In March, it was my privilege to travel with the Calvin College Gospel Choir on its spring break trip to the East Coast.
These gifted young people—led by their talented conductor, Charsie Sawyer, and supported by excellent musicians and sound professionals—were an inspiration to all who met them and heard their testimony in song.
The gospel choir participated in worship at a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Harlem, New York City. The students sang in Christian Reformed communities in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Praises rang out in Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in schools on Long Island and in suburban Philadelphia.
And, on one evening, the music and message resounded in the Memorial Church on the campus of Harvard University.
The concert at Harvard was a memorable experience for the choir, despite the fact that it was the least attended of any stop along the tour.
Memorial Church is in the middle of campus, dedicated on Armistice Day in 1932, an alumni gift to the university in memory of those who died in World War I. Memorials for the fallen in subsequent wars have since been added. It is an impressive and solemn place.
One finds this description on the church’s website: “This Church has long been regarded as the symbolic center of Harvard’s spiritual life, and stands opposite Widener Library as a visible reminder of the historical and spiritual heritage that has sustained Harvard for nearly four centuries.”
It is an interesting quote, given the well-documented drift away from a decidedly Christian emphasis on higher education at Harvard and virtually every other private college in the United States that was founded more than 150 years ago.
Former Calvin history professor George Marsden has described this shift in the relationship between collegiate faith and learning in his landmark book, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (Oxford, 1994).
So it was this spring that an unabashedly Christian college that bases its teaching and learning on Calvinism sent its gospel choir to the “symbolic center of Harvard’s spiritual life.” There is a lot of meaning packed into that sentence, and it was not lost on the Calvin alumni who attended the stirring concert.
Alumni board member Benita Samuel ’04, who helped arrange for the choir’s visit to Boston, came onto the tour bus after the concert to thank the students for sharing their testimony with the audience—and on Harvard’s campus.
“You don’t know how important it was to us that you were here tonight and singing in Harvard’s church,” she said. “There are people in the audience that needed to hear your message, and we pray that the Spirit will use it for good.”
I was one of the last persons to walk out of Memorial Church after all of the band’s equipment was packed up.
I stopped and looked around one more time. I thought I could hear the strains of the choir’s I’ll Stand still ringing in the rafters.
Anybody here going to stand for the Master?
I’ll stand, I’ll stand
I will stand up for the Lord ’cause I made
the Lord my choice
So if nobody else will stand for the Master,
I’ll stand, I’ll stand.