the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956
Photo of Shirley H. Showalter

The end is the beginning: Wonderful grace of Jesus

By President Shirley H. Showalter

Have you heard the story of Morning Song?

Each Sunday at 10:45 a.m., a crowd gathers in the lobby of the new Music Center. Members of College Mennonite Church serve as greeters and hosts, serving refreshments. Students pour into the building from three or four different directions. Faculty members come to visit, to lead singing or to preach. Behind the scenes, a group of students and staff from the college and College Mennonite Church plan the service, which begins promptly at 11.

We each pick up a worship sheet and a blue hymnal as we enter Rieth Recital Hall. When we cross the threshold into that space, I always thank God for Martha Rieth. She gave a gift for that space, and she gave herself to hundreds of others through her participation in the local Methodist Church and many community activities. She died unexpectedly just months before the building was finished. I know she would have loved to worship with us, and I always feel that in she is doing just that.

During Morning Song, I often find myself overcome by feelings of love, tenderness and awe. The feelings are deeply woven into 27 years of experiences at Goshen College. They are feelings of deep love for the church that founded and sustains us. They are feelings of deep gratitude to God for a large extended family that gave me the gift of unconditional love. For a husband who says, "I love you," every day and for young adult children who are now friends. For work that pulses with purpose day in and day out.

The student voices - lifted up in a capella hymns, worship band praise songs or silent in reflection - stir my spirit. This is a generation that craves authenticity and passion in worship, and in Morning Song they find both. The homilies, given most frequently by students, are only seven to eight minutes long and come directly from the heart. I am amazed by the amount of suffering young people in this society endure. One cannot see that suffering when one casually chats with students, but when they feel safe they will reveal their deep feelings of unworthiness or other struggles, and they will also praise God and celebrate their dependence upon God. Students almost always will mention music as one of the most powerful means of communicating God's love.

On a Sunday in early February, senior Matt Schrock preached, telling the story of how God saved him from the worst despair any human being can feel - dramatically transforming the worst day of his life into the best day of his life. We all listened as he made Psalm 34 real to us by celebrating his freedom from terror. The lofty ceilings could not contain the energy as he spoke with conviction about his favorite hymn, urging us to experience, not just assent to, the grace that is "deeper than the might rolling sea and "higher than the mountain."

This message of grace, the possibility of forgiveness, touched us to the very depths of our beings. After the homily ended, we formed a huge circle and sang the old-fashioned hymn "Wonderful Grace of Jesus," - the number one request of recent hymn sings! I already had a tear-stained face, and so did almost everyone else in the room, but when I looked at the transparent faces of all those students lining the room and honoring it with praise, I "scarce could take it in."

Morning Song fills me with confidence and hope for the future. We are worshipping God first and foremost, but we are also building the future of Goshen College. A college that sings together will grow together. As professors David Mosley and Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand recently reminded us in a convocation on "The Wisdom of Music," two human cravings have existed throughout all of history: the yearning for home and the longing for the unknown. The best music has overtones of both, carrying us forward while reminding us of our history. Morning Song arose out of a vision and a place for creating exactly that combination.
How can we keep from singing?

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