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.
On Wednesday evenings in the Sport Science building, Belmont University students and Nashville area volunteers created a modern day story of the Good Samaritan. In the Biblical parable, a man was beaten and robbed and his needs overlooked until a Samaritan bandaged him and took him to an inn.
“In this case we put him in a Kia or a Chevy and took him to a gymnasium,” said Belmont Vice President of Spiritual Development Todd Lake. “We found people in other religious communities who were willing to set the alarm clock early or miss time with family and friends to be here and help people who needed help.”
Room in the Inn is an organization that coordinates shelters for homeless people and offers them emergency services, transitional programs and long-term solutions to help people rebuild their lives. Belmont began hosting guests with Room in the Inn in 2011, becoming one of the only universities in the country to shelter homeless guests in on-campus facilities.
Two nights a week–Wednesdays and Fridays–from November to March Belmont students cook dinner for the homeless and fellowship with them before they turn in for the night on cots. Although they had the eagerness and willingness to serve, students often did not have transportation to get the homeless to campus this year, so students turned to members of other faiths in Nashville for help. The Islamic Center of Nashville and Congregation Sherith Israel sent volunteer drivers and chefs to work alongside students at a Christian university to aid the homeless.
During a recent informal celebration of the partnership’s success, Belmont Director of Outreach Micah Weedman said, “One thing all of our religious traditions share is a common commitment to hospitality, particularly to those on the margins of our society and those considered outsiders. One of the fundamental elements of Christian life is to welcome strangers so that they might be our friends. At a University where we strive to address issues like global poverty and homelessness, it’s important that we learn also to become friends and share meals with those we wish to serve, and with those we’re learning to serve with.”
“Thank you on behalf of Belmont students. People are always telling me how much this experience changed them,” said sophomore Jeanette Morelan. “Through Room in the Inn, we came to learn someone else’s perspective through dialogue. It’s been incredible to see how much students from the Belmont community wanted to give, and it pouring back into our loves. Thank you for facilitating that experience.” (more…)
“I rediscovered my faith through film,” Bernsen said. “Jesus is my way to God, and God is this incredible mystery that has guided my life to this very moment.”
Bernsen has starred in the TV shows “L.A. Law,” “JAG” and “Psych,” as well as in TV movies like “An American Affair” and serials such as “The Young and the Restless” and “General Hospital,” and in more than a dozen films, including “Major League.” He has both a B.F.A. in Theatre Arts and an M.F.A. in Playwriting from UCLA, and is president of Home Theater Films, which produces “smart family entertainment,” including full-length movies such as “Rust” that inspire families with new ways to approach life and strengthen community.
Bernsen explained that his search for truth has guided his entire career and inspired his films.
“I am sitting here for a purpose, but I don’t know which way I am supposed to go,” Bernsen said. “I ask God for help, and I hear, ‘Keep going. Know me. Know love. Know truth.’”