Seminarian Joins Emmanuel Family

Welcome, Will Robbins!

I Have a Call, No I Don’t, Yes I Do?

From age 5 or 6 William Anthony Robbins, whose name has the unfortunate, but sweet association with a Disney tale or a late comedian, told people he wanted to be a minister when he grew up. “I grew up in a church and in a family that loved the church and loved the Bible,” he remembers.  All through high school, he kept this sense, but when he went to college, he realized he also wanted to explore and see the world and put that possible call to the test.  An Alabama boy, he ended up at “Ole Miss” as a Liberal Arts Major.

After graduation, Will went on to work on a cattle ranch in Montana.  Wonderful outdoorsmen, the ranchers taught him a different way of life and the value of working with your hands.  A new appreciation for who God might be grew from attending “church under the sky” with the other ranchers.

After he had saved up enough for international travel, he made a trip to the Holy Land. There, he participated in a peace and conflict studies program, which included courses in Arabic and Hebrew.

After completing that six-month program, and frankly feeling a little lost, Will applied to Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Boston in 2010. It has since merged with Yale Divinity School. “But it wasn’t the right time,” he reflects.  “After the first semester, I dropped out. I realized that I had merely fallen back on an old identity that just didn’t fit me at that time.”

Enter Olivia!

Heading back to the Middle East again, he accepted a position to teach 4th grade in 2011. A year later, he returned to the Holy Land to teach 6th grade and later high school English. He spent several years teaching in Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem.  There he met his wife-to-be, Olivia Grugan, who was also a teacher!

In 2015, Olivia came back to the states and started grad school for her teaching degree at Pitt. Will returned also, and found work at a juvenile placement facility in Ligonier, PA. Once Olivia graduated in 2016, she got a job teaching social studies and Spanish at Tyrone Area High School near Huntingdon, PA, Olivia’s hometown. Will followed Olivia to Huntingdon, working in social services and also coaching basketball.

Near their home in Huntingdon, Will and Olivia began attending an Episcopal Church, a church unfamiliar to the young couple. Before visiting St. John’s Episcopal Church, Will had been active in many churches in the Protestant tradition, most notably Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, United Methodist, and a nondenominational “megachurch.” Olivia attended a Brethren church during her childhood and later, became active in a Quaker community while in college.

Will recalled his first service at St. John’s as “overwhelming.” He said, “I was daunted by all the books used in the service, But, I loved the people, and stayed.” In addition to the people, Will said that the Episcopal Church gave him a new angle into faith through its liturgy. “I saw that I needed to heal from my old way of approaching God,” he confesses, “the Episcopal Church held a place for mystery…”  Respect for the sacred, he observed, as seen in the little movements — bowing, kneeling, standing, walking up to the altar, influences the mind subtly but profoundly, coaxing it to worship.  Will had seen the same thing in temples, mosques, and other holy sites while in the Holy Land — their bodies were deeply involved in their worship.  “At the time, I saw this as a new way in — into God,” he says.  Once again, he found himself opening back up to God, and “letting God into a place where I’d been hurt and therefore, closed.”

“It’s Me Again, God!”

Just when Will thought he would never return to the ministry, the Rev. Gene Tucker of St. John’s Episcopal Church encouraged him to consider looking into the priesthood. With Olivia’s support, he applied to seminary once again. In the end, Will chose Pittsburgh Theological, (PTS) because of its location, its financial package, and its relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

When asked what Will hopes to gain from seminary, he remarked, “First, I hope to gain a degree!”  But he also added, “I love to learn. I simply enjoy studying, writing, and talking about the Bible.”

Now in his second year, he is tutoring other students in Biblical Greek at the seminary (Greek came easily to him!) after working in the seminary’s maintenance department during his first year. Will and Olivia live in a seminary-owned apartment near the school’s campus. Will and Olivia were married last July in Huntingdon at the Peace Chapel, an outdoor memorial designed by Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. Their officiate was an Episcopal priest, who Olivia had befriended while attending a Quaker meeting in college!

So why Emmanuel?  Our own Rev. Canon Dr. Cathy Brall who previously held a number of different positions in the Diocese now works at PTS as the Field Placement Director.  Cathy and Don go way back.  Knowing Will was an “outsider,” meaning outside the Diocese since he is a nominee from the Diocese of Central PA, she suggested Emmanuel for his fieldwork.

Will started attending Emmanuel last spring. He was delighted by the sense of community here. “I saw a family here, a sense of caring and belonging,” he muses, “and I wanted to be part of it.”

He is grateful for the wealth of knowledge and reverence for liturgy he sees in Don, and Don’s commitment to training him in the nuances of liturgical symbolism.  He appreciates the different approach Don takes to ministry generally.  Not pushing programs, but being more “relationally minded,” with an eye to meeting the needs of the community.   “Also,” Will concedes, “ministry with and not for others is a challenge to my Type A personality of always wanting to do more and be more.”  Not having to put this pressure on himself to get people in the door is refreshing.  Without a focus on growth and allowing for more room to connect with the priest and with each other, Will is learning how one is able to operate a church with few resources, yet without compromising its values.  A valuable education indeed.

Another happy surprise Will noticed at Emmanuel?  The way we do Prayers of the People. “There is an organic engagement,” he suggests; “there is space for Prayer.” (Duh?)

Prayer is what we are all here for, Will.  We are happy to have you join us!

Welcome to Emmanuel, Will, and Olivia!  We love you already. ❤️❤️

” …for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”   ~ Romans 11:29


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