Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
From all points of campus and from a distance beyond, Weaver Chapel stands tall on the Wittenberg landscape, anchoring the university and serving as a centerpiece for faith and learning, community and service, knowledge and truth. Fifty years have passed since the chapel’s dedication, and now Wittenberg Magazine takes readers back through the five decades – decades that defined the chapel, the campus and those who found refuge and love within its walls.Symbol of a School
Can a building embody the spirit of a school? In the early 1950s, Wittenberg President Clarence C . Stoughton proposed the creation of a chapel-library for Wittenberg. He believed that such a building would be a living symbol of the intersection of faith and learning and of Wittenberg’s efforts to help students develop more fully. The history of Weaver Chapel bears out that vision. As Wittenberg students have entered the chapel in search of knowledge, faith, comfort or just beautiful music, the place itself has come to bind and strengthen the community. The events that have taken place inside Weaver Chapel prove that its original purpose “to show in unforgettable fashion that it is the wholeness of life that is the concern of Wittenberg College and the Church” has come to fruition.
These words, from the program for the chapel’s dedication week ceremonies in September 1956, encapsulate Stoughton’s vision for the chapel-library. The theme of the opening ceremonies, “A College, the Church, and the Arts,” boldly expressed a new and unusual vision of the partnership of college and church, with the arts as a new element. That this was the overarching intention of the chapel-library was made very clear by the variety of religious, cultural and scholarly events during the weeklong dedication ceremonies: two plays, organ and choir concerts, lectures, seminars on architecture, libraries and drama, and a performance by the famous Metropolitan Opera baritone, Robert McFerrin Sr.
Everything from the location to the design of the building was intended to make the chapel a relevant and important part of campus life. Stoughton and architect Dr. T. Norman Mansell of Philadelphia together decided to place it to the east of Myers Hall, where it would connect the old campus and the new emerging campus – literally at the crossroads of the old and the new. The final design – what Mansell called “contemporar y American” – took the colonial shapes originally envisioned by the board and gave them a contemporary feel, echoed the Gothic style of “Schlosskirche” (Castle Church) in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, but added the clean, functional lines of modern architecture.
Just as the architecture incorporated modern trends while retaining traditional elements, so too throughout its 50-year history have the events, celebrations, forums, “teach-ins,” concerts and lectures held within the chapel reflected the tenor of the times, while remaining true to the chapel’s traditional purpose as a place for worship and faith.
Marking Celebration and Achievement
Fifty years ago, Jim ’50 and Diane Huston Walsh ’57 were the first Wittenberg couple to be married in the newly constructed Weaver Chapel. It was Thanksgiving Day 1956. “People really came,” remembers Diane, “even though we disturbed their Thanksgiving!”
In fact, they filled the chapel with family and friends, and plenty of Wittenberg graduates.
“Weaver was special to us because of our connection to Wittenberg,” Jim says. “But it was also just a beautiful place.”
Since then, countless couples have chosen to be married in the chapel – Wittenberg alumni, faculty and Springfield community members. And then there are the marriage proposals. More than a few students and alumni have selected Weaver as the place to pop the question.
The chapel has also been the scene of ot her memorable celebrations. Alumni fondly remember the religious observances that drew large crowds, such as Advent Vespers, which in more recent years has become Lessons and Carols for Advent and Christmas, and the Reformation services. And for events that recognize achievement, nothing beats the pageantry of convocations held in Weaver, particularly the Honors Convocation – where students and faculty are recognized for their outstanding accomplishments – and the baccalaureate service where graduating seniors receive encouraging words as they prepare to make their mark on the world.
Providing Comfort and Refuge, Fostering Faith
The day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Larry Houff ’66 was working as a busboy at a campus sorority. As the bell tolled and students dispersed across campus, he had an urge to go to the chapel. “I thought I was going to be alone,” he remembers.
But by then the chapel was already three-quarters full. Gravitating to the one place that might provide comfort, people came and held a spontaneous prayer service. “It was part of the experience of who we were and where we were and what was taking place,” he says.
More recently, when the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001 began to unfold, President Tipson called for a gathering in the chapel. He and several professors spoke, and Pastor Rachel Tune prayed, hoping to give students a sense of security and provide some solace.
“The chapel was completely full, with people sitting in window wells, on the floor up front, and flowing out of the narthex,” recalls Pastor Tune, who with co-Pastor Andy Tune, presided over numerous services throughout the week.
Whether it is a student death or a national tragedy, students and staff have been drawn to the chapel to cope with the aftermath of loss. Yet Weaver Chapel has also naturally been a place where students come to deepen or awaken a relationship with God, contemplate life or find a quiet refuge. Though the schedule has changed over the years, regular worship services have always been held at Weaver. The many campus ministries also hold diverse events in the chapel, from concerts to Bible study to worship activities. These weekly opportunities for reflection and worship have provided generations of students with a sense of community and belonging – a kind of home away from home. In this regard especially, students repeatedly remember the warmth and acceptance they felt from the chapel’s pastors and staff. Even the “not-so-regulars” and very-infrequent visitors have found in Weaver a place for contemplation, relaxation and peace.
Weaver has managed remarkably well to reflect the times – one 1973 alumna remembers attending services barefoot – while still being a traditional worship place. In the 1960s, as secularization became a societal trend, Pastor Robert Karsten diversified and expanded the chapel ministry and even held a dating workshop for students. The chapel continues to reflect the diversity of the student body with interdenominational and interfaith services.
Stimulating Discovery, Thought and Conscience
As the site for forums, lectures and discussions, Weaver has been a kind of crucible in which students begin their journey of self-discovery and take steps toward their total growth as people – an essential goal of a Wittenberg education. It has brought people together to question, listen and learn more about civil rights, the Vietnam War and a variety of social and political issues.
In May 1970, as college campuses around the country reacted to the fata l shooting of four Kent State students, Wittenberg students and staff coordinated a day-long “teach-in” in Weaver Chapel. There were speeches, poetry, discussions and music, and people came and went throughout the day. Robin Skinner Prinz ’73 remembers the chapel being completely full: “It was a unique opportunity to express to the adults in our lives the foundation for our beliefs and concerns about the Vietnam War, and it was appreciated that so many were there to listen.”
About a year earlier, the chapel had been the site of a tenser gathering. In January 1969, Provost Allan O. Pfnister addressed a full chapel of angry students questioning the university’s racial policy. The discussions in Weaver were just one of many that took place on campus that finally culminated in an official university response to the students’ demands.
Today the chapel remains a magnet for this kind of dialogue and peaceful dissent. To mark the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, students and faculty organized a two-part peace vigil that included the reading of the names of those killed in Iraq, held in Hollenbeck, and a prayer service in the chapel. Professor Tim Bennett ’78, a participant, remarks, “Here is a way in which what we say we believe, who we say we are and what we do intersect for us. It is fantastic that the chapel provides the shelter for that.”
Then there are those moments when a student has come to Weaver to hear a professor, political activist or scholar and has gone away inspired to do great things. When John McLaughlin ’64, then the Deputy Director of the CIA, returned to Wittenberg to address the 2001 graduating class, he recalled sitting in Weaver listening to Professor Margaret Ermarth’s riveting accounts of her adventures in the Soviet Union. It was an experience that, in his words, “sparked and nourished my interest in international affairs.”
The chapel has served as the site for every Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Convocation and numerous other lectures throughout the years. Wittenberg students have had the chance to be inspired and challenged by such notable scholars, poets and activists as Harvard socio-biologist E.O. Wilson, poet Nikki Giovanni, and activist and author Michael Eric Dyson, to name a few.
Appreciating the Arts
True to Stoughton’s vision that the chapellibrary would provide Wittenberg with a new opportunity to “deepen and vitalize the partnership of the Church and the arts,” the chapel contains in almost every nook and cranny, a unique work of art – from woodblock carvings to “art glass” stained-glass windows to a massive orlon mural. With this variety of high-quality art found within its walls, the chapel has certainly fulfilled one of its original intents to be “a silent sermon in Christianity.”
Featured in National Geographic in July 1961, the chapel’s unusual stained glass windows are particularly striking. The work of Oliver Smith, they reverse the usual technique by outlining the figures in lead and using colored glass as the background. The result is dramatic colored light splashing on the floor and pews – a Wittenberg memory shared by many faculty and alumni.
Designed with a moveable lectern in its chancel, Weaver Chapel was always intended to be a performance space. Over the years, actors, dancers and musicians have thrilled the Wittenberg community with a whole range of artistic expression within the chapel walls.
Connecting a Community
Weaver Chapel and Thomas Library anchor the Wittenberg community in obvious but also unseen ways. As a literal anchor in the heart of the campus, its tower rises 212 feet into the air, visible from miles around. Symbolically, it connects the Wittenberg community in its quest for knowledge and in times of crisis, celebration and remembrance, and reminds us of the inherent connection between faith, reason and the arts. This is true even for those who do not regularly attend worship services there, for through the events held within it, Weaver Chapel embodies the spiritual, cultural and academic goals of the Wittenberg experience.
And that is just as Stoughton envisioned more than 50 years ago.
- by Gabrielle Antoniadis
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112