Students speak in the Business and Economics Department chapel. From left, junior Kyungho Yu, junior Isaac Brenneman and senior Ryan Faraci. Academic departments at Eastern Mennonite University hosted special chapel services on Wednesday, Feb. 21, around the theme of faith and vocation. The annual event is a community favorite and highlights the opportunity to build close relationships in the EMU community. (Photos by Macson McGuigan)

A meditation on vocation: academic departments host chapel services

Professor Ryan Thompson is a former Christian Church youth pastor who began a master’s degree in counseling at Richmont Graduate University, affiliated with the evangelical church, and then finished his master’s degree and a doctorate in psychology at George Fox University, an institution with Quaker roots.

Now at Eastern Mennonite University, he recognizes a rooted affinity to Anabaptist teachings, “which I’ve come to realize I’ve followed for longer than I knew it existed.”

Ben Bailey, administrative assistant for the Department of Applied Social Sciences, talks with junior peace and development major Noah Haglund during chapel in Common Grounds coffeehouse.

Thompson shared how his work and faith are deeply intertwined during a special chapel service last week jointly hosted by EMU’s STEM academic departments. Around campus, at the same time, other departments hosted special, unique chapel gatherings.

Just as his immersion in various “denominational streams has shaped my relationship with Christ and made it more full,” Thompson told the gathered, “likewise, the science and art of psychology has contributed to my understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God. My faith informs my work. My work informs my faith. I don’t know any other way to do it.”

Thompson’s words were encouraging to psychology major Lydia Musselman. “Hearing a professor’s personal story and reflection opens doors to conversation and deeper relationship, and gives hope to those struggling with our faith journey,” she said. “Connections and growth make sense in reflection. It was good to be reminded of that truth.”

EMU’s professors tend to be “down to earth and open people, but there’s a clear difference between a classroom and a chapel,” said junior English and writing major Josh Holsapple, who attended the Language and Literature Department gathering. “Having that extra layer of chapel is important.”

EMU’s annual departmental chapels offer students, faculty and staff the opportunity to talk about understanding, finding and living the work to which one is divinely called. While exploration and recognition of the Christian faith is part of the university’s core curriculum, these chapels are another time and place where faculty and students relate in deeply meaningful ways, said Undergraduate Dean Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer.

“The connection of faculty, staff and students around the idea of vocation is a piece of the faith mentoring and personal relationship-building that makes the EMU experience special,” she said. “The fact that we care about students as whole people is a value that students cite over and over again as something they really appreciate.”

Junior biology major Caroline Lehman agreed. “The professors at EMU, are, in my opinion, the school’s best asset. Being surrounded by people who not only do their jobs exceptionally well but also seem to love their work and grow in faith along the way has had a huge impact on what I hope to find in my future career. What that career will be, however, and how I will get there is still clouded with uncertainty, which can be really stressful at times. Hearing EMU’s professors, people who excel in their work and love their jobs, speak about their own experiences in finding their career paths and using faith as a guide through the uncertainty has been both comforting and inspiring.”

Poetry and stories for enlightenment and new energy

Rebekah York ’15 catches up with Undergraduate Pastor Lana Miller. A graduate student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, York was on campus representing the school at Career and Service Days.

In the Roselawn gathering space on the second floor, Professor Vi Dutcher opened the Language and Literature Department chapel with the introduction of alumna and novelist Patricia Grace King, on campus for her Writers Read event later that week. Those present were invited to offer a single-word descriptor of their early childhood religious experience — and all but one person needed more words, with “nearly everyone offering a phrase or brief story,” said Professor Marti Eads, adding that everyone’s contributions were gladly heard and appreciated. The group then joined in a reading of Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island XI,” a translation of a 16th century poem by Spanish mystic San Juan de la Cruz.

The Student Education Association titled their time “Walking your faith…Teach like no other,” hosting a discussion around relationships and religion, and how to integrate faith and calling in a constantly changing world.

“What I find meaningful in the department chapel is the opportunity for faculty and students to collectively examine how faith and teaching intersect in the classroom,” said department chair Cathy Smeltzer Erb. “Each participant brings his/her own story to the conversation, and leaves with a reservoir of new stories to shape one’s faith journey.”

In other chapels…

Students, staff and faculty of the Department of Applied Social Sciences gathered in Common Grounds coffeehouse for readings, prayer and conversation.

The Business and Economics department hosted four students who attended the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) convention in November 2017. MEDA works at the intersection of faith and business as an international economic development organization with the mission of creating business solutions to poverty. The students shared about how they were personally and professionally inspired by their participation in the conference. Speaking were Lucas Miller, junior economics major; Isaac Brenneman, a junior double major in business administration and recreation leadership and sports promotion; Ryan Faraci, senior double major in accounting and business administration; and Kyungho Yu, a junior economics major.

The Department of Applied Social Sciences based their time around an entry in “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals,” focusing on the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X and Hebrew 10:26-39.

The History and Bible and Religion departments joined for a time of reflective scripture reading, prayer and singing around the theme of Living Water, while the Nursing Department also spent the time in worship and reflection.


Discussion on “A meditation on vocation: academic departments host chapel services

  1. I find it interesting that anyone in your university would have been ‘focusing on the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X ‘, since this man hated christians, and he is no one to be emulating as an example of biblical virtue, nor would he have qualified for the biblical hall of fame as delineated in Hebrews 11. Maybe you should have skipped Hebrew 10:26-39 and studied the biblical faith displayed in Hebrews 11.

    1. Myron,
      Thank you for your suggestion about Hebrews 11. That is one of my favorite scripture passages. I am one of the students who helped to pan the DASS chapel, so maybe I can clarify some things.
      1) We never claimed Malcolm X was someone to “be emulating as an example of biblical virtue”. We did set him up, though, as someone who was “publicly exposed to reproach and affliction” (Heb. 10:33), and as someone whose story Christians can reflect on and learn from today.
      2) We used the scriptures we did because they were the ones in the devotional on which we based our chapel. Furthermore, while Hebrews 11 displays biblical faith quite well, I think biblical faith is described in Hebrews 10 in a way that was better suited for the chapel.
      3) I think it is more accurate to say that Malcolm X hated what Christianity had done than to say he hated Christians. X perceived (understandably) that Christianity had been used as a means to enslave, subdue, and oppress his people. I think what he really hated was injustice and oppression, something people in DASS are also against.
      I hope this helps explain why we were talking about Malcolm X in our chapel last month.

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