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.”
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
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…
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.