By Mark A. Taylor
Thursday morning, at the last chapel service of Cincinnati Christian University, I remembered Cincinnati Bible Seminary chapel services at the old church building in Price Hill 50 years ago when I was a student. Inside, the stone walls and wooden pillars would reverberate with chatter as we gathered twice each week. Then E. Wayne Berry would take his place and the room would fall silent as he called us to worship with a melody played on the room’s majestic pipe organ. Then we would stand to sing. And, oh how we sang! Our voices raised a unified chorus of praise in four-part harmony that filled our hearts as it filled that auditorium.
“All Hail the Pow’r of Jesus’ Name” we sang at one convocation to kick off the new school year. The faculty was gathered on the platform facing the packed pews, and as the words and melody of the hymn swelled, I saw one or two on the stage wipe away a tear.
There were tears Thursday, too, as the school conducted its final chapel service ever, this time in the worship auditorium built long since I graduated. I’m not sure Professor Berry would have been pleased with the darkened room, colored lights, gyrating guitar players, drums, and amplified voices coming from a worship team that stood below words projected on the screen.
But I think God was happy with our worship Thursday. Just like the services that meant so much to me a generation ago, this one lifted up the name of Jesus. And for a crowd bound together by faith in him, nostalgia for the past, and regret for many uncertain futures, Jesus brought us hope.
“We just want to focus on the faithfulness of God,” one of the worship team members said before we stood to sing the first song. Midway through the service a video offered a compilation of testimonies from students telling how God had worked in their lives. At Cincinnati Christian University. In the years just past.
Many have spoken of the school’s recent apparent shift of emphasis. This year the dorms and classrooms were filled with business majors and athletes. Where were the future preachers and youth ministers and worship leaders? Well, some of them were on that platform leading us in worship this week. More of them spoke from the video about how God had changed their lives under the influence of the school’s professors and in the community of caring Christians gathered on that hill.
One benefit of getting older is the realization that nothing lasts forever. Influence is passed from one generation to another. Methods morph or are abandoned altogether. Facebook posts just this week have been peppered with obituaries and prayer requests for Christian families attacked by virulent disease. Everyone we know will eventually pass on, and no institution lasts forever.
Guilt or anger often plague those left when someone close dies. Similarly, some have squandered valuable energy analyzing why CCU is closing. None of us is happy that this has happened. But many others have stopped, instead, to thank God for all he did in their lives because that school existed.
Thursday’s chapel session reverberated with sounds of praise, different but the same as those worship services I remember from my student days. In the decades since then, one thing did not change at the school. And one thing encourages us as we watch sadly the transformation of that campus into something unfamiliar.
As one of Thursday’s worship songs put it: “Jesus Christ, my living hope.”
He prayed, and we scattered: alumni, teachers, students. And we left the service Thursday propelled by hope.
Professor Paul Friskney expressed his hope as he spoke to close the service. He said he has attended thousands of CCU chapel services in the 40-plus years he’s been associated with the school as either a student or a teacher. “I realized when I taught my first freshman English class that teaching freshman English is what I most wanted to do. Although most English professors with my experience are no longer teaching freshmen, I still do. I love to see the way students grow.” He challenged us with one verse that has meant much to him as he anticipated the school’s closing. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4).
Mark A. Taylor, who served as Christian Standard editor from 2003 to 2017, retired in June 2017 after almost 41 years with Standard Publishing (Christian Standard Media). This column originated as a Facebook post.