The Antithesis and Chapel at Calvin College – John J. Timmerman

Through a Glass Lightly-TimmermanIn the last few months we have been quoting from the fifth chapter of John J. Timmerman’s book Through a Glass Lightly (Eerdmans, 1987), where he describes the early years of education at Calvin College. We called special attention to his emphasis on the antithesis as it was taught and manifested at this Reformed institution.

Today I continue quoting from this section, as Timmerman relates the antithesis to chapels at Calvin. This too makes for interesting – and some humorous – reading.

The emphasis on the antithesis was also apparent in the insistence on chapel attendance. There was little surveillance in those days. Prof. Rooks wandered around occasionally, checking likely retreats; but in actuality there was little disciplinary action. There always were inveterate skippers, but chapel was generally well attended. A far greater proportion of the whole student body attended than do today. In fact, in actual numbers there were often more students attending daily chapel at Calvin then than there are today in a college ten times its size.

Chapel services varied. Occasionally, clergymen and celebrities were invited to speak, but most of the sessions were conducted by faculty members. Those humble enough to recognize their ineptitude at public speaking regularly devoted the session to song, Scripture reading, and prayer. Others, however, spoke frequently. I remember a fascinating series of talks by Prof. Johannes Broene on the personalities of the apostles. Prof. Vanden Bosch always spoke. He was a meticulous man, almost fussily neat. Annoyed at the litter dropped in the building, he once spoke on the text ‘Let him that is filthy be filthy still.’ Dr. Peter Hoekstra often illuminated Scripture passages with historical data. Prof. Rooks gave his talks in the Oxford accent he had acquired in Graafschap. Dr. Ralph Stob spoke on the same topic for quite a while, and he always assumed that the students remembered the content of the preceding speech. Prof. Nieuwdorp, a fine mathematician, gave several talks on the ‘Stahrs.’

…At its best, chapel was spiritual refreshment; at the lowest level it was a rendezvous, a brief date, a study period, or a time to sleep. For most it was an activity to participate in, not something to escape. It was a boon not a bore. Students did not often skip chapel; and neither did the professors (pp.29-30).

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