way for their health and safety in the journey, and for a joyous reunion with their families and loved ones.

Monday, April 6 - Friday, April 10:

We are requesting prayer at this time for one of our Junior Members, Julia de Boer, who is 35 weeks pregnant with her first child, immunocompromised via pregnancy, and has a history of respiratory illnesses. Thankfully, her husband, Sankalp, can work from home, and they remain fully sealed off from the world, likely for 4-6 weeks until baby arrives and some time afterwards. However, this state of emergency because of COVID-19 has created huge uncertainties and anxiety for them, especially as they contemplate the prospect of delivering in hospital in the midst of a pandemic, with little access to family or friends. Please pray that their isolation will be effective in keeping Julia healthy, that their little son will arrive just when he ought to, and that she will be able to deliver safely and without fear in hospital

This is Holy Week -- the most joyous time in the Christian calendar. It is a time of celebration beyond hope, because with Easter, hope is made real. Christ’s resurrection heralds the final triumph of life over death. Let’s pray together that despite the limitations of gathering together to celebrate, the Easter message of new life and hope will bring joy and wonder to our hearts.

Monday, April 13 - Friday, April 17:

As this semester’s classes wind down, please pray for our faculty as they continue to provide the teaching and mentoring to our Junior Members in these dramatically different conditions. We pray that the remote teaching will face as little disruption as possible, and that mentoring relationships can still lead to the flourishing of ideas and furthering of projects for our Junior Members.

We ask for prayer for the staff and faculty as we wrestle with the many decisions that need to be made regarding the scheduling of events that normally take place April through June, and into the fall semester. There are so many unknowns in the current environment that planning becomes an ever-changing activity, so we pray for insight to know how to make these decisions wisely.

Monday, April 20 - Friday, April 24:

Professor Emeritus, Hendrik Hart, has been receiving chemotherapy for his cancer during these past few months. The COVID-19 outbreak has required a review of Henk’s available options to either continue treatment or put it on pause. Both options have significant risks, but he has chosen to pause treatment for now, and will be carefully and frequently monitored by those who care for him at this time. Please pray for continued wisdom for the medical staff and for protection and peace of mind for Henk as he navigates these uncertain times.

The Finance Committee, along with the Leadership Team, are hard at work this month on the coming year’s budget. Please pray for them in their deliberations, that they might be granted insight, wisdom, and hope as they make stewardship decisions for the 2020-2021 budget year in the midst of a financial environment that is largely unpredictable, volatile, and constantly changing.

It is with sadness that we announce that ICS is cancelling Convocation 2020 as a result of COVID-19’s limitation on social gatherings. We will greatly miss the opportunity to gather with our community to honour our students and to celebrate with one another at this important annual event. We pray that over these next months that we will find grace and peace in the knowledge that God is ever present with us.

Monday, April 27 - Thursday, April 30:

We ask for prayer for our administrative staff as they continue to navigate the complexities of doing their work remotely. They need wisdom to determine the best ways to keep the information flowing to prevent the feeling of isolation and being siloed in the projects they are working on. As well, please pray for God’s hand of protection on each one that they will continue to be healthy and experience his peace and comfort during this unsettling time

We give thanks for our Junior Members who are such an important part of our community and have been a real blessing during this difficult time. We pray for them as they wind up their course papers over the next few weeks and try to make plans for their summer work and studies in the coming year. We pray for them that they might experience peace and comfort, and that they might continue to find many inspiring, exciting, and varied opportunities to explore their respective work and research interests.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Updated: ICS During COVID-19


ICS Leadership, staff, and faculty have been hard at work in past weeks monitoring the daily developments to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, strategizing, and discerning immediate and long-term ways forward for our programming, courses, and events. Today, ICS had to make a number of difficult decisions regarding quickly-approaching events, deadlines, and courses.

Unfortunately, in response to current public health recommendations and the enforced limitations on travel and public gatherings, we must CANCEL Convocation 2020, the honourary doctorate celebration of Dr. Barbara Carvill, and ART in Orvieto 2020. Lord willing, we will have the opportunity to revisit these celebratory and educational opportunities again next year. Thus, our current intention is to honour our 2020 graduates together with our 2021 graduates at our Convocation next May, and to likewise gather to celebrate Dr. Carvill at that time. We also intend to offer ART in Orvieto again during summer 2021.

We've also decided to adapt the original plans and deadlines for our Undergraduate Workshop, the summer course on Hannah Arendt, and admission to our MA-EL and MWS-ART programs. For this year's Undergraduate Workshop, we have tentatively rescheduled the event for Fall 2020 and extended the submission deadline until July 31. For our MA-EL and MWS-ART programs, we've extended our standard application deadline until August 1. And for the Hannah Arendt course, we're currently considering the possibility of the course being delivered remotely.

Given the unpredictability of current circumstances, ICS will continue to offer its courses remotely until further notice in order to remain as adaptable as possible in our efforts to make an ICS education readily available. So please stay tuned for more information regarding upcoming summer course opportunities currently in development, as well as increased possibilities for online education into the next school year. And, if you have any questions about these or any other ICS courses, programs, and events, please do not hesitate to reach out to us by phone or email!

We remain cautiously hopeful in these days and, as always, invite your prayers for students, staff, and faculty alike in their various callings and day-to-day lives.

MARCH 17, 2020 UPDATE:

Following the city of Toronto's increased social distancing recommendations, and the University of Toronto's closure of most of their library locations, ICS will close its administrative offices and library effective today until public health authorities declare it advisable to resume in-person operations. We greatly value the health and safety of our staff, faculty, and students--as well as our neighbours--and we consider this a small but important step to slowing the spread of this virus.

ICS staff and faculty will continue working regular hours remotely during this time, and may be reliably contacted by email if you wish to get in touch for any reason. We will continue to monitor the public health situation daily and will make any important updates (including the status of upcoming events and summer courses) known to you here as soon as possible. To that end, we also continue to invite applications to our Undergraduate Workshop in May, our course on Hannah Arendt in April-June, and ART in Orvieto in July-August. No fees for these courses/events will be charged until it is clear that the courses/events will in fact take place.

In the meantime, our Senior and Junior Members forge ahead with classes and projects, our staff go on planning and executing everyday operations, and we all pray for safety and swift healing for those affected by this health crisis. 


In light of the ongoing development of the COVID-19 virus, and in conjunction with our colleagues at the Toronto School of Theology and the University of Toronto, ICS has determined that it is appropriate to cancel all ICS in-person seminars for the remainder of the Winter semester (March 16-April 10). Junior and Senior Members have already been notified accordingly about how to participate in their respective seminars via teleconference during this time period.

Because we share a campus with both Knox College and the University of Toronto, ICS has committed to following the lead of Knox College, the Toronto School of Theology, and the University of Toronto with respect to the implementation of any social distancing measures deemed appropriate.

For the latest on these specific measures, you can read a message from the President of UofT here. For the latest on Canada's COVID-19 monitoring, national response, and prevention and preparation advice, please visit the Government of Canada website or the Toronto Public Health page.

Following campus measures, the ICS offices and library will remain open during this period, and we will continue with daily operations. We will keep you updated as to whether any of this changes, and about the status of upcoming ICS events as we continually monitor the state of affairs on campus, locally, and globally. We also request during this time that anyone who feels ill stay home and seek appropriate healthcare if necessary.

ICS is grateful for your patience and support as we adjust and attend to the unfolding situation day to day, and as we seek to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our students, staff, and faculty.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Honourary Doctorate to be Awarded to Dr. Barbara Carvill

The Institute for Christian Studies is pleased to announce that it will be awarding an honourary doctoral degree (D. Litt., honoris causa) to Dr. Barbara Carvill. Barbara's prolific and influential body of academic work, as well as her enduring commitment to ICS and its scholarly mission speak to the transformative impact of her love for learning, and make her an eminently worthy recipient of this award.

Barbara has been connected to ICS since the early 1970s, when she and her husband Robert first moved to Toronto. Since that time, she has taken on many official roles, serving twenty years as an ICS Senator, during which time she also served as Chancellor of ICS. She currently serves as President of the Friends of ICS, ICS’s US charitable foundation. She has also funded ICS's Carvill Student Award and the Robert Carvill Book Award in her late husband's memory, and has contributed to two ICS Master's thesis examinations as an external examiner.

Barbara's life and career beyond the walls of ICS also bear witness to a thoroughgoing devotion to the well-being of learners. She has taught German at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI since 1978, where she continues to teach as Professor Emerita. Calvin University has recognized Barbara's gifts as an inspirational teacher, giving her the Exemplary Teacher Award in 2003 and the Faith and Learning Award in 2011. With her colleague Wallace Bratt, she has also inspired alumni to fund the Students of Wallace Bratt and Barbara Carvill Scholarship for German majors and minors at Calvin—thus demonstrating the continued vitality of her legacy as an advocate for Christian education.

Throughout her career, Barbara has published numerous articles, reviews, and other publications on various topics in German literature of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. From this specialization and from her own nascent love of languages, her scholarship has played a significant role in fostering a Reformationally "integral" Christian perspective on foreign language learning. This integral perspective is most apparent in the book she co-authored with David Smith, The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality and Foreign Language Learning (Eerdman's, 2000), and again as a co-author of Teaching and Christian Imagination (Eerdman's, 2016).

In addition to her teaching and writing, Barbara has a gift for organizing others around an integral vision for language learning. She is a key figure behind the formation of the North American Christian Foreign Languages Association and is a founding member of the North American Christian Foreign Language Teachers' Association (currently called the Christian Association of World Languages), where she served as President in the 1990s.

Taken together, the legacy of Barbara's thought and teaching presents a concerted call to see learning as, fundamentally, an act of welcome—a call she continues to make to this day. In short, Barbara's career has consistently modeled not only heroic support for ICS but also an effective way to carry the central intuitions of the Reformational tradition into the specific area of language learning.

ICS is both grateful and indeed honoured to be able to confer this degree upon Barbara. We hope you will join us for Convocation on May 15, where Barbara will deliver the keynote address, to celebrate her life’s work and the lasting impact she has had on all levels of Christian education.

Edit: Unfortunately, because of travel restrictions and health concerns surrounding COVID-19, ICS must postpone the conferral of this degree until our next Convocation ceremony in 2021. Once public health social-distancing recommendations slacken, and possibilities for gathering become clearer, we will invite Barbara to deliver a keynote address and celebrate her achievements along with those of our 2021 graduates.