Drawn up on a 'napkin over coffee'

For all the years of their married life Liam and Precious Atchison had met for coffee and talked about their ideas for helping pastors , missionaries, and their families understand themselves and the people to whom they ministered. Because of their own experiences in ministry, they knew some of the loneliness, frustration, and struggle that was part of being a spiritual shepherd in volatile times. Liam was an administrator and professor in a traditional evangelical seminary on the rainy day in October 2001 when he and Precious met for a date at a coffee house in Mukilteo, Washington. The recent events of 9/11 had a sobering influence on their decision to translate their dreams into reality. They believed that the time was ripe to take the risk of prayerfully launching out on their own.

Liam unfolded a napkin and began to sketch his idea for a model that emphasized the importance of spiritual formation and emotional health as a major outcome of theological education. He envisioned a small classes and personal mentoring with learners exposed to their mentors' daily lives, joys, and struggles in following Christ.

That day Precious also shared her dream, a place to offer spiritual direction to individuals and groups of people who wanted to grow in their relationship with Christ. She envisioned a place to meet one-on-one and to offer retreats. The retreats were for anyone who might be interested, but she particularly thought of a place for pastors and their spouses to get away for a reflective and recharging time. 

The dream becomes a reality

The Lothlorien Retreat and Study Center was born in April 2002 on Whidbey Island in Washington State. The first retreats were held on an island property loaned by a friend. Later retreats were held at various conference centers and a beach house provided by a friend who believed in the vision. Emmanuel House, the household seminary part of Lothlorien, enrolled its first ten students in September 2002. In 2003, board members affirmed the household seminary model, but thought it was better suited to a university city rather than an island that had to be reached by ferry. So, in the summer of 2003 Liam and Precious moved Lothlorien and Emmanuel House to Manhattan, Kansas and the first class of ten students met In Liam and Precious' home in August 2004.

The first commencement for Emmanuel House took place in May 2007, honoring two third-year graduates, Jeremy Krause and Tony Classen.  Later that fall, the first classes began in Lincoln, Nebraska and Brent and Jenni Watson joined the Atchison's as staff members. In May 2009, Liam and Precious moved to Kansas City to lay the groundwork for Emmanuel House there, while Brent and Jenni became the directors of the Manhattan branch of Emma House.