The Willis D. Weatherford, Jr. Campus Christian Center

History

Berea College has historically and intentionally nurtured the spiritual life of its community in a variety of ways. While explicitly non-denominational, the school has emphasized an inclusive Christian spirituality that has consistently promoted social justice in its many forms. During its earliest history, the College provided numerous opportunities for Christian education and spiritual development, requiring the participation of all students and faculty. Beginning with the founders of the College, various members of the faculty and administration, including five of the school’s eight presidents to date, also have been ordained ministers from several different Christian traditions and denominations. Through much of the College’s history, many of the ministerial members of the College’s faculty and administration led the community in worship and study of scriptures. For a number of decades, the president of the College even appointed a “College Preacher,” who helped the school to fulfill its Christian commitment. Despite the important role of Christian faith in the founding, history, and present mission of the College, the College does not regard itself as a church and considers participation in any religious community or tradition entirely voluntary for its students, staff, and faculty.

Under the leadership of Edward Henry Fairchild (1869-89), the first president of Berea College, the College constructed its first chapel. The first chapel, which the school shared with Church of Christ, Union, stood near where Phelps Stokes Chapel now stands. Fire destroyed the first chapel in 1878. The College constructed its second chapel also during the administration of President Fairchild. The second chapel, a wooden structure in a neo-Gothic style, stood where the Frost Building now stands. These chapels functioned as the tangible symbols of and focal points for exercising the College’s Christian commitment.

In 1937, during the presidency of William J. Hutchins, the College constructed its Danforth Chapel. William H. Danforth, founder of the Ralston Purina Mills company and a trustee of Berea College, donated the funds to construct Danforth Chapel. The College constructed this neo-Gothic chapel as an integral part of the Draper Building, the central academic structure on campus at the time, thus demonstrating the College’s vision of the essential relationship between spirituality or religious experience and education. In its earliest years, the offices of Danforth Chapel housed visiting ministers and religious scholars. Later, the Chapel housed ministers or chaplains to the College.

In the early 1950s, Francis Hutchins, the fifth president of the College, instituted a new position, Coordinator of Religious Activities, to which he appointed Rev. Robert Cornette as the first Coordinator (1953). Three ministers followed Rev. Cornette in this position: Dr. Norris Woodie (1956), Rev. J. Donald Graham (1962), and Rev. J. Randolph (Randy) Osborne (1968).

As the College studied its mission in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it commissioned a study of the College’s Christian commitment by Rev. Harold Viehman. Viehman recommended the establishment of a department that would serve this Christian commitment. In 1971, during the presidency of Willis D. Weatherford, the College established the Campus Christian Center. President Weatherford secured a grant in 1970 from Mr. and Mrs. Eli Lilly, which became the endowment to support the work of this new department in the College. Weatherford gave the following title to his proposal: “The Campus Christian Center–At the Heart of Great Commitments.” His proposal articulated the originating vision that has consistently guided the staff and work of the Center since its inception. In Weatherford’s letter to Mr. and Mrs. Lilly, he requested a grant to establish the Campus Christian Center as a way to support the “new elements in spiritual emphasis” that the College had identified and affirmed in its then recently-formulated Great Commitments. Weatherford’s proposal requested funding that would support two ministers to the College, one secretary, and annual visiting distinguished professors of religion. As an overview of this proposal, Weatherford described the Campus Christian Center as “an idea,” “not a place,” on which he elaborated in the following statement:

The thought of the Campus Christian Center is to put several distinguished persons of inspiring and challenging Christian ideals at the heart of the intellectual life of the College. These leaders would excite the best thought and concern among both faculty and students in a way to combine Christian conviction with intellectual rigor. The influence [of these ministers and professors] would help set the tone of the whole community by having the most stimulating thought on campus center about a religious perspective.

Moreover, as President Weatherford concluded his proposal, he emphasized again the fundamental character of the vision that had inspired his proposal: “… as we envision the strengthening of the spiritual life of the College through the Campus Christian Center, we are not thinking in terms of brick and mortar, but in terms of human thought and activity which will penetrate the classroom, the labor assignment, the daily residence, the recreation and all other aspects of life in the Berea College Community.”

With the establishment of the Campus Christian Center in 1971, President Weatherford appointed then Coordinator of Religious Life, Rev. J. Randolph Osborne, to direct the new department. The College then hired a second minister, Fr. Henry Parker, the first African-American minister to Berea College, and a secretary, Ms. Glennis Walker, thus bringing the vision for this new Center to life. Weatherford located the offices of the Campus Christian Center in the Danforth Chapel complex of the Draper Building, where they remain today.

In 1978, Rev. Osborne, then Director of the Campus Christian Center, took another administrative position in the College as Special Assistant to the President, while continuing to serve as one of the ministers to the College. Rev. Osborne’s responsibilities in the President’s Office, however, significantly reduced his work with the Campus Christian Center. This change in Rev. Osborne’s administrative responsibility, consequently, required the College to hire a new Director of the Center. In 1979, the College hired Rev. Lee Morris, Ph.D., as the second Director of the Campus Christian Center.

During the directorship of Lee Morris, after the death of Fr. Parker in 1982, the College employed its second African-American minister to the College: Rev. Samuel Murray. After Rev. Murray left the Center, in 1988, the College employed its first female minister to the College: Rev. Nancy Holloway.

Also in 1988, Rev. Osborne left the position of Special Assistant to the President and returned to the Campus Christian Center as minister to the College and again as Director of the department. By that time, then, three ministers served the College through the Center: Osborne, Morris, and Holloway.

Rev. Holloway retired from her position in 1999. That same year, the College employed Rev. Loretta Reynolds to fill the position that Rev. Holloway had vacated. Rev. Osborne reduced his work in the Center also in 1999, retiring as Director of the department. The College appointed Rev. Edwin Broadhead, Ph.D., who had already served two years as a Visiting Lilly Professor of Religion at the College (1996-98), as Interim Director of the Campus Christian Center. Rev. Morris retired from Berea College in 2000. To fill the vacancy left by Morris, after a national search, the College employed Rev. Gloria Johnson, the third African-American minister to the College, in 2000. In 2002, Broadhead left the Campus Christian Center to teach full-time in the College in the area of General Studies. Rev. Osborne returned as Acting Director of the Center at that time, while the College conducted a national search for a new Director.

Following a national search, in 2003, the College employed Rev. Jeff B. Pool, Ph.D. as Director of the Campus Christian Center and Associate Professor of Religion, with an appointment also in the Department of Philosophy and Religion. In addition, in 2003, the position of Visiting Lilly Professor of Religion became a permanent, tenure-track position in the Department of Philosophy and Religion.  That position involved joint appointment to the Campus Christian Center as well. Also, as a consequence, following a national search in that same year, the College hired Rev. Michelle Tooley, Ph.D., as the first tenure-track, Lilly Professor of Religion. Currently, in addition to the Lilly Professor of Religion, Professor Michelle Tooley, three full-time chaplains serve the College through the Center: Rev. Jeff B. Pool, Rev. Loretta Reynolds, and Rev. Gloria Johnson. The staff of the department also includes three other professional members: Rev. Osborne, Consulting College Chaplain; Ms. Katherine Basham, Assistant College Chaplain; and Shalamar Sandifer, Administrative Assistant to the department.

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