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Occupy New York City

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It started with a passion and a strategy.

In the late 19th century, God ignited an overwhelming love for all people in the heart of a minister named Albert Benjamin Simpson. The leader of a dignified Protestant church in Manhattan, he was troubled that masses of people were not welcome to sit among this fine congregation to hear the gospel message.

In 1994, the Jaffray School of Missions was renamed the Alliance School of Theology and Missions. Photo courtesy of Nyack College and C&MA Archives.

So God gave A. B. Simpson a strategy to embolden his passion. He was to engage underutilized laypeople in the church and prepare them for gospel ministry. This ultimately motivated Simpson to establish a school that would prepare ordinary people to do the extraordinary work of taking the whole gospel to the whole world.

In 1882, Simpson began lecturing in Manhattan on the topic of “The Spiritual Need of the Masses in the City and the World.” When attendees approached him about volunteering to serve unreached people overseas, the strategy God gave Simpson came to life. He immediately formed the first “missionary class.”

One year later he opened a missionary training school in Manhattan at 8th Avenue and 32nd Street. In 1883, this school moved four times, finishing the year on the rough backstage of a theater on 23rd Street. By 1884, the school’s enrollment had reached 40 students.

What’s in a Name?

Simpson’s school moved four more times before settling at the Gospel Tabernacle at 690 8th Avenue in 1890. Considering the school’s nine moves within eight years, some compared the school to the nomadic tent in the wilderness recorded in the Book of Exodus.

New York City has always provided opportunities for Nyack College to present the gospel—including professional-caliber concerts featuring students at Lincoln Center. Photo courtesy of Nyack College and C&MA Archives.

The school’s continual relocations sometimes placed it in less than adequate facilities. Yet despite ongoing changes and challenges, the missionary training school thrived in its transience. Students seemed to overlook what was described as “ramshackle properties” and “makeshift classrooms.” They focused on purpose, not facilities.

In addition to changing locations, the school changed names several times in its early years. Simpson first referred to it as the Missionary Training School for Christian Evangelists. Once its doors officially opened, it was the Missionary Training College for Home and   Foreign Missionaries. That name was shortened to the New York Missionary Training College. In 1894, it became the New York Missionary Training Institute.

Regardless of its location or its name, enrollment at Simpson’s school grew because it met a need. Ordinary but overlooked believers from the city and beyond were hearing God’s call to serve, and they found their way to the New York Missionary Training Institute.

When Simpson’s school relocated to a more spacious building next to the Gospel Tabernacle on 8th Avenue in the city, enrollment rose again. This growth was so rapid that the need for an even larger campus building quickly became apparent. Simpson and his leadership embarked on their most ambitious move yet, when in 1897, the school purchased land outside of New York City, on a hillside in the village of Nyack overlooking the Hudson River.

Construction commenced on the new facility, which would provide housing and classroom space for its 250 students. Despite complications and budgetary overruns, the Institute Building was completed in October 1897. Simpson, the man God used to launch the missionary college, would teach, write, and lead from the Nyack campus until his passing on October 29, 1919.

More name changes were to come. In 1956, the school’s name changed to Nyack Missionary College. In 1960, the Jaffray School of Missions was founded as a graduate-level program of the school. In 1962, Nyack College took on its current name. Nyack’s three-year course of study, which became a four-year program, was also granted regional accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges in 1962. In 1974, the Jaffray School was renamed the Alliance School of Theology and Missions, and by 1979 it became Alliance Theological Seminary.

While the picturesque hillside in Nyack became home to the college, the connection to the unparalleled opportunities in New York City has always been present. “World Missions in Review” was presented at world-renowned Carnegie Hall, and professional-caliber  concerts featured students at iconic Lincoln Center. Over the decades, teams of student volunteers served in a variety of ministries throughout the city, living out the gospel they studied in the classroom.

Ethnic Diversity

In 1987, Nyack’s newly approved Degree Completion Program offered classes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, enabling working students to finish a college degree by attending evening courses. With the success of this program, Nyack’s leadership envisioned even greater involvement in the city.

In 1997, the college reestablished an extension site in Manhattan. This initiative was achieved in part by bringing together compatible but unaccredited city-based educational ministries under Nyack College’s organizational and educational framework.

Nyack College’s mission compels the school to build on its past and engage the world of the future. Photo courtesy of Nyack College and C&MA Archives.

Nyack’s New York City site experienced immediate and dramatic enrollment growth much as it had under Simpson. Within four years, the Manhattan campus enrolled more than 1,000 students with approximately 750 in undergraduate programs and more than 250 in seminary.

In a development that would have greatly pleased its founder, student enrollment in the City marked a trend of increased ethnic diversity. Subsequently, Nyack became nationally recognized as a leader in diversity among U.S. college campuses—not just for the student population but also for its faculty and staff.

Once again, like a century earlier, enrollment growth created the need for a larger and permanent campus building, which the leased properties at 93 Worth Street and 110 Broadway in Lower Manhattan did not provide.

Remembering Simpson’s experience with trying to secure campus space in Manhattan, Nyack’s president and the leaders of The Christian and Missionary Alliance called their constituents to a day of prayer in November 2009 for the “Miracle in Manhattan.” God answered their prayers in a most unexpected way.

A Changing Landscape

In the aftermath of 9/11, then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg moved numerous city offices to One World Trade Center, commonly known as the Freedom Tower. This vacated 166,000 square feet on eight floors at 2 Washington Street adjacent to Battery Park, approximately one mile from the college’s leased campus space.

In 2011, the college signed a lease to occupy space at 2 Washington Street, which included a complete build-out to create a state-of-the-art educational facility. Nyack’s leadership insisted on including a provision in the lease for the college to purchase the eight floors.   The building’s owners agreed to this because history suggested that the college would not be financially able to act on that provision.

In yet another answer to prayer, God enabled Nyack to secure a private loan from an individual who believed in the importance of Nyack’s presence in New York City. In May 2015, the school exercised its option to purchase the campus at 2 Washington Street. Nyack College, the school launched in Manhattan by Simpson’s vision for the whole world, now had a permanent home in New York City.

The school’s location established by Simpson had primarily been a platform to execute his strategy: to prepare laypeople to engage unreached people or, according to the school’s mission statement, to prepare the whole church “to take the whole gospel to the whole world.”

Nyack will serve the students called and capable of taking the whole gospel to the world. Photo courtesy of Nyack College and C&MA Archives.

The landscape of higher education in the early years of the twenty-first century was obviously very different from Simpson’s day, but the strategy that gave birth to the Missionary Training Institute is relevant today. The twenty-first-century world is rapidly becoming globalized and urbanized, yet relatively few evangelical Christian colleges exist in the large cities of the U.S., and only two operate in New York City.

Nyack’s mission compels it to build on its past and to engage the world of the future. Nyack will serve the students called and capable of taking the whole gospel to that world. Often those best positioned to reach the globalized, urbanized world have inadequate resources to fund higher education, or they are children of immigrant families not served by the cost structure of a typical private college.

As a response to shifting student demographics and a changing economic and educational landscape, Simpson’s school is moving again. This time the move is a return to the city of its birth. Beginning in the fall semester of 2019, all degree programs of Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary will be offered at its New York City campus.

Preparing Hearts and Minds

The strategy God gave Simpson to prepare ordinary people for extraordinary work has often required that his school relocate—first multiple times within New York City, then to Nyack, and now back to the city. These moves have always brought change and challenges, but the school has always been the platform for the strategy which has defined the school even more than its names or its location. This strategic mission has always come first.

In a history of the Missionary Training Institution written in 1952, Dr. C.D. McKaig observed,

Nyack College now has a permanent home in New York City (second building from left). Photo courtesy of Nyack College and C&MA Archives.

Of (Nyack Missionary College’s) future, no one can be altogether certain, except for one great and glorious truth: the coming of our Lord draweth nigh. He is coming, but did He not tell us to occupy until He came? Occupation requires dedication, and dedication requires preparation of hearts and minds.

Sixty-seven years after these words were written, Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary will head to the place God has called it to occupy: its miraculous campus in New York City. It does so dedicated to the strategy of preparing the hearts and minds of those who will answer His call to take the whole gospel to the whole world until He returns.

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