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Ira Vinson "Jack" Birdwhistell
Campus Ministry at Georgetown College - A Personal Recollection
Ed: This is one of the more thorough pieces Jack wrote, but never shared. It gives you a great sense of how important Georgetown College was to him.
CAMPUS MINISTRY AT GEORGETOWN COLLEGE–A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION I first encountered Georgetown College Campus Ministry as an entering freshman in the fall of 1964. I came from a rural church with a pretty active youth group. We had attended Youth Week at Ridgecrest that summer, which had been a grand experience. I still had no idea what Campus Ministry/BSU was all about. BSU was very active in the orientation week of my ‘largest-in-the-college’s history’ Freshman class. I distinctly recall the BSU’s ‘Bluegrass Tour,’ when we freshmen, loaded into large farm trucks with flimsy side panels, were driven around the countryside, stopping at an occasional horse farm before concluding the tour with a sumptuous picnic. My new friend Billy Kruschwitz had to urge me to show up for BSU events. As a pastor’s kid from Elizabethtown, ‘Krusch’ knew all about BSU. BSU activities took place in a building, known variously as the Religious Education Building and the Art Building., which stood where the present LRC stands. ‘Vespers’ was a thrice a week devotional meeting, along with Christian Service Organization (CSO) and monthly ‘socials.’ The President of the college in those days was Dr. Robert L. Mills, an elegant giant of a man who was the model of a Christian layman. BSU was led by the Director of Religious Activities, Dr. Glenn Yarborough (Dr. Y), a tall, bespectacled, energetic, highly organized fellow who kept a tight rein over the BSU Council of about twelve, led my freshman year by Kenny ‘Moose’ Mahanes, a pastor’s son from near Lexington. Other upperclassmen leaders I recall were Lee Hamilton, Larry Yoder, Laurabelle Barr, Jim Cordell, Joyce Watkins, 'Chip' Lockwood, and Steve McKibben, along with many others. Weekly Tuesday/Thursday Chapel Services brought various preachers and speakers to the campus. Most memorable was an elderly lady, Gert Behenna (the daughter of Andrew Carnegie) who wowed the campus with the story of her dramatic, grace-filled, conversion experience and fruitful Christian life. Soon after classes started in the fall of 1964 we began to hear about a ‘BSU Convention’ to be held at the Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington. Sounded cool, so one Friday evening we boarded a chartered bus (few students had cars) and headed out. Same thing on Saturday night–but different. Saturday was a BIG service--preacher was a guy named Keith Parks, then a Baptist missionary in Indonesia. At the invitation time, I felt the same sort of ‘Spirit-pressure’ I had felt as a ten-year-old at my ‘join the church’ decision and at fourteen at my ‘do anything the Lord wants’ decision. I interpreted this to mean a ‘call’ to ministry, but managed to stay in my pew without making a move. Then came the ‘after meeting,’ presided over by Kenny Mahanes. ‘Moose’ made some comments, then closed the session by saying, ‘I just feel as if someone here needed to make a decision and did not . . . .’ How did he know? Feeling ‘outed,’ I rose to stammer out my feeling of ‘call to ministry.’ There was great rejoicing in the room; great relief on my part! From that point on BSU was the center of my college experience. ‘Krusch’ and I became good friends with ‘Chip’ Lockwood, who would be the BSU president for Georgetown and all of Kentucky for 1965-66. Neither of us joined a fraternity, and, along with other friends, Jerry Chiles of Falmouth, KY, David Wheeler of Louisville, Steve Price of Georgetown, Tom Chapman from West Virginia, Dick Nowell of Alabama, and John ‘Bear’ Stanford from Illinois, we gave lots of energy to BSU. There were girls, too! Nancy Forgy (who became my wife in 1969), Carolyn Eubanks, Melva Neafus, Carolyn Wilhoit, Sandy Roggenkamp, Elaine Meacham, Susan Lockwood, Linda Garr Markwell, Sarah Cellar, and others of the class of 1968 were exemplary leaders. BSU Choir, Vespers, CSO, and ‘socials’ provided a full range of activities. BSU ‘haunted houses’ were pretty big in my day! Almost every weekend ‘youth teams’ consisting of a preacher, song leader, pianist, and ‘fellowship leader’ went out to represent the Lord and Georgetown at churches near and far. Several Georgetown students served as part-time staff persons at nearby churches. By the summer of 1966 student Summer Missions was becoming a more important part of Southwide student ministry. I recall Paul Wilson and Nancy Forgy as summer missionaries of the class of !968. Other students worked on summer staffs at Ridgecrest (NC) and Cedarmore (KY). BSU president for 1966-67 was Roger Roberts, whose father, Dr. Ray Roberts, had practically invented Southern Baptist church work in Ohio. A genial giant of a Tiger football player, Roger loved the Lord and provided strong, positive leadership. I think this was the year a spring state BSU basketball tournament was begun. I recall one held at Alumni Gym in Lexington, and another held in conjunction with Kentucky Southern College in Louisville. When the Cralle Student Center opened in the fall of 1966, BSU was housed in a small suite of three offices on the third floor, adjacent to Porter Chapel, where vesper services were held. Major events such as the yearly Christian Emphasis Week, were held, of course in John L. Hill Chapel. CEW usually involved a ‘team’ of men and women, lay and clergy, provided by the Department of Student Work in Nashville, who would come to the campus for a week of services, seminars, and class visits. I recall one year we invited John Wesley Hunt, one of the Billy Graham evangelists, to spend a week with us. My senior year, following in Chip Lockwood’s steps, I became BSU president for Georgetown and for Kentucky as well. In the election at the spring conference held at Berea College, I ‘defeated’ Bill Messer of Cumberland College, who later became a great friend when he assumed the pastorate of the Sand Spring Baptist, my home church in Lawrenceburg The school year 1967-1968 was magical, BSU-wise, primarily because of a new thing under the sun, a choral Christian musical called ‘Good News!’ With enthusiastic Laura Hammack, a sophomore from Elizabethtown, as director, with some gifted soloists, and with ‘Dr, Y’s’ organizational abilities, Georgetown BSU took ‘Good News’ on tour, as well as giving a campus performance. It was a wonderfully joyous experience. One of the major fruits of the 1967-68 year was my friend and roommate, Billy Kruschwitz, who became one of the first students appointed to Southern Baptists’ new two-year overseas missions program, Journeyman. ‘Krusch’ served as a teacher in Nigeria. After moving on to Southern Baptist Seminary in the fall of 1968, I gradually lost track of Georgetown BSU. I knew that my friend Jim Smith succeeded me as BSU president, followed in 1969-70 by David Smith. Dr. Glenn Yarborough left Georgetown to become the State Director of Student Work for Baptists of Tennessee. During these years, the Sunday School Board of the SBC made a major investment in college student ministry through National Student Ministries, located at the Board in Nashville. I knew that Bob and Eddie Fields, returned missionaries from Israel, served Georgetown in Campus Ministry for several years, to be succeeded in 1976 by Dr. J. Thomas Meigs, a Carson-Newman and Southern Seminary grad, who, like myself, had received a Ph.D. in Church History. At some point, Georgetown College took over the sole funding of the campus ministry position, and Dr. Meigs’ official title became ‘Dean of Religious Life.’ Tom, or ‘Thom’ as he became at Georgetown, had a strong bent toward counseling, which was reflected in his campus ministry. He also invented KOINONIA services, creative worship services at chapel time, which involved Georgetown students from many areas of the campus. He organized MANNA, a BSU singing ensemble which performed contemporary Christian music. He encouraged Georgetown students to become involved in KY BSU summer ministry through SON SHARE, a traveling drama team developed by Georgetown alum G. Thomas Smoot. After Thom Meigs left Georgetown in 1979 for a faculty position in Pastoral Care at Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, Carolyn S. Hale of the student life staff served as Interim Campus Minister in the fall of 1979. The search for a new Campus Minister was led by Dr. Ben M. Elrod, the new President of Georgetown College, and Don Blaylock, Director of Student Work for Kentucky Baptists. The KBC and Georgetown would jointly fund the position and the KBC-preferred title, Campus Minister, would be used. I recall that Dr. Horace Hambrick, a highly respected Professor at Georgetown, and junior Mark E. King, then BSU President at the college, as part of the search committee which interviewed me in the President’s office in the fall of 1979. Having served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Drakesboro, KY, since summer, 1976, I was eager to move my family (including Cory, our 3-year old-daughter, and Dan, a year-old son) closer to Central Kentucky. The option of being at Georgetown, where so many wonderful things had happened to me, was very attractive. Weeks went by, and, having heard nothing from the interview, I had decided the committee was going in another direction. However, in December, 1979, a call came, inviting me to start work as Campus Minister at the college on January 15, 1980. I accepted eagerly. After several frantic weeks looking for housing, etc., we decided that I would move into a room in Anderson Hall until I could move the ‘fam’ into a little frame house on Rucker Avenue during spring break in March. My first day on campus, January 15, 1980, I was introduced to the student body in a 2/3 filled chapel by President Elrod. (I was amazed at so many empty seats). To my delight, Dr. Robert Mills participated in that same service. My job description included teaching one course per semester in the Religion Department, usually New Testament I or II, occasionally Church History. I soon discovered that Thom Meigs had recruited a top-notch group of student leaders for BSU. Mark King, president, was joined by Lisa Hines, John Mark Gaskin, Ralph Pate, Emory Riley, Beth Gush, Brent Adams, Kent Price, Penny Sanders, Christine McCoy, Edna Marie Jones, Keith Mull, and many others. Many of these kids were rising seniors, who, with my gratitude, ‘signed on’ for another year of service on BSU Council. They were a huge help in planning and executing all sorts of activities, including Christian Emphasis Week in the spring, my first Kentucky Baptist Student Leadership Training Conference (where Mark King was elected state BSU President!) and participation in National Student Ministries’ Student Week at Ridgecrest in August, 1980. The latter was my first experience at transporting and supervising a lively herd of college kids over miles of interstate highway in one good van and a couple of much older vehicles. It was indeed a challenge! We also continued the tradition (with the help of Dr. Joe Lewis and Carolyn Hale) of holding an annual Campus Ministries banquet each spring to celebrate the year. In my early years, Grady Nutt, the well known minister/humorist, a trustee of the college, came to the campus annually to speak to a chapel event always packed with students and others from nearby churches. I realized early on that the Campus Ministry position had little need for innovation (not a strength of mine) but always needed skills of recruitment (which I was pretty good at). I had always been able to meet people well, learn their names, and ask them to become involved in activities and projects. (Dr. Yarbrough was a master at this!) Dr. Macy Wyatt of the Psychology Department handled most of the counseling (which was another weakness of mine). Dr. Elrod had laid the groundwork for enhancement of Campus Ministry at Georgetown through three new programs: (1) the Pastors’ Christian Leadership Scholarship (designed to bring the best kids from KY Baptist churches to Georgetown where they would become involved all through the campus and affect the campus culture–and it worked! (2) the Missionary-in-Residence Program (which would bring to the campus each year a furloughing Home or Foreign Missionary to interact with the campus community–and it worked!) (3) the Campus Ministry Intern Program (in the early years a partnership with Southern Seminary, whereby the Seminary would provide a stipend for a seminary student to serve as an intern at Georgetown–the college would provide housing–and it worked! In effect, Campus Ministry at Georgetown each fall received an infusion of students primed for Campus Ministries involvement, in addition to reinforcements in the form of additional ministry personnel. For many reasons, I found myself immediately enjoying the ‘Campus Ministry Family’, Don Blaylock’s not inaccurate title for the collection of Campus Ministers at Kentucky’s colleges and universities. Over seventeen years, my friendships with these splendid men and women enriched my life tremendously, and several of these continue. Don called us to meet together at least twice a year, in addition to annual state BSU Conventions (as time went by Georgetown BSU sent more and more students to this Fall event, sometimes having more students than any other campus), spring Leadership Training Conferences, and, later, trips to Ridgecrest for Student Week (over the years, we ‘did’ Student Week in many ways–on the Ridgecrest campus (prohibitively expensive!); at In-the Oaks, a charming Episcopal Retreat Center in Black Mountain; and at Blue Ridge, the FCA/YMCA conference center). Students developed a slogan, “Kentucky, First in Fellowship!!”–and it was true! ‘Ridgecrest’ provided a fruitful time for Kentucky students and campus ministers to get to know one another in a scenic, relaxed setting. There were several ways I ‘tweaked’ the program during my years as Campus Minister. (1) Thrice-weekly ‘Vesper Services’ evolved into once-a-week ‘Campus Praise,’ usually on Tuesday evening or Thursday evening, for many years meeting in the open loung in the Great Hall of the Cralle Student Center, later enclosed as the Hall of Fame Room. When weather allowed, we met outside on the steps of Giddings Hall or Hill Chapel. A succession of gifted students served as Worship Leaders, who always needed to recruit hard-working folks to help with the necessary sound system; (2) In the mid 80s we replaced the annual ‘BSU Welcome Party’ with the weekend ‘New Student Retreat’, a wonderful way for new students to learn about the programs and activities of Campus Ministries. Over the years this event was held at Camp Pine Crest near Irvine, Cedarmore Baptist Assembly near Bagdad, and a small Presbyterian camp near Louisville with unheated cabins, where about sixty students nearly froze to death in September of 1992! Bullittsburg Baptist Assembly in Northern Kentucky proved to be the most satisfactory and least expensive site option. ‘Genesis,’ a Monday evening Bible Study for new students, grew out of the New Student Retreat and provided a quick and easy place for freshmen to ‘belong.’ (3) During the late 1980s, a plethora of musical talent allowed for the formation of 'Image', a second contemporary Christian music ensemble. Larry Martin, a gifted music leader, initiated the formation of this group. (4) The Christian Emphasis Week model gradually evolved into ‘Renewal,’ an annual spring event which brought to the campus speakers, musicians, and drama folks, such as Dr. Bob Baker, Dr, Steve Hadden, Rev. Benjamin Baker, Dr. Allen Walworth, Paul and Nicole Johnson, Tony Campolo, Felix Haynes and Greg Cagle, Dr. Howard Roberts, Dr. Bill Marshall, and ‘Skip’ Fendley. (5) “Christmas at Doc’s” became an annual tradition, first at 151 Rucker Avenue, then at 321 East Main Street.(5) With the increase in numbers of summer missionaries, it became necessary to raise more money for the Kentucky BSU Summer Missions Fund. Over the years we used a variety of money raising strategies, including: lots of youth revival teams and musical ensembles visiting churches (I recall one autumn when ‘Image’ travelled to first Baptist, Pikeville, and returned with a $900 check for sumeer missions!); date auctions; penny wars; BSU Missions ‘Blitz’ (students saturating the campus boldly asking folks to contribute; working concessions at football games; and others I have surely forgotten. Our most dramatic money raising effort was an annual (ca. 1986-1996) journey each May (during final exams) to the infield of the Kentucky Derby to sell concessions and earn a ‘cut’ of the profits of the concessionaire. This effort was led by Tom Smoot and Angela Perkins with their University of Louisville connections. Over the years our students showed an amazing amount of grit and resilience, often working long hours (we usually left Georgetown about 4 a.m.) in cramped conditions, sometimes very cold, sometimes very hot. Tony Shouse, during his years at Georgetown was indispensable as the official ‘hot dog and smokey cooker’, a job requiring his great strength. The experience was always educational, and the students were unfailingly kind and cooperative. Some years we made lots of money, some years very little. The Campus Minister’s position in those days also included leadership of the ‘worship’ events of what was then called the Cocurricular Enrichment Program (CEP). Dr. Joe Lewis arranged the non-worship events, while I organized six or seven worship events (we did not use the word 'chapel') each semester. Since students were required to earn twelve ‘co-curs’ each semester, attendance was nearly always good, but students were nearly always ‘restless’, to say the least. For many years the Thomas F. Staley foundation provided funds to bring an outstanding Christian speaker to the campus each year. I remember especially Dr. Stan Hastey, Dr. Fr. Clyde Crews, Dr. Wade Rowatt, and Esther Burroughs. One major enhancement of Campus Ministry came with the arrival of Dr. Bill Crouch as President in 1991. Soon after he became President, Dr. Crouch initiated a series of moves which brought the Student Life Office to the top floor of the Cralle Student Center (where Campus Ministry was located) and move Campus Ministries to the basement of John L. Hill Chapel. For the first time we had a lounge area where students could hang out with friends, or watch TV or videos. I tried to recruit as office workers students who had the gift of 'hospitality'--making their fellow students welcome--as well as being effective 'gofers.' Dr. Crouch also eventually made the Campus Minister position a 'report' to the Vice President for Student Life, who, during most of my tenure, was L. Bert Hawkins. When in the summer of 1997 the college, in the person of Dr. Paul Redditt, extended a most gracious offer for me to leave the Campus Ministry position to join the Religion faculty as an Associate Professor of Religion, I knew it was a good time for me to make the move. Eventually the college brought Dr. Dwight Moody from a pastorate in Owensboro and Sharon Felton from her home in Texas as Dean of the Chapel and Campus Minister, respectively--Dwight and Sharon provided significant enhancements in the Chapel services and in the missions aspect of Campus Ministry. Sharon's introduction of Georgetown students to Mission Arlington in Arlington, Texas, led to a tremendous increase in Spring Break Missions involvement on the part of our students. It's all worked out rather well. Being a pastor in Drakesboro made me a better Campus Minister, and being a Campus Minister from 1980-1997 has made me a more effective professor--at least that's the way it appears to me. I am very grateful!