The end is the beginning: Our vocation is reconciliation
By President Shirley H. Showalter
Can an institution have a vocation? The first response most of us
have to this question is no. Institutions are neutral
power brokers at their best and harmful power abusers at their worst.
They will inevitably fall short in efforts to unify around noble
causes because failures of individuals within them will create gaps
between the ideal and the real that will lead to cynicism instead
of commitment. Better aim low and achieve the goal than to aim high
and fail such is the rational advice of many managers of
Five years ago I was part of a group of educators who met at the
Fetzer Institute to discuss the question of vocation and institutions.
Those of you who know me will not be surprised to hear that I argued
for institutions to commit to a vocation and to call all the members
to that vocation. Five years, and many triumphs and tragedies later,
I am even more hopeful that Goshen College as an institution can
and will claim a vocation with clarity. I have proposed to our faculty
and staff this August that we claim reconciliation as our vocation.
The inspiration for this challenge arose as a group of faculty and
administrators met to plan our annual faculty retreat. We started
with two texts we proposed for all to read: Parker Palmers
Let Your Life Speak
and Miroslav Volfs Exclusion
and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and
. The biblical text we used was 2 Corinthians
5:18, All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled
us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
During the brainstorming for the meeting we tried to find a way
to unite the idea of calling and vocation in Palmers book
with the theme of reconciliation in Volfs. As soon as someone
said the words vocation and reconciliation
together, light bulbs went on Our vocation is reconciliation!
was a natural response. It was an exciting moment.
It is one thing to assert a vocation, it is another thing altogether
to clarify its meaning. The faculty has discussed this theme now
and there are many good questions to explore: What are we reconciling?
How do we link our most important programs of the past and present
to a vision of a future focused on reconciliation? How do we share
our commitment and rededication to our collective and individual
vocations with the world?
I write these words now so that you, our alumni and friends, can
again enter into conversation with us. If you have responses, send
them to firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a dream that Goshen College will become known as an excellent
liberal arts college that creates peacemakers, reconcilers
no matter what the student majors in. This dream did not originate
with me. It is bred in the bone and woven into the fabric of this
place. Even our failures have not erased our desire.
At the conference on institutions and vocation five years ago one
of the speakers was theologian Walter Wink, whose essay advocating
institutional vocation was based on his reading of the book of Revelation.
Wink noticed that when the angel who visited John on the island
of Patmos instructed him to write to the seven churches, he instructed
him to write, not to the church itself, but to the angel of the
church (2:1, 3:1, etc.). If each church has its own angel, Wink
surmised, perhaps each has its own vocation. By extension, each
church college might have its own vocation and its own angel. If
each church had its own distinctive mission to perform of eschatological
significance, perhaps we today should examine what the collecting
calling might be of our institutions.
I thought of Winks essay again during our August retreat when
we were blessed with a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:15-20 by Keith
Graber Miller (professor of Bible, religion and philosophy) and
two papers by Ruth Krall (professor of religion, nursing and psychology
and director of peace, justice and conflict studies) and John D.
Roth (professor of history). Krall called us to bear witness to
suffering and underlined the difficulty of the work of reconciliation,
especially as our students and graduates encounter suffering in
war zones. Roth used Miroslav Volfs book as a basis of his
challenge to us to live the values that begin with h
hospitality, honesty, humility and humor.