the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956
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The end is the beginning: Being born again at Goshen College

By President Shirley H. Showalter
Like many readers of this publication, I fell in love with Goshen College because I was surrounded by great professors – by intellectual and spiritual giants. When I was a new faculty member, I listened to J. Lawrence Burkholder in chapel and convocation every chance I could. I would leave the circular sanctuary of the Church-Chapel tingling with excitement. The senior professors debated in faculty meeting or in the snack shop, and we junior instructors would follow suit. The subject might be lofty or trivial, the voices agreeing or disagreeing, but no one could say they lacked passion, energy, intelligence or commitment.

Sometimes alumni today ask, “Who are the giants now?” Usually they name their favorite professor who is no longer with us. They wonder who the “new” Harold or Elizabeth Bender or Sara K. Hartzler or Frank Bishop or Walter Yoder or Roy Umble or John Oyer or Atlee Beechy or J. C. Wenger or Carl Kreider is. The list is much longer than this one, but the message is the same regardless of the name.

We have not tried to template or clone these professors. Why? We don’t need to. Who needs imitations or resuscitation when we have the legacy of a great cloud of witnesses? We need to tell the stories of our giants gone before, read their books and listen to their students talk about how one sentence, one gesture, one kind or challenging word from one of these great teachers changed their lives forever.

What other ways can we produce more giants? We must hire new professors with great care, nurture them through mentoring and support for both teaching and research, encourage their active involvement in local congregations and in conversations in the church and continue to live out the legacy bequeathed to us. Such resources require financial support. We rely on alumni and friends to supply it. When Carl Kreider read over the list of new faculty and their credentials several years ago, he sent an approving letter, telling us that we are keeping the tradition of excellence he strove to foster. High praise. As you read this issue of the Bulletin, I hope you experience that same sense of joyful approval.

However, a legacy of excellence can be experienced as burden rather than joy. I am often painfully aware of the fact that I sit in an office where giants once strode. Others stand in the lecture hall aware of the same high standards set long ago. Such awareness should not paralyze us; it should electrify us. With God’s help, it can. Gandhi is often credited with the idea that we must become the thing we seek to find. Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline, talks about the transformation inside the leader first of all before transformation is possible in any organization. Jesus, of course, said it also. His message to Nicodemus, “ye must be born again,” is followed in John’s gospel by these beautiful words: “the wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and wither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

People sometimes ask me, “How can I pray for you and for the college?” My answer is this: “Please pray that we may have intellectual and spiritual life and that we may have it more abundantly. Please pray that, like those who went before us, we will be born again.”

As I read Jesus’ admonition to be born again, I do not think of it as a once and done experience – anymore than the wind “listeth” once and then stops. Instead, I think of Maya Angelou’s answer to the question, “Are you born again?” Her answer was an unapologetic “yes.” She added, however, “I’ve been born again and again and again.” Her many autobiographies testify to the way that wisdom develops, sometimes through moments of epiphany we call conversion, sometimes through rigorous study, sometimes through worship, sometimes through great sorrow, sometimes by knowing a great professor and falling in love with a great college.

How grateful I am to have known all of the above. If you share this joy, I hope you will encourage, through prayers, words, letters, and gifts, our current Goshen College professors to continue in the great tradition.

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