On March 15, 2001, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary will be celebrating 125 years of service in Godís Kingdom.
All year long there have been lectures, artistic events, references in worship services and many other markings of this important milestone.
Weíve been hearing amazing stories about Calvinís history, how visionary people were gifted to plan, build and lead an institution that has made a powerful statement in higher education about the possibilities of combining deep Christian commitment with unswerving dedication to academic excellence.
It isnít often that we stop and reflect on the impact of Calvin College on individuals, homes, churches, businesses and communities. And perhaps the 125th year isnít "special enough." We should probably save the big fireworks for the 150th or the 200th.
I agree that we should spare the budget a bit and hold the ticker-tape parade for 25 more years. But I donít want this year to go by without alumni and friends pausing to consider the mark already made by Calvinand ponder the mark it will make in the future.
Recently I had the occasion to walk down the hallways of the old Franklin Campus dormitory with Mr. Gerald Dawkins, chief of staff for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
The local public school system purchased the Franklin property from Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music some years ago and has made the place its administrative home, as well as opening up Campus Elementary School on the grounds. The public school leadership has done a great job, with tender care, of making the Franklin building functional for the staff, while maintaining much of the stately Calvin character of the buildings. In fact, we still bus class reunion groups to Franklin upon request and they all remark on the continued beauty of the place. They still recognize it as "Calvin."
Mr. Dawkins invited me to Franklin to look at the old dormitory. It is the one structure on campus that has not been renovated and the costs of doing so, combined with overall budget cutting and a need for staff parking, makes tearing down the building the most likely option.
The building is yet impressive on the outside, but inside it is sadly run-down. It was very cold in the hallways on that January afternoon. Yet, walking in and out of dorm rooms and into the basement gymnasium and common areas got me thinking of the persons who lived for a time in that dorm.
Up in the rafters, I saw an inscription, "R.W. July 14, 1938." Who was "R.W." and where did God lead him after his Calvin days? The long list of former residents would be amazing to view.
The buildings we construct donít have lasting significance compared to the lives that were lived in themand that have gone on to follow Godís leading after having lived there.
Most awe-inspiring is the impact our 50,000-plus Calvin alumni have made and will make in this world as "agents of renewal in the academy, church and society" (as our mission statement so wonderfully puts it). Thatís worth celebrating this March 15th.
Instead of bricks and mortar as remembrances of Calvin Collegeís influence, I rest my eyes on the newly published alumni devotional book, My Heart I Offer, full to the brim with 366 testimonials from Calvin friends worldwide.
I was feeling quite defeated one morning and, as is my new habit, opened up the new devotional book to begin the day. I read former Calvin president Tony Diekemaís reflections on "five smooth stones," the devotional for January 19, and was immediately encouraged and strengthened by the experience. A colleague challenged with a severe health problem caught me in the hallway that same day and had a similar reaction.
The authors of that book, no better or worse than any of their fellow 50,000 Calvin grads, testify to the central reason we celebrate 125 years. Calvin commissions people of diverse gifts, skills and interests to do His work in His world. Our alumni have done just that and, as a result, many little corners of the Kingdom have been changed.
Happy birthday, Calvin College! May you have many more.