Evidence of God Working: A Revival of Faith at McPherson College

Reviving traditions as old as reading scripture and sharing communion. Discovering God through such unusual ways as “The Simpsons” and taking a pie to the face. God is active at McPherson (Kan.) College in ways both expected and “strange and mysterious.”

Kent Eaton, provost and professor of cultural studies, teaches courses in church history and spiritual formation. He’s seen a resurgence of Christian faith on campus in a way that both harkens back to McPherson’s roots in the Church of the Brethren and looks ahead to meeting students’ spiritual needs across a spectrum of faith traditions. “I see this evidence of God working on campus in ways that are proactive, as well as sponsored,” Eaton said.

The guidance of Steve Crain, campus pastor and associate professor of philosophy and religion, has created new ways for students to explore their faith, deepen their beliefs, and support each other on the journey. Crain began as campus pastor in fall 2012.

Events and organizations Crain has helped initiate include the start of a student-led Campus Ministry Leadership Team with about 12 active members, and prayer, worship, and communion services on campus. He has actively supported the ongoing student-led campus Bible study in Bittinger Hall, which has continued to attract students over the years. The Campus Ministry Leadership Team also helped turn a small room in the Hoffman Student Union, formerly used by student government, into “The Gathering Place”–a quiet area for prayer, reflection, and worship.

Photo by: courtesy of McPherson College
Steve Crain, campus minister at McPherson (Kan.) College

He’s helped initiate bringing together the campuses of McPherson and Central Christian College for joint worship services. Along with Matt Tobias, admissions and financial aid counselor, Shawn Flory Replogle, youth leader for the Church of the Brethren’s Western Plains District, and many students, Crain helped plan and lead a recent Regional Youth Conference in McPherson.

But Crain also has been part of some more unusual aspects of campus ministry, such as mentoring two freshmen students as they serve as regular preachers at Buckeye Church of the Brethren in Abilene, Kan. He was one of seven faculty and staff willing to take a pie to the face as a fun reward to students for winning a fundraiser competition to benefit the church’s Haiti Medical Project.

“As campus pastor, my first priority was to meet people and develop relationships.” The goal, Crain said, was to help students feed and grow their faith in the same way they nourish their mind with their education. “It’s a deep priority. For these students, their life is not complete if their faith isn’t at the heart of it,” he said. “And there are many students looking to make faith a priority again. They need one another to make it happen. As they learn and grow as young adults in an academic way, their faith is growing at the same time. Scholarship and faith wind around one another.”

A new program to help students to support each other this fall is Peer Ministry, in which volunteer peer ministers will be trained to listen, guide, and support their fellow classmates. As the leadership team considered ways to promote campus ministry, they also created “Love Month” in February to celebrate four kinds of love–friendship, romantic, familial, and unconditional (Godly) love–for each of the four weeks. Activities included creating friendship bracelets, providing cards for students to write home to family, and sponsoring a charity drive (including the aforementioned face pie). The trend has led to new groups forming at the students’ initiative, such as “Takeover,” a group open to all faiths for social time, spiritual support, and advice from peers.

Students have had an opportunity for Christian-based service at home and abroad thanks to Tom Hurst, director of service. Along with opportunities for service throughout the year, this spring he organized spring break trips to Brethren Disaster Ministries in Holton, Ind., to help rebuild destroyed homes; to the Heifer International Ranch in Arkansas; and to Camp Mt. Hermon in Tonganoxie, Kan., to help spruce up the camp for summer.

Some students traveled to Ethiopia in the spring with Herb Smith, professor of philosophy and religion, where they delivered personal energy transportation wheelchairs to polio victims. Smith said that learning about religion both in and out of the classroom is important for a complete liberal arts education. He teaches courses in World Religion, Hebrew Bible, and New Testament. “To overlook religion would be to overlook the whole dynamism of culture in human history,” he said. “All major human activities were based in religious beliefs. It permeates the ancient world, which is most of our time on planet earth.”

The same can be said about popular culture today, as students discovered in one religion class Eaton taught. They saw how spiritual lessons and ideas are conveyed in humorous satire today through “The Onion,” “Mad Magazine,” and “The Colbert Report,” but most of all “The Simpsons.” A requirement of the class was to choose an episode of the popular animated show and analyze its theological content. Students had a blast while still learning much, Eaton said, often without realizing it.

Supporting the religious and spiritual needs of students, Eaton said, must be a core aspect of campus life. “If we’re just educating the mind and the hands,” he said, “and we leave out the heart, we fail at the task of developing whole persons.”

— Adam Pracht is coordinator of Development Communications for McPherson College.

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