Winsome opportunities campus-wide make Hope's engaging Chapel experience just the start of the story.
If vision might be expected to find a home anywhere, a place named Hope ought to be at the top of the list.
That said, observers in the 1920s could be forgiven for questioning President Edward Dimnent’s plans for a new chapel. He imagined, and brought to reality, a soaring structure so massive that it could hold the entire student body of 350 nearly times four. So cavernous was the edifice that a curtain was strung across the middle to mask off the vacant pews. (Careful stewardship has ever been a Hope quality: the practice helped reduce heating costs.)
“He had a vision for a space where all of Hope College would gather and worship—a chapel whose size and beauty might embody the significance of the Christian faith on this campus for generations,” said Dr. Trygve Johnson, who has been the Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel at Hope since 2005. “People thought he was crazy: ‘We don’t need a building of this size, they said. But he was resolved. He had a vision that one day the college would fill the chapel with worshipers.”
Thank goodness for over-building. Today, during the worship services led by the Campus Ministries program on three weekday mornings and Sunday evenings, Dimnent Memorial Chapel is packed to standing-room-only by some 1,300 students, along with faculty, staff and members of the Holland community, all there by choice.
That last point matters tremendously in understanding the role of the Christian faith at Hope, and makes the participation significant on a symbolic level. Hope offers opportunities rather than requirements, and the members of the campus community respond, not only in the chapel but throughout the Hope experience, because they want to. Further, it happens with a respectful ecumenism grounded in the understanding that the members of the Hope community come from a variety of traditions and not everyone will participate in every activity or engage in the same way or with the same perspective.
“I think it’s a beautiful model,” said the Rev. Jon Brown ’99, who valued his experience as a student and now works with students as co-pastor of Pillar Church, a joint Reformed Church in American and Christian Reformed Church congregation that is literally surrounded on three sides by Hope. “The faith dimension is ever-present at Hope, but it’s not required. You can come to Hope and get an excellent education, be exposed to things of faith, but not have to participate in them, which does two things. One, it allows someone who may not be a Christian believer to get a great education at a great school that offers great things on all kinds of levels: the academics are incredible, the athletic program is incredible. But then they’re exposed to faith. They can’t walk away not having experienced at least something of it.”
“On the flip side, the Christian student who comes can participate deeply and vibrantly and grow up with a robust Christian faith at Hope College, but also not because you had to, and not because you did it in the context where people didn’t disagree with you or question you or make you think more deeply or walk more graciously,” he said. “So it seems to me like no matter how you enter the mix at Hope, Christian or not sure, A, you’ll both find a place there, and B, your own place will be challenged, whether it’s the place of faith or not.”
Senior Luke Wehner of Carmel, Indiana, has appreciated the approach. “That was one of the things that drew me to Hope, that we could have so many people coming from so many different traditions,” he said. “That was huge in my decision-making process.”
Wehner has especially valued exploring faith in partnership with others, including fellow students as well as members of the faculty and staff. Upperclassmen were mentors for him during events like the Campus Ministries “men’s night out” and Bible studies. He’s now been doing the same for new students.
“The relationships that I’ve been able to build mean a lot and are something that I have really valued,” he said. “To have someone walk alongside me and be a part of my growth and care about my growth—that has permeated all aspects of my time here.”
“I wanted to be that person that was that person for me,” Wehner said. “I’ve had the blessing of having people pour into me. It’s really cool to be in that position now, to take underclassmen under your wing.”
Campus-wide, engagement with faith takes place both implicitly and explicitly, a robustness of which the strong Chapel and Gathering attendance is but one reflection. It can inform classroom discussion in any discipline, or include an academic major in religion, a minor in ministry studies, or a minor in leadership through the Center for Faithful Leadership. It often guides students’ deep commitment to service across the school year. Students in residence halls form Bible studies, and coaches begin practices with prayer. Campus groups offering focused discussion include “Klesis” (Greek for “calling”), which is a program for students interested in discerning their vocation and calling, and the college’s Lilly Scholars program, which promotes theological dialogue among students from a variety of disciplines. The Veritas Forum, held every two years, blends scholarship, the arts and faith in exploring a specific theme.
Senior Elly VanderZouwen of Midland, Michigan, values integration of faith and other experience. Among other activities she is currently part of the worship team that helps lead Chapel, and she has been active in other Campus Ministries and Bible study programs as well. Last year, she participated in the Emmaus Scholars Program, a residence-based program in which upperclassmen consider how they can blend their faith, academics and life experiences to make a difference in the world.
“Something I learned last year in particular is that there aren’t categories in life,” VanderZouwen said. “You don’t have your ‘spiritual life’ and your ‘friend life’ and your ‘academic life. It all runs together and the Lord works through it all. Jesus’s place is in the classroom as much as it is in the chapel, and so that should change the way we teach and really should change the way we think about everything.”
History faculty member Dr. Marc Baer has made a priority of integrating faith into his teaching as well as beyond the classroom. He enjoys exploring life’s deepest questions with students in the Senior Seminar “Faith and Calling,” in addition to considering religion’s role in in the context of his teaching as a specialist in modern British history. He played a leadership role in establishing Klesis and the Veritas Forum to help provide students campuswide with more opportunities to engage both faith and scholarship, a linkage that he appreciates matters at Hope.
“I think places like Hope get it,” said Dr. Baer, a professor of history. “We are intellectual creatures. We are spiritual creatures. We are physical creatures. We have a mind, we have a heart, we have a soul, we have muscles. And if you only focus on one and leave the others to atrophy, I don’t think you’ll flourish.”
“We want students to engage in activities that lead to their flourishing,” he said. “That means discipline and balance, wise choices, recognizing that the life of the mind and the life of the spirit work together, they’re not in opposition.”