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February 15, 2001

Calvin Earns 50k for Christian Vocation

Calvin College has earned a $50,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. to do research on Christian vocation, in preparation for a second grant proposal which the school hopes could net it $2 million.

Calvin College dean Shirley Roels (left), formerly a professor of economics and business, will lead the project. She says Calvin's recently completed overhaul of its core curriculum, a process that took years to complete, fits perfectly with this new grant.

"The new core," she says, "is called 'An Engagement with God's World.' The concept of vocation lies at the heart of this curriculum. Now, through this grant, we will have an opportunity to talk to students, faculty and church leaders from the Christian Reformed Church and a wide variety of denominations and take a close look at the idea of Christian calling."

In fact, the first student surveys were just sent out. "We need to have a proposal in by September 1," says Roels, "so it's time to go to work."

The project will have three main components: First, faculty development: how do faculty encourage students to grapple with questions of vocation, how do they help students explore and think critically about the many layers and forms of vocation, how do they encourage ownership of a vocation and help students realize their own calling within that vocation, especially as they near graduation.

Second, student leadership development: how best can students be nurtured and prepared for active engagement, how do their skills best develop and how can they become involved in the "practice" of leadership.

And third, church leadership development: how can Calvin encourage students to think creatively about leadership and vocation within the church, projects that might include a minor in youth ministry, minor in worship and the arts and more intentional mentoring of students preparing for ministry.

Calvin already has an active mentoring program, a busy Service-Learning Center which connects 90 percent of Calvin students to the community, off-campus interims and semester-long programs and a well-attended program of Chapels and Sunday-night church services, all of which help students think about their future, God's call for their lives and where and how they can make a difference in the world.

But Calvin officials think the school can go further yet.

Says Calvin dean of instruction Claudia Beversluis: "We are eager to use the Lilly (Endowment Inc) grant to think more deeply about teaching and learning that leads students to understand, experience and commit to a vocation. We need to help students become more aware of their calling and develop their capacity to respond to God's call." Calvin also hopes to better help its students serve the church as either full-time workers or lay leaders.

"One of our concerns," says Beversluis, "is that we don't do a very good job right now of encouraging students to work in churches and church-based ministries. Churches face many challenges, everything from worship wars to struggles with evangelism to disconnects with the next generation. And there is a shortage of young Christians who believe that part of their calling is to help the church address these challenges. We want to help our students become the next generation of Christian leaders."

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Contact Phil de Haan.