“To ask ‘Where are you?’ is more than geography.” Ed Christman
Ed was Wake Forest chaplain because he loved working with students. He had a genuine curiosity about the student experience. He wondered if Wake Forest was serving students in a meaningful way. Was it holding up its part of the bargain? Was it providing the opportunity for students to shape their own future, spiritually and philosophically as well as intellectually?
One example of this interest was an informal survey he wrote for seniors in the spring of 1991. This was an invitation for them to reflect upon their experience as undergraduates at Wake Forest.
Ed’s ‘senior survey’ questions included: (1) What are the manifestations of community at Wake Forest? (2) Has college helped or hindered your development of a sustaining faith in God? (3) Parents often say, ‘All I want for my children is to be happy.’ Compare what parents mean and what you think happiness is. (4) Wake Forest recruits diversity but encourages conformity. Agree or disagree? (5) Should there be a ‘rite of passage’ for seniors which integrates their experiences? If so, describe it. (6) Who or what lasts?
At the same time, Ed had a concern that students did not take advantage of the opportunities around them. As he told the The Old Gold and Black for a 1997 story,
“If you’ve never looked at a work of art in the halls of Benson, never been to a play or concert, never visited Reynolda Village, never written a poem or worried about the world in which we life or your belief in God, then your GPA is simply dust. Students at Wake can easily be trapped into believing that GOA and how many friends they meet are the most important things.”
His central piece of advice to students was to follow their hearts. “The heart will sometimes tell you things and it requires a certain faith to carry them out… If the heart gives a vision, it should be followed.”
One activity that easily enticed students was cheering for the Demon Deacons as they competed in ACC basketball and other sports. When the Deacs had a big win, the Chaplain celebrated by helping to roll the quad. This was especially important when big wins coincided with studnets’ vacations. Daughter Kim remembered, “He always took us with him! He would sometimes raid the Wingate Hall bathrooms for extra toilet tissue but never, ever took any from the preschool.”
In 1983, Ed wrote a Five Year Plan for Campus Ministry. The goals reflect growth and needs for the group of then five ministers plus Ed, and the desire for broader programming.
Among the needs noted were: office space to house all ministers in the same location; a new full-time staff person to serve as secretary for Campus Ministry (in addition to the Chaplain’s secretary); more information on student religious values and career interests; and the need for master keys. There were always plenty of nitty-gritty details about space and access.
Programs proposed included: a weekly 20 minute devotional program, in Reynolda Hall, to serve Wake Forest staff; faculty/staff retreats for discussion of spirituality and service; a faculty advisory committee to give feedback on current programs and help initiate new ones; church vocations programming; possible link of chaplains with specific residence halls for formal or informal contact; and a more structured form of crisis intervention, whereby chaplains would share time being on-call to work with residence life, health service, and campus security staff as needed. In addition, a student service corp (to become Volunteer Service Corp) was under discussion.
The issue of space was at the time and continued to be a need for Campus Ministry. As Ed wrote at the time, “Space is crucial as both a vehicle for ministry and as a symbol of the University’s commitment to a viable, visible Christian presence.”
Activities and Programs
The Volunteer Service Corps (VSC), 1989: the VSC was formally created in in 1989 as a project of the Chaplain’s office. Inspired by student interest, and funded through an alumni bequest, Ed worked with alumnus Henry Cooper (’54) and with a group of students, including Libbey Bell, Matt Rubello, Mary Beth Torbett and others, to create the VSC. The organization was designed to provide the structure and opportunities for service that would encourage participation among students, faculty, and staff at Wake Forest.
Ed introduced the Volunteer Service Corp at the Wake Forest Faculty Meeting on September 11, 1989. Here is the text Ed wrote for the meeting agenda: “Volunteer Service Corps is in the process of being formed! This organization is not limited to students. This organization does not have regular meetings, but regular opportunities — Habitat for Humanity, work with those on the [WF] staff to enhance their literacy skills, soup kitchen, food bank — [Come] 5 to 6pm Wednesday, East Lounge, this Wednesday.”
The Volunteer Service Corps was part of the Chaplain’s office and budget during its early years. Ed and Henry were able to bring it forth, find an office, some funds, and a catalog listing — and this creation made Ed very proud. This initial funding and success of the VSC led to formal university support, and in 1993, the program was moved to the Student Development Office. Henry Cooper’s pivotal role as first coordinator of the VSC was later celebrated through the Henry Cooper Service Award, given each year to the WFU graduate who best exemplifies a commitment to service.
Of the many programs Ed was part of, the VSC was one of his most favorite. He commented later that “it was a marvelous change of pace for students and brought students and the city closer together.”
Cardiac Rehab Progam, 1994-2009: Ed joined the Cardiac Rehab exercise program in 1994 after having quadruple bypass surgery, and he remained a member for 15 years. He loved the people — some old friends including David Levy — and many new ones. He appreciated the work of the staff, including students, and the variety of people who would accompany his mornings on the track. Being a part of this program gave him yet another way to participate in the campus and city community.
Special Convocation and Prayer Service at the Initiation of Gulf War, 1991: Ed organized a Special Convocation and Prayer Service at the initiation of the Gulf War (“Desert Storm”) in Iraq and Kuwait. This Special Convocation and Prayer Service was held on Tuesday morning January 15 at 11am in Wait Chapel. As well as considering the issues of war and peace, the service also recognized the names of those from the Wake Forest community who were serving in the Middle East. President Thomas Hearn, Professors Greg Pritchard and Susan Borwick, Dean Harold Holmes, Pastor Richard Groves, and students Lisa Joines and Elaine Massey were among worship leaders.
Holocaust Memorial Service 1993: At the service held on April 15, 1993, Ed offered this Benediction prayer, “Depart from this place in full remembrance of death and life. Depart with God’s mark of Holocaust on each of you and me. May Almighty God continue to love and bless us, survivors of our own win. May God forgive but never forget any of God’s children until the Messiah comes. Shalom, my friends, Shalom.
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