Oct. 14, 2006
SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — From the steeple to the beams supporting the chapel walls, years of history are imprinted within the structure of Weaver Chapel. The picturesque chapel is rich with symbolism, telling the story of Wittenberg and its long-held traditions, which were celebrated with a 50th anniversary event during Homecoming Weekend.
In addition, the library is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The two structures were part of the same building project, intentionally representing the shared foundations at Wittenberg of faith and learning.
The chapel has undergone a few changes since construction was completed in 1956. Most notably, in 1980-81, the heavy ornate fabric behind the high altar was replaced with a screen, and the original cross was replaced by the large cross suspended from the arch. A meditation chapel, given in memory of Mildren L. Veler, was also installed. When the library received a large addition at about the same time, the chapel office area was expanded above the library, providing room for four administrative offices and new restrooms. As part of the anniversary festivities, the chapel activity room was given a facelift with a fresh coat of paint, new furniture and carpeting.
“It’s hard to imagine working without this space,” said Rachel Tune, who serves alongside her husband, Anders, as university pastor, referring to the activity room used for many student activities.
While much of the chapel celebration took place during Wittenberg’s annual Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 6-8, smaller scale celebrations took place on Sept. 14 to coincide with Holy Cross Day, and on Sept. 27, the anniversary of the day the two buildings were actually dedicated. The Sept. 27 event incorporated all campus ministries into a worship service, including performances by the Contemporary Worship Team and IMANI Gospel Choir.
And, of course, no birthday party is complete without a delicious cake.
The Sept. 14 event was highlighted by a presentation featuring H. Orth Hirt Professor of History Jim Huffman, who read a striking poem written by the late Bob Long, a former Wittenberg professor, about the man who adorned the chapel with its steeple cross. Carrying the six-foot cross in one hand and maneuvering up a ladder with the other, a construction worker made his way to the top of the steeple to give the cross its home. Long witnessed this miraculous venture and said that “in all my Wittenberg years I have envied but one person…thousands watched it grow and others labored, but this man got to carry the cross.”
“Not many people remember the story,” Tune said.“It was nice to be able to rediscover the story and the unnamed man, and lift him up during the anniversary.”
The Homecoming festivities began with “Stories of Weaver Chapel,” led by Thomas T. Taylor, Wittenberg professor of history. The campus and alumni were invited to be a part of an informal conversation that reflected on the construction, architecture, and early days of the chapel.
More than 200 people were in attendance for Friday evening’s “Festival of Hymns and History” as former pastors and alumni shared how experiences in the chapel enriched their lives. In addition to hymns led by the Wittenberg Choir, reflections were read by Wittenberg President Emeritus William Kinnison, class of 1954, John Morris, class of 1983, Shirley Wuchter, class of 1968, Huffman, and Larry Houff, associate pastor to the university from 1981-97 and a member of the class of 1966. A reception in the Chapel Activity Room followed the program, and Wuchter signed copies of the book Uplifting Christ Through Autumn, a compilation of sermons by her late husband Michael, former university pastor.
Most fittingly, an excerpt from a sermon by Michael Wuchter on a Homecoming Weekend service from Oct. 23, 1988, was read by Shirley Wuchter during the service. A pastor at Wittenberg from 1979-97, Michael Wuchter was well-known by alumni and faculty, including many who work at the university today.
Morris provided a particularly poignant moment. He reflected on how the university pastors influenced his life, as well as how he saw the chapel as a “centering place” that kept him grounded.
“It is so important to tell the history of our faith, and the story of the campus and the chapel,” Tune said.
In addition to the numerous celebratory events surrounding the chapel, Thomas Library also celebrated its 50th anniversary with a public display of its Luther collection, a treasure of rare books written by Martin Luther. Though it is no longer used, there remains an entryway leading from the library to the chapel, evidence of their combined structure.
“The chapel and library have a common cornerstone to show that faith and learning support one another and are both valued at Wittenberg," Tune said.
This merging of church and education can be found in the many academic convocations and other campus events that have taken place in the chapel. Six figures that adorn one of the towers also serve as a representation of both faith and reason. The three figures facing campus reflect St. Paul, Augustine and Martin Luther, while those facing the library represent cultural figures through John Milton, Gottfried Leibnitz and Johann Sebastian Bach.
The pinnacle of the anniversary celebration came at Sunday morning’s worship service, where another crowd of more than 200 people gathered to sing with the Wittenberg Choir, and to hear a sermon from H. Frederick Reisz, university pastor from 1973-78. Worshippers were reminded of the special moments shared in the chapel through a brief summary of stories that Tune received in recent months.
Though complete stories were not told, Tune arranged the memories through key words she hoped would spark memories, including difficult times such as September 11, 2001, and joyful events such as baptisms, music concerts, and weddings.
Written By: Erica Strauss '08
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