Dr. Karen Swanson spoke to students, faculty and staff about lessons to be learned from worship in prison at a convocation event in the Chapel on Monday. Swanson is director of the Institute for Prison Ministries (IPM) at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
She began her presentation by challenging the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the imprisoned.
“Use your imagination as we enter into the world of incarceration,” she said.
She then described the harsh conditions of both national and local prisons and the unfortunate circumstances that lead to most of the inmates’ incarceration. She explained that many of these inmates turned to crime as a last resort to provide for themselves and their families. Because of the lack of resources, these individuals lacked opportunity and therefore turned to criminal activity for solace. She continued by stating that Christian worship, when done well, can help these inmates encounter God and transform their lives.
When these inmates were asked what “worshiping behind bars” meant to them, they responded, “I’m looking for mercy, not forgiveness.”
Chapel marks launch of Belmont’s Shoebox Drive
Belmont students Alina-Sarai and David Gal-Chis spoke to faculty, staff and students about Operation Christmas Child and their experience with the program during a convocation event held on Wednesday in the Chapel. The Gal-Chis siblings received Operation Christmas Child boxes in Romania as young children.
The world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, Operation Christmas Child uses gift-filled shoeboxes to share God’s love in a tangible way with needy children around the world. Since 1993, nondenominational nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse has collected and delivered more than 113 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in over 150 countries through Operation Christmas Child. More than 500,000 volunteers worldwide, with more than 100,000 of those in the United States, are involved in collecting, shipping and distributing shoebox gifts.
“Their mission is not just to bring joy to children. It goes beyond that. It has to do with the love of Jesus Christ and being able to show that through the gift of giving,” said David.
During Monday’s Chapel, the Belmont College of Law presented the 2014 Champions for Justice Award to Bryan A. Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a private, non-profit organization headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama. His work, and that of the team of lawyers he leads, furthers prison and sentencing reform, with a focus on the death penalty and the mass incarceration of people of color.
Stevenson said, “Faith is connected to struggle; that is…we are called to build the Kingdom of God. We can’t celebrate it and then protect our own comfortable environment.”
The Belmont University College of Law Champions for Justice Award is presented to a person whose life’s work exemplifies Belmont’s mission to uphold Jesus as the Christ and the measure for all things, and has lived this out by engaging and transforming the world with disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith. Stevenson graduated from Eastern University (where he led the gospel choir), Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government.
Co-founder of Big Idea Entertainment Mike Nawrocki spoke to students, faculty and staff about how his faith in God steered his career path during a convocation event on Wednesday in the Massey Performance Arts Center. Big Idea created the popular animated series “VeggieTales,” for which Nawrocki is the voice of Larry the Cucumber as well as writer and director of both short and feature-length films. The convocation was part of Belmont’s annual EMERGE, a spiritual emphasis week held near the beginning of the semester designed to encourage campus to reflect, refocus and renew. Other EMERGE speakers this week included author/Storyline founder Donald Miller and Porter’s Call founder Al Andrews.
Nawrocki explained that while he loved comedy from a young age, he originally wanted a career in the medical field. He studied at St. Paul Bible College where he met fellow Big Idea co-founder Phil Vischer while serving with a puppet ministry. He had always found church as an outlet for his creative side.
Nawrocki later enrolled at the University of Illinois-Chicago in pursuit of medical school. He took a job with a video production facility to finance his medical education. There, he gained experience in video production and animation. He finally decided that God was calling him in a different direction from medicine, and he and Vischer began working on “VeggieTales,” which is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year.
“I felt a real confirmation by God that I made the right decision so long ago,” Nawrocki said. “I had a moment where I realized that God had led me to the right place at the right time and had given me the talents and ability to do his will.”
Nawrocki concluded his presentation by encouraging students to be open to surprises.
“Here is my advice: Work hard. Make your plans, but always be open to how God can use you at a time like this,” he said.
300-seat ecumenical Christian sanctuary allows for bold mix of faith, academics
Today Belmont University unveiled its new campus Chapel, the first space on the ecumenical Christian university’s campus intentionally designed for worship services. Located on the ground floor of the new Wedgewood Academic Center at the corner of 15th and Wedgewood Avenues, the Chapel sits as a focal point within a larger structure that will house three of the University’s Colleges: Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Sciences & Mathematics and Theology & Christian Ministry. The Chapel will host services three times a week during the fall and spring semesters, as well as special services of worship throughout the year. Click here to view the Chapel dedication in its entirety.
Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher said, “A guiding principle in Belmont’s strategic Vision 2020 is to embed strong Christian character in everything we do. By housing Belmont’s Chapel in the University’s largest building—in an academic structure where every undergraduate student will have classes—we are both living out our mission and providing a much-needed gathering space for corporate worship opportunities.”
Belmont students, faculty and staff have the opportunity to attend services in the new Chapel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. where, in addition to participating in student-led worship music, they can listen to nationally acclaimed scholars address a myriad of topics through the lens of faith. Guests this fall include MIT-trained physicist Dr. Deborah Haarsma, Harvard Law School graduate Bryan Stevenson, trauma surgeon Dr. David Vanderpool and Grand Ole Opry member and Belmont alumnus Josh Turner, among others.