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Expanded Statement of Mission - Enacting a College Mission

D. The Mission of Calvin College in Community

To have a sense of community is a laudable goal for nearly all groups of people working and living together; to state precisely what constitutes a particular community, however, may well be the most challenging and divisive task for the members of any community. The very elusiveness of the term poses dangers for including the building of community as a mission of the college. The danger is heightened by the dramatic transformation of Calvin College from a small institution serving almost exclusively the sons and daughters of the Christian Reformed Church to a large and complex institution involving a diverse student population, an increasingly diverse faculty, and a multiplicity of concerns extending beyond the classroom. That diversity renders earlier assumptions about community inadequate.

At Calvin College we seek to be a specific kind of community-a learning community. The nature of community should grow out of our educational task as well as the principle that learning is done communally. Students and faculty together acquire knowledge and insight. Members should help one another cultivate aspirations, nurture commitments, and practice what we profess. The college as a whole, in its structures and its ethos, should have the same aims. In this community learning goes well beyond the classroom, making it possible and necessary that all campus life promote the educational tasks.


The Making of Communities

The college's commitment to community affects its internal life-the way in which students, staff, and faculty work together-and its external relationships with other institutions-the way in which it forms partnerships to work with others toward common goals.

The making of an internal community has an obvious point of departure. People gather in different capacities at Calvin College because of a common commitment to educational aims, spiritual values, and religious beliefs. These define the needs of community as larger than any one individual's personal satisfaction of needs. Community therefore consists of more than just being together or knowing everyone, more than simply harmonious co-existence, more than gratification of individual needs for companionship. Similarly, community is more than simple like-mindedness on issues of moral values, more than spiritual gratification through modes of worshipthat the individual finds personally satisfying.

Community properly understood is also more than a collection of individuals who agree to work together. As a community the whole of Calvin College is greater than the sum of its parts, and its structures, ethos, and institutional weight must meet the following ideals which it sets for its members. The college is particularly called to embody justice, compassion, and self-discipline in repenting of such sins as racism; in so doing, we can show forth the redemption which it is God's purpose to forge.

A Purposeful Community

The fundamental principle for community resides first of all in a cohesive purpose. However like-minded or diverse its members may be, the community exists to enact a purpose; in the case of Calvin College that purpose is to shape hearts and minds through higher learning for Christian living. Therefore, the end of individuals working in community is always larger than any individual self-interest. Purpose, moreover, consists of more than tasks; purpose entails the mutual holding of common confessions that direct individual tasks. In this sense, the purpose of all participants in Calvin College 's mission arises from our sense of being agents of God's plan. The particular expression of that agency is the individual task to which we are called. Purpose, then, consists of being called to a task: to realize God's reign as we implement the mission of the college.

A Just Community

This purposeful community, moreover, will be a just community. The community recognizes the worth of each member, because each person is made in the image of God. The college has affirmed that "we must try to make the student aware both of the Christian tradition and of contemporary Christian thought and activity. But also we shall seek to develop that which is unique in each student. We shall not seek to turn out every student from a common mold" (CLAE 35). This commitment to the unique individuality and giftedness in persons unified by a common purpose remains foundational to our sense of community. So is the commitment to embody justice in the college's institutional arrangements and to call students and faculty to pursue the demands of justice, on campus and off. Such a task-oriented vision of community insists that we all employ our gifts in responsible service.

A Compassionate Community

Purposeful and just, the kingdom community will also be compassionate. Community depends on its members being in concerted sympathy with the tasks and gifts of others, mutually supporting and encouraging one another, and recognizing the worth, dignity, and needs of others engaged in communal tasks.

Properly understood, compassion is a liberating force, for it consists of how we see ourselves in relation to others. Compassion enables one to admit to individual limitations; to confess the need for support, and to acknowledge that, no matter how stellar the contributions of one individual, such achievement could not occur without the labor and caring support of others. Moreover, compassion allows us to recognize that we are, finally, fallen and fragile creatures, and that even in our inability to achieve desired tasks or goals we are nonetheless worthy as image-bearers of God.

A Disciplined Community

Finally, compassion is tempered by discipline. The Christian community will be an orderly community. Genuine compassion requires discipline, including the orderly pursuit of the college's mission. A sense of disciplined order bears profound implications for the very governance of the college and the manner in which we conduct our daily affairs. At no time may the community permit a tyrannical exercise of will in lieu of leadership, nor may it tolerate imposition in lieu of the informed discussion and decision of all members of that community.

Having described these elements of community, we must identify what keeps a community centered on its purpose and vitally committed to its principles of justice, compassion, and discipline. Clearly, working and learning together keep us focused. But it is more than that. Maintaining community requires rituals, celebrations, worship, traditions, and experiences in which the members of the community remember the past, honor the present, and give promise to the future. They will be a people both of memory and hope, learning and living in community.

The college's mission in community must be true to its Reformed tradition, mindful of its rich heritage, welcoming of new partnerships, and growing in its sense of God's global community. Therefore, community must be understood both internally-that is, who we are and what we are about as a body of people upon this one campus-and also externally-that is, in light of the relationships we forge with other communities.


The Qualities of Internal Community

Our common calling at Calvin College is to do our Lord's work. Our roles vary widely, but each person fills an important and necessary role in the mosaic of people that form Calvin's community. Despite the complexity and multiplicity of tasks in the college, despite what seems at times to be fragmentation into departments for teachers, majors for students, specialties for staff, the intrinsic and irreducible unity of the Calvin College community inheres in the fact that all these diverse tasks are directed to one fundamental mission of the college.

The tasks of our daily life together are guided by faithfulness to the Word. We aim to be conformed more and more to the likeness of God incarnate, willing to receive the mind and heart of Jesus. We also aim to be agents of reclamation, reconciliation, and renewal. We believe that we are, as individuals, as groups, and as a whole gifted by God to be such agents of a common aim.

Most in the Calvin community readily affirm these givens. Yet, because we are also broken, not-yet-completely-whole human beings, we are vulnerable to forces that erode our community's strength and stability. Threats to community are manifold, but in a college setting, certain unique pressures appear, from the secular values that permeate higher education generally to the pressures of the academic calendar with its swings between the demands of teaching, advising, and grading. Nonetheless, there appears much to encourage one in the college's commitment to community, even as that communal life is being redefined. First of all, the communal effects of scholarship and teaching have been in evidence through seminars and colloquia, as well as a myriad of student groups. Calvin's vitality as an academic community is also promoted through the college's approach to service learning that engages students and faculty in addressing the needs of those in the larger community. Informal Bible studies and prayer support groups have grown in numbers and presence on the campus. Cultural, religious, and athletic events extend our campus community into the surrounding community and provide opportunity for members from the college to cooperate with and support one another in common projects. Increasingly, then, members of the college have seized opportunities to serve, learn, and worship together in varying forms.


Mission to Community Beyond the College

Particularly important to Calvin's internal community is the way college members work together to serve communities beyond the college campus. The Reformed vision of the Christian faith moves outward to engage, to learn, to transform, and to redeem. Community at Calvin College is not an end in itself, but a threshold for enacting in the world the purpose, justice, sympathy, and discipline that serve as the basis for our community. Christian Liberal Arts Education forthrightly asserts this fundamental conviction of Christian community: "Christian education . . . must not be based on those withdrawal tendencies which have so often invaded the church. Equally, it must not be based on accommodation tendencies. Rather, it must be of service to the community of believers as it seeks to implement its Christian vision in the midst of society. It must aim at preparing the student to live a life of faith in contemporary society" (p. 37). The college, then, does not see the world as a malevolent structure to be avoided; rather, it sees the world as God's creation and as a community of which we are a part even as we work to reclaim it for Christ. By so doing, the college has both benefited its geographical community and benefited from its involvement with other, external organizations.

The college has established significant academic relationships with both geographical and professional communities. A commitment to offering evening courses and a Continuing Education program brings the primary purpose in Calvin's mission-shaping the hearts and minds of people for Christian living-to bear upon the greater Grand Rapids community. The work of educating, however, extends far beyond course work available in a limited geographical area. In recent decades the college has, through education and scholarship, forged partnerships whose scope is international.

The outreach to an external community, moreover, will be marked by an insistence upon justice, identifying clearly the injustice in this world, refusing to tolerate it, and working to eradicate it. The college has engaged remarkable efforts to effect this transformation, to let justice roll down like a river upon a needy world. In the face of spiritual relativism or the rejection of the spiritual, we proclaim the authority of scripture as the foundation for justice itself and the mandate to make amends for our own accommodation to injustice and inequity.

The college's involvement in society will not be motivated by solipsistic concerns, but out of a genuine compassion toward a needy world, even toward those who profess to have no need. Here, perhaps, lies one of the greatest challenges to the college's mission in the future, to shape in all its members hearts of servanthood. Concerted efforts must be made to inform this community of such needs and to work to address them.

Finally, the college's mission to the communities beyond the campus will be marked by discipline. On the one hand, that discipline will be an internal one as we discipline our hearts to move away from personal satisfactions and to the needs of others. Such discipline requires a spiritual reordering, an evaluation of who we are as God's people, what we do as Christ's disciples, and to whom we answer for our own attitudes and practices. On the other hand, that discipline will require the commitment to go out into the world to help rectify the errors marring it and to engage with those being gathered from every people and nation to bear faithful witness to God's name and glory.

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