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Fog Goes to Chapel
by Bernard Pekelder '44 BD'46, Calvin chaplain emeritus

 

Published by the Calvin Alumni Association, 1999, 204 pp.

Former Calvin College chaplain Bernard Pekelder spent 23 years at Calvin in a career that spanned most of the 1960s, all of the 70s and half of the 80s. During that time he delivered literally hundreds of Chapel talks.

The Chapel talks that most struck a chord with Calvin students centered on a fictional character called Fog (short for Feet on Ground). Fog was created by Pekelder when he came to Calvin in June 1962 and was "trying to give flesh and blood to some of the issues and problems of college-age students."

"It was also," he said, "a subtle way of telling the students off now and then with the hope that they would apply what was said to Fog to their own lives."

Fog was a familiar character in Chapel during the 1960s and even now former students who meet Pekelder will ask him "How's Fog doing these days?"

So when Pekelder decided to publish a collection of 60 of his best Calvin Chapel talks, the title of the book was a natural: "Fog Goes to Chapel."

The 204-page volume -- which addresses in a variety of ways human concerns, fears, temptations, hopes, challenges and opportunities -- already is a hit with Calvin alumni.

But its appeal goes beyond a Calvin audience. One reviewer called the book the Calvin equivalent to the recent "Chicken Soup" books. Perhaps that's because each of the Pekelder Chapel talks is relatively short - 2-3 pages - and each contains a nugget or two of inspiration and instruction. Readers can digest several in one sitting or take them a day at a time. Each talk, though taking but a few minutes to read, gives plenty of food for thought for the rest of the day.

The book is broken into nine sections. One is on Fog, of course - a series of seven Chapel Talks in which Pekelder uses Fog to get at concerns college students may have.

For example, in "Doubting and Believing" Fog pays a visit to Pekelder and bares his soul. "I have been reading brilliant writers who have no faith," he said. "I know they are not stupid. I am asking more questions that I ever did, and sometimes they become so persistent and unanswerable that I find myself doubting my faith."

In Fog's lament Pekelder captures doubts other students may also have and so he uses Fog to bring up a topic that is universal to Christians, young and old.

"The conquest of doubt," he said, "will not come first by greater intellectual effort, but by a humble recognition that there are some points where you must simply take God at his word. This is offensive, I know, if we want to be gods, but it is the only way if we want to be children of God. That is why this prayer should be uttered often, by all of us, 'Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.'"

The book also includes a section called "Events Big and Small," a series of Chapel Talks centered on pivotal events in society. To read these talks is to open a time capsule.

For instance in "Man on the Moon" Pekelder describes a Sunday night when "a fragile spaceship settled softly on the surface of the moon" and "half the world heard the words, 'Tranquillity here; the Eagle has landed.'" His words help readers remember the wonder and promise Neil Armstrong's walk brought to the nation ("for a few brief hours," he said, "the astronauts explored what may one day be as commonplace as the deserts of New Mexico"). And he brings that monumental event into the Calvin Chapel and the lives of his students by reading Job 28 and then reminding everyone that, in spite of great human accomplishments, "wisdom is not found in Houston or Washington or on the moon. Wisdom comes from God and the wise man can find it only in him."

Other sections of the book include: "Family Vignettes," "The College Calendar," "A Variety of Letters," "Building Community," "Pitfalls on the Christian Path," "Invitations to Growth," and "The Christian in the World."

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Contact Steven Koster.