Calvin College: A Place of Vibrant Spirituality, Growing in Christ
Chaplain Dale Cooper
Chaplain Dale Cooper
Calvin is a worshipping culture—in chapel, of course, but also in the classroom, in the residence hall, in the scholarly paper, under the microscope, and on spring break.
"Meditate two things, and I'll challenge you to be dull: creation and redemption." Dale Cooper

That meditation, and the worshipful life it inspires, has through long decades been the pre-occupation of the Calvin community. Calvin is a worshipping culture—in chapel, of course, but also in the classroom, in the residence hall, in the scholarly paper, under the microscope, and on spring break.

"What Calvin is about is not just chapel," said Calvin dean for instruction Claudia Beversluis. "For us, worship is something that orients us. Worship is really like phototropism. It is moving ourselves in the direction of God's life."

And in recent years, worship at Calvin—the worship that encompasses every area of life—has arguably come to its fullest flowering. As Chaplain Cooper put it, "This incredible sense of doing this Calvinist project before God's face is heightened."

Chapel is, however, a good place to begin an exploration of worship at Calvin, and Cooper is old enough to remember the shape of the service at the old Franklin campus. "It was a midmorning thing, and it was very predictable. We gathered, sang a song, read the Bible, had a speech—a prayer. Family members took turns. Some were gifted. Some were not. It was standard fare, and afterwards everyone congregated for coffee."

Calvin imported the traditional chapel pattern to the new campus, and for yearsthe Knollcrest worship service served the campus as a Sunday service.

The year 1989 saw the dedication of Calvin's chapel and the beginning of Cindy de Jong's tenure as worship coordinator. "When I got this job, it was just Coop and me," de Jong remembered. "I was in charge of daily chapels. He spoke at all the chapels."

Gradually, worship at Calvin began to evolve in some non-traditional directions. By 1996, the Knollcrest worship service had become outmoded because of the student body's changing needs and desire for contemporary worship styles. That year, Calvin replaced that service with LOFT (Living Our Faith Together), a contemporary, student-led Sunday night service.

Chapel services also experienced some creative growth, much of it motivated by the growing diversity—both ethnically and spiritually—of the Calvin community. "Because the people in this community come from so many different places, we have to provide worship experiences that are varied and still rooted in the tradition of this college," said de Jong.

Today's chapel schedule is an abundance of worship offerings. On Monday, chapel highlights testimonies of God's faithfulness. Tuesday features liturgical prayers at 8:00 a.m. and prayer and singing at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday is devoted to preaching. On Thursday, chapel-goers lift their many voices with Calvin's Gospel Choir and enjoy the preaching of local African-American and Hispanic pastors. And on Friday, worshippers flock to hymnsing—a student-led praise service, backed by a combo band. Foreign language chapels and jazz vespers lend even more range to the chapel experience.

Common to these services are Calvin's worship apprentices, students who function as worship leaders, singers, musicians, liturgists, technology coordinators, and Bible study and prayer group leaders.

Robert and Cherith Nordling
Robert and Cherith Nordling, co-directors
of spiritual leadership development

"The model is to get the students to recognize themselves as the body of Christ ... in this place, you all belong to each other, so it’s every-member ministry."

Cherith Nordling

The worship apprentice team is one component of the Lilly Vocation Project, a comprehensive study of Christian worship and vocation funded by an $11 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. The project funds student efforts such as the worship apprentices; the Barnabas Team, upperclass students who serve as spiritual mentors in the residence halls; and spiritual development interns, who build worshipping communities among off-campus students.

Other components of the Lilly Vocation Project at Calvin include Jubilee Fellows, students trained for the ministry and placed in congregations as close as Holland, Michigan, and as far away as Campinas, Brazil; the Ministry Resource Center, a collection of practical resources available to area churches; and faculty research projects on vocation.

The focus on vocation is a logical outgrowth of Calvin's mission to equip students as agents of renewal in God's world. Evidenced in Calvin's revised core curriculum, implemented in 2001, students develop a Reformed window for comprehending God's world and their place in it.

Prelude, a core course taught by Calvin's Student Life Division, introduces students to Calvin's concepts of responsible freedom in their lifestyle choices, cultural discernment of the media, and the necessity of cross-cultural engagement. The course Developing a Christian Mind traces an issue, such as the problem of illiteracy, along the Reformed continuum of creation, fall, and redemption. And a capstone class allows senior students to reflect in a redemptive way on their entire college career.

There is ample evidence at Calvin that the messages heard—both in chapel and in the classroom—are being implemented everywhere on and beyond campus. It shows up in the cross country team's Bible study. It shows up in the many hours of service-learning performed by Calvin students. It shows up in the number of people who attend Calvin's Festival of Faith and Writing and its Symposium on Worship and the Arts.

And it shows up in the way Calvin alumni and students keep showing up: in the Sudan photographing the ravages of war; in reading classes at local public schools, and in Iraq rebuilding that nation's infrastructure.

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