Entering this semester, students have witnessed a renewed effort towards spiritual enrichment, coming in several forms including, but not limited to, Chapel, the creation of Refill, and new Residence Life initiatives. This past summer, members of the Gordon administration have been working tirelessly to make the college a place where its mission statement is faithfully and intentionally executed.
Over the past several weeks I interviewed students, faculty, and staff about the renewed efforts to revitalize spiritual life on campus and how they believed they would benefit the Gordon community.
Sophia Jesson (‘23) expressed her initial impression of Gordon’s efforts. The spiritual atmosphere of the college has changed since her freshman year.
“Other than having academic classes centered around the Bible, and then also Chapel and then you have your professors to pray,” Jesson said, “Other than that, there wasn’t really any more structure to it. And even Chapel wasn’t really mind blowing.”
Looking at the current semester, Jesson acknowledged a shift in the institution’s approach.
“There’s more purpose behind what they’re doing in Chapel,” Jesson said, “and I appreciate the added emphasis on Chapel and making Chapel worth more than what I saw when I first got here.”
What Has Changed?
In an email sent to the student body last August, President Hammond informed the student body of multiple “noteworthy” changes, including an increase in chapel credit requirements and the elimination of Convocation.
“These changes are an important step for Gordon to reestablish and build upon our collective sense of Christian community,” Hammond wrote.
The changes were part of a broader initiative of the Spiritual Life Task Force, which was formed early last Summer to spearhead an evaluation of how Gordon supports its community. After speaking with Dr. Harkaway-Krieger and Jennifer Skaggs, co-chairs of the task force, I was informed of the specific motives and actions that catalyzed their efforts.
Dr. Harkaway-Krieger explained that one of President Hammond’s “getting to know Gordon” initiatives was to offer employees a satisfaction survey through a third-party service. Spiritual growth was highlighted as a key point of interest. Hammond’s plans to use this feedback so that administration can be better informed on how to create a more hospitable environment.
Skaggs, Vice President of Student Life, told me they were creating a strategic plan with the help of the same third-party service to hear as many voices as possible throughout the process. When I asked what this looked like tangibly, both Skaggs and Harkaway-Krieger brought up Chapel.
Chapel holds a strong value to our campus, serving to be a “chance for sabbath three times a week,” Skaggs explained, and an opportunity for communal worship. She also defined gathering to worship Chapel as a spiritual discipline.
“Spiritual disciplines take practice,” she said.
Viewing worship as such should draw the heart of the Gordon student back to why they attend a Christian institution, which is the ultimate goal of the college’s renewed efforts. Reminding students that all parts of the college are anchored in and point to Christ is how Gordon hopes to effectively promote its mission.
Jesson affirmed this, commending their efforts, but also calling upon the college to a higher standard. Chapel’s desired impact, she explained, is devalued when bold, convicting teaching is not offered. Especially if students are required to attend more frequently.
“Why bother making it seeker friendly and comfortable for us if you’re going to make us be there? If you’re going to make us eat, might as well make us eat our vegetables rather than feed us candy.”
Outside the Chapel Doors
Spiritual development has also gone past the Chapel doors and is seeping into the residential lives of students. I spoke with Jeff Carpenter, Assistant Dean of Student Life, and we discussed how Residence Life acts as a tight knit community that plays an important role in spiritual care.
“Some things that we do as an RD team, we have weekly devotional time,” Carpenter said, “Other times, we’re spending more time intentionally in the word or in some kind of spiritual formation study together to try and grow together as a team spiritually.”
Carpenter and his Residence Life staff believe fellowship is necessary, especially for the Fall semester.
“The whole model of residence life, I would say, is built on a discipleship model. So the idea is that you have, I am pouring into RD staff, who are pouring into RA’s who are then pouring into students on floors and apartments in residential spaces,” he explained. Carpenter told me that one of the initiatives proposed by President Hammond was for each hall to create a spiritual formation plan so that Residence Life staff could be more strategic in how they approach their work.
“I think it’s actually really cool that President Mike is refocusing us on spiritual development and spiritual formation,” he said, “we have this first opportunity to step back into ‘what does it look like when we’re able to do all the things together again?’”
Jolene Amoah (‘24), a Residential Advisor in Nyland, agrees with Carpenter about the importance of spiritual life for her residents.
“Prayer is a big thing. Asking my residents what I need to pray for them, or if you have any prayer requests, and just asking them how their day was really,” she said, “I think that’s really important, and also asking how their family life is.”
This semester, I was told, is the first since the pandemic they are fully able to invest in relationships. Residence Life is working to provide a thriving Christian environment for their residents through Bible studies, worship nights, and a willingness to disciple students. Due to the lack of pandemic restrictions, the heart of the Residence Life staff is now more visible, going hand in hand with new efforts to help students grow closer to Christ.
The Way Forward
Moving forward, students are hungry for Gordon to continue providing students with sound doctrine and opportunities for growth inside and outside of Chapel.
“They don’t need to keep creating new efforts,” Jesson said, “they need to do what they’re currently doing excellently.”
Gordon’s care of the spiritual wellbeing of its community is admirable. From the increased communal worship to the dedicated Residence Life staff, there is no lack of commitment to spiritual discipleship. I commend these efforts, but stand by Jesson’s statement.
Gordon must continue to do what it’s doing—excellently.
Categories: Student Life