Campus Ministry Meditations

Welcome to this space organized by Campus Ministry. Our hope is that these meditations from the Chowan Community will encourage you today.  

The Invocation for the Chapel Groundbreaking Ceremony

We gather here today to celebrate the groundbreaking of our own new worship center chapel. We recognize that the planning, designing, funding, and construction are only possible because of You and Your grace. From the beginning of Chowan University’s existence, You have been present and have forever changed the lives of many on this campus. However, this building will become another place on campus where many students, faculty, and staff from many different places around the world will come to seek refuge, worship You, and just be in Your presence. We thank You for the many things that have all come together and allowed for the construction of this worship center to be possible. We thank You, Lord, for those who believed in Your mission and were adamant about having a formal place of worship on campus. We also thank You for the generous donors who have invested their resources into the current Chowan community and those who will be a part of it in the future. We also thank You for Chowan University, a university that is led by those who greatly value the Christian faith. But most of all, we thank You for being a loving God that provides even in the midst of a chaotic world. Help us to use this worship center in a way that pleases you and spreads the love of Jesus to every corner of the Earth. Because it is only a life with you that gives us true hope for an eternal life in Heaven. It is in your name we pray, Amen. 

Patrick Krack '22, Ministry Chaplain
September 9, 2021

A Prayer of Blessing for the Chapel

God our Creator, Christ our holy redeemer and Spirit our guide through this life, we humbly give You all the glory and honor how you have been in this place since the seeds of Chowan Baptist Female Institute were planted in Mulberry Grove to today as Chowan University. We can never thank You enough for the faithful commitment of students, faculty and staff who have be lights of your love, salvation and service. We can never praise you enough for all of the students who have met you here, heard your call here, accepted your call here and who have obediently served you in the best of days and the worst of days.  We are only here because of you God! Thanks be to you GOD ALMIGHTY!

Now we ask your strength and power to bless this new Worship Center Chapel.

We ask that You will be over the safety of those that do the labor for this building.

We ask for Your reminder that to whom much is given, much is required. Find us faithful in giving with joy to see this place be to your glory and honor.  Let us be reminded in the economy of God we give our money, but also our prayers, our faithfulness, our service and our obedience. Find us generous.

We pray You will make a way as you always do for this student body. Protect them in this unique time of studying in a pandemic. Encourage them to be the living sacrifices of the Living Christ. Guide them to be the Lights in a dark world. Breathe your wisdom and power in them as they serve you this day and always.  May we be found faithful using this new place as a place to please you in preparing your precious students for this world.

This day, God, we ask that we will remember that “on this rock, You will build your church.” We are thankful that the rock of knowledge that Peter called Jesus the Messiah of the living God. Thank you that nothing contains You our Living God and that Jesus the Christ will lead us this day and all the days that follow. 

May You run wild in our hearts and on this campus. May Your love and protection be our comfort. May we seek to honor You in all of our living, serving and worship.

In the name of Jesus we live together, serve together, love together and pray together. Amen

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
September 9, 2021 
 


A Prayer for Chowan

OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN
And in the rubbles of Haiti and the rooms of ICU’s
And the streets of Kabul and on the campus of Chowan.

HALLOWED BE THY NAME
God – You alone are Holy.  Forgive us when we forget.

THY KINGDOM COME
The Kingdom of Christ’s light, truth, justice, equality, integrity, humility:
Thy Kingdom where everyone knows they are loved, safe and cherished.

THY WILL BE DONE

In each of us.
Through each of us.
And often in spite of each of us.
May we watch Your will be done on this campus and in our students.

ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN - Find us faithful in being co-laborers with You in creating this world to look more like heaven. Let us be good stewards of ALL You have given us – in creation – our bodies – and our neighbors.  You value life– eternally.  Let us live differently so we look more like you and less like the world.

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD – Thank You for waking us up today.  For providing all our needs – the bread for our stomachs, for nourishment for our souls, the stimulation for our minds, and the movement of our bodies. Forgive us when we come to You as a Cosmic Santa. Hear now our thankfulness in how You meet our needs - and so often in abundance so we can share with those who need a bit more.

FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS -   Oh, God, our egos – fears, pride, and words have been costly.  We are sorry.  Please let us see you in everyone and everything.  Forgive us when we worship money and use You.  Find us faithful in worshiping You and using money. 

We have all done wrong and been wronged. Let us forgive. Let us forgive. Let us forgive.

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION – God protect us when we want to flirt with the dark side or date sin.  Let us live with your integrity so it will be effortless for our students to mirror our actions, speech, attitudes, relationships, and professionalism.

AND DELIVER US FROM EVIL – Lord, we have all been pretty beat up from the evils of this world.  In this hearing are people fighting the beast of cancer, infidelity, COVID, shame, betrayal, prejudice, abuse, and grief.  All around us we see the ugliness of division, war, and greed.

YOU promise that all good things come from You!

Find us faithful as we cling to You for the goodness of this world.

FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER AND THE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER - AMEN.

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
August 20, 2021 


Good Friday

Jesus was arrested and taken to the High Priest and questioned, but no fault could be found so he was taken to the Roman governor, Pilate. He, too, questioned Jesus but found no fault. But the crowd had grown and the people in power yielded to the emotions of the crowd. 

“Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time, they had a  well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you; Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah. .. “Barabbas,” they  answered.” Matthew 27:15-17 

Jesus took Barabbas’ place. Giving up his freedom for  Barabbas. Jesus took our place. Taking on our sin to offer us Freedom.  

How are we living as free people? How are we living as redeemed people? How are our lives showing Christ his death was worth it?

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
April 2, 2021 


Journey with Jesus

Hebrews 4:14-16

I was pleased to assist Rev. Wiles with the Ash Wednesday service on campus.  I was struck by the table that held the elements.  Between the bowls of ash mixed with olive oil, there were gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. This sacred time would have to yield to Covid-19 protocols. 

As I prepared to impose the ashes, I cleaned my hands with hand sanitizer. It had a distinct odor. I am certain this brand was produced in a converted whiskey still. The smell reminded me of the desperation I felt in the early days of the pandemic when hand sanitizer was so scarce. 

With sanitized hands, I held the bowl, dipped my thumb into the gray mixture, and then made the sign of the cross on the student’s forehead. Looking into her eyes, I uttered the words through my mask-covered face, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust, you are God’s beloved.”  

Last year when we observed Ash Wednesday, coronavirus was someone else’s problem. But this Ash Wednesday, I was ever so aware of life’s fragility. Sadly, I have lost friends to Covid-19. I have also lost others to heart disease, cancer, and most tragically to despair. My grief compounds for lack of closure to say goodbye.  

Yes, this Ash Wednesday caused me great pause. The gritty ashes of repentance mixed with the oil of healing helped me see Jesus more clearly. The gospels reveal to us that Jesus knows life’s pains. Jesus fought with the tempter in the wilderness, ached when his cousin John was beheaded, and bore the emotional and physical agony of the cross. Jesus knows suffering. Jesus knows our suffering. Jesus has not been a stranger in this pandemic. He has been right here with us. May we this Lenten season journey with Jesus. May we know that we are not alone and that we are God’s beloved.  

Lou Ann H. Gilliam, Director of Church & Community Relations 
March 5, 2021


When our students scatter in a street market in rural South Africa, I could yell, “REPENT”, as it means to turn around 180 degrees, but I usually just loudly say, “Come back”.

In the shadows of the Christ child’s manger, the Shephard’s star, and the Magi’s gifts, do you hear and feel the stirring of the Spirit of God for us to Come Back?  We must “Repent” and set our course on God’s calling.

 Loving God, Forgive us when we want You to look and act like us instead of being our saving Grace.  Forgive us when we assign man-made labels to you our Creator. “For God so LOVED the WORLD that God gave His Only Son, that WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for YOU ARE ALL ONE in CHRIST.”  Galatians 3:28. We Repent.

Loving God, Forgive us when we think violence is justified  “. . .and with your feet fitted to carry the Gospel of Peace.”  Galatians 6:15. We Repent.

Loving God, Forgive us when we forget the early Church was built for us to be in community. “All the believers were ONE in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”  Acts 4:32 We Repent.

Loving God, Forgive us when we put aside God’s truth and follow people. “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6. We Repent.

Loving God, Forgive us when we simply don’t care how our actions affect our neighbor. “Dear Friends, let us love one another, for loves comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  1 John 4:7-8.  We Repent.

Finally Loving God,  as we repent and  in your mercy, you  forgive us, set us free to, “Act Justly, and to Love Mercy and to Walk Humbly with God.”  Micah 6:8.

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
January 8, 2020


Christmas Devotion

My first time taking a group of college students to South Africa was in December 2005.  We left as soon as they finished their exams and returned on Christmas Eve.  I knew where we were serving was high needs so we worked hard to bring with us health items and toys for the 300 children we would serve.  We used all our checked luggage for this and our carry-on bags for our personal items.  We were loaded down.

When we arrived, our host commented about how we had brought too much luggage.  I quickly tried to say we were going to give it all to the children for Christmas.  She told me that they did not celebrate Christmas beyond telling the story of Jesus' birth because they could not afford it.  I tried to flash my best smile and said, "but this year we can provide that". . .. she was not smiling back.

The time there was eye-opening, exhausting, life-changing and GOD filled.  I would try to mention regularly that we wanted to offer a Christmas party and that we had planned so every child would be included.  It almost got to be a battle of the wills, but finally, she agreed that we could have a “Birthday Party for Jesus”.  I was thrilled and said,” ok, now for the party food” - - - - and I lost ground again. I tried to explain in the US, we like to have “child-friendly” food for such a party. I mentioned, maybe we could have ice cream or pizza or whatever would be a favorite for her children.  I was greeted with a stern face. 

This woman was tasked with caring for and nurturing 300 children who had been thrown away. She was constantly getting more children and less financial support. She had to think long game.  I now know how trivial my constant request for a “party” was to her.  She mulled over the request about special party food for over a day.  She finally returned to me and said, if there is some way we could get every child a chicken bone that would be a treat.  They can all get nutrients from the marrow.

I felt all the air go out of my lungs.

And I said,” we can do that but there will be chicken on the bones”.  I asked her where I should go to get enough chicken for the party.  Another long conversation ensued and finally, I convinced her that we would cover the cost.  “Well then, we must go to the next village.  They have the best chicken in a place called, KFC.”   Yup, over dirt roads we traveled to a Kentucky Fried Chicken to order 300 Chicken meals for our party!  And God smiled.

As much as I love, Silent Night, the night in Bethlehem was not quiet.  Giving birth in a place where animals are housed, does not look like our Hallmark cards.  A teenage virgin and a willing carpenter, were the talk of the town, but not for the courageous faith to parent the son of God.  Healthy and sick babies cry.  People all over the world, wish they had a stable for a place to sleep. People are hearing the call and cries of God and they don’t always look like us, vote like us, live like us, or spend like us.  God is still believing we can get it right by loving and raising children, but healing hurts and helping where there is need. God is still believing in us! 

This Christmas may you believe in God.  May you be willing to see where God needs you to be a love light to someone.  May you truly reflect on what you can offer the Christ Child this Christmas. And when you pass a KFC, will you share a meal with someone who needs to be celebrated?

Because God believes in us, Holy Christmas!   

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
December 18, 2020 


Thanksgiving Devotion – Luke 17:11-19

My brother, Ren, was a senior when I started Mars Hill College as a freshman. All his guy friends were so friendly and welcoming to me. I thought I was a big deal for senior guys to know me. His female friends, however, were always rude. One day I said something to Ren about this. He got a big sheepish grin and said, “well, they might have misunderstood me.” Apparently, some of the females had seen him give me some money (remember, this was before cell phones and ATMs and our Mom had sent him a check and he was to give me some of the cash). When one of his friends had asked who I was, he told them I was just a girl he used to live with!

I guess it is human nature to quickly jump to conclusions and want to believe the worst in folks instead of invest in the time a relationship demands or assume the best? I guess. 

Today’s scripture from Luke is a familiar story this time of year. Ten lepers approach Jesus and ask Him to heal them. He instructs them to go present themselves to the priest. On their journey, they are healed and one returns to give thanks. Luke feels it is important to tell us that the one who returns is a “Samaritan” – the outcast, the marginalized, the one everyone is so quick to think the worst.  

Interestingly, the verb the Samaritan uses to “thank” Jesus is the same that Jesus uses when he “thanks” God for the bread and the cup at the Last Supper (Luke 22:17-19). It is the basis for our word “Eucharist”. The one most judged sees the holiness of his healing. This Samaritan brother can teach us today that true Thanksgiving is always about acknowledging that God is at work. If we frame our Thanksgiving in this lens, we might see beyond all the things we are wary that the Pandemic has taken from us. Instead, let us give thanks to God for how God has, is, and will be at work in us, in our communities, our families, our churches, our nation, our world. God IS at work. God is at work in me and in you. I am so very thankful and it is so very holy.

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
November 25, 2020


Loaves and Fishes Mosaic, Church of the Multiplication on the Sea of Galilee -- Photo credit: Dr. Keith Reich

What is your favorite miracle story?

One of mine is the feeding of the 5000+.  I say 5000+ because scripture tells us when the men sat down there were 5000, but we know there were also women and children.  Even in modern times, feeding that many people is an enormous task.  It would take several committees and task forces.  But Jesus always has a plan.  Jesus tells his disciples (who must have been “hangry” because they just want the crowds to go home) what to do.  Bring me what we have.

In every miracle story, Jesus invites participation.   The willingness of a boy offering his lunch of five small fish and two loaves of bread feeds thousands.  The feeding only comes after Jesus blesses the offering.  Miraculous!   But this miracle doesn’t stop there.  Everyone is fed and full and then the leftovers are gathered up and fill 12 baskets!   Jesus is generous with his meeting of needs.  What was needed is provided and MORE.

We are desperate for some miracles.

We need God to do what God has done so famously before.

We need the seas of injustice to part and find community.

We need the leprosy of 2020, COVID -19, to be cured/tamed so we can stop the dying.

We need forgiveness from the blindness of greed and selfishness and sin to be opened to God’s truth.

We need Damascus Road experiences for leadership to be transformed into Christ-followers.

We know we need Miracles.

What is Christ is waiting on us to offer up what we have so Christ may bless it and do the miraculous?

What if?

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
August 21, 2020


“For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver.” Psalm 66:10

When silver is mined it does not come out of the earth like our grandmother’s cherished shiny spoon or platter. It is a dark matte gray. It is stone-like in its appearance. The silversmith must take this hard, dull rock and heat it to an extreme temperature to melt away the elements that will release it to be the gorgeous metal we use to make jewelry and objects of art and beauty. There is one moment the silversmith can pour this vat of silver. The entire vat will be ruined if it is poured too early or too late. When the silversmith can look into the melted silver and see a perfect reflection of herself or himself, the silver can be poured for use.

The Psalmist is reminding us that none of us are a finished product. We each have things that must be removed so that our truest self can shine through. We are in a season of refinement. We are having to look at the shadow parts of ourselves and our culture which are difficult to acknowledge. We are having to own up to selfish attitudes and actions, to repent of sinful thoughts and assumptions, and to face some of the “matte gray” of our choices.

BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS. God is so absolutely crazy about us that GOD is willing to do the hard work of refining US to become a reflection of God’s self. God is willing to remove the sin and imperfections and heal our thinking and direct our emotions to become more like God. The refining is HOT. It is uncomfortable. It isn’t pleasant. BUT, O, the day that our Creator looks into our hearts and sees God’s image. Do not fear the refinement but look to the glory of passing through the tests and refine me to shine for the glory of God.

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
August 7, 2020
 


Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina, “the divine reading”, is an ancient Christian discipline of reading scripture.  It is a powerful reminder that we are not to just read a passage before bedtime but to let the truth soak into our very being.  We are to lean into not just reading but praying the scripture.  Here are the simple steps:

  • Read. Read a passage slowly and carefully within the Bible. Read it again.
  • Pray. Ask God to speak through the scripture. Read it again.
  • Meditation. Think deeply and listen for the spiritual reality within a text.
  • Contemplation. Rest in God’s presence.
  • Action. Go and do likewise.

Start with a familiar passage.  I once used Psalms 23.  It took me a week to get passed the first nine words.

God is

God is my shepherd

God is my shepherd, I shall not want . . . . .

And God moved in me.   I cannot read, pray, or recite that passage without knowing, feeling, and believing that God will care for me and I am going to be safe.

I invite you today to see the Holy word from God as Holy conversations.  Pick a passage and let the divine reading wash over you, grow in you, and be alive around you.

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students

July 24, 2020


Be the Fruit

I had had a difficult week and a sweet friend said she had “just the perfect surprise to make it all better”. She was well-meaning when she dropped off a beautifully wrapped gift and good wishes. The package held a “Mr. Wonderful" doll. When you pressed his abs, he said things like, “let me wash the dishes”, and “you control the remote” and “no those pants make you look skinny”. It didn’t hit the spot of the “perfect surprise” for me and I really didn’t think much more about it as I put it back in the package.

A few days later as I was stepping out of the shower, I was startled to hear a male voice coming from the other room (I live alone). I quickly dressed and did receive the “perfect surprise”. My curious dog had discovered the package, ripped it open, and was biting “Mr. Wonderful” and activating the recording, apparently much to her frustration. She made great haste to totally take him apart and I died laughing. I laughed at her enthusiasm. I laughed at folk’s expectations of a Mr. Wonderful or Ms. Wonderful or Rev. Wonderful, etc. . . . I laughed because God seldom comes wrapped up in pretty packages but bursts for in the rawest moments of life.

Galatians 5:22-25 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

There is no quick fix for all we are facing. There just isn’t. 

But may we not be disheartened. We are people who “live by the Spirit”. Each day may we recommit to finding ways to live, share, and receive the fruits of this Spirit. On our worst days may we offer these qualities to ourselves. On our best days may we look like a garden of welcome and wholeness. And Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:16-17

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students
July 17, 2020


Come to Me

I often say that I was raised by Bob and Betty Baptist.  The first place I went as an infant was to the church nursery.  My mother came from a deeply rooted Christian heritage with rich doctrine and historical narratives and my father became a believer as an adult and saw living his faith as service. I am so much of who I am because of both of their parenting and Christian discipleship.  That being said, I was a college freshman before I met a female minister.

Rev. Sue Fitzgerald ran the Center for Christian Education at Mars Hill College and I did work-study with her.  She heard me speak at an event and called me into her office. She said, “If you aren’t willing to follow the call of God on your life to preach, you are limiting God.”  

I didn’t sleep for three days.

I could think of no greater burden than to limit God!  And at the point, I had never heard a woman from the pulpit.  How on earth could God use me?  That blunt encounter changed the direction of my life. I did a deep dive not only in scripture but also in my own soul and came to accept that God was calling me and still knew I was female.  The journey has been the most fulfilling.

Matthew 11:28-30 tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us to be yoked with him.  He will be the lead.  He will be the teacher. He will be the guide. 

He will do the “heavy lifting”.  Jesus says to really find rest – is to plow with him. To be about the work he leads us to do. To be yoked together is to have to move in the same direction and at the same pace.  It won’t work another way.  The seasoned one takes the lead.  When I become emotionally, spiritually and physically exhausted, it is often because I have been trying to do it on my own.  But that is not how I’m created. We are created to be in relationship with our Creator.

Yes, 2020 has been rough on everyone and devastating on many.  But God has not abandoned us.  Christ is still invited us to “COME”.  Christ is still here waiting for us to learn from him to find rests for our souls and to lighten our burden.  Christ is still expecting us to show the world how very much it is loved.  There is a call on your life today, how will you answer?

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students

July 10, 2020


God is Here

An act of kindness was extended to a man on the streets of East St. Louis, IL.  He asked the giver, “Where do you go to church?”  The man shared with him that he attended a Baptist church to which the other gentleman replied,” Oh, Baptist, I know who you all hate, now who is it that you love?”   This encounter shared with me by a dear college friend has haunted me for decades. 

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  Amos 5:24

Our minds, emotions, prayers and bodies can hardly attempt to process a global pandemic, historic job loss, and injustice of racism.  But here we are.  And here God is.  In this raw, painful battle to find a cure to somehow make sense of 100,000 + deaths of Covid – 19, and in the costly fight for equality let us side with God.  In scripture “justice and righteousness” are mentioned over 800 times (compared to the 13 times “hell” is mentioned).  Let us be found being baptized in these rolling waters of God’s, right- ness.  Let us be found drinking from God’s stream of living water.  Let us be found giving a cup of ever-flowing grace to all humankind, Imago Dei.

Now is the time for each of us to be known for who it is we love through our actions, our words, our prayers, our support, our compassion, our understanding, our apologies, our listening, and our hope.

Hurt people, hurt people.   

Loving people, love people.

We are God’s “Plan A”.  God is counting on us to live obediently into finding cures, righting wrongs, feeding the hungry, guiding the lost, sheltering the vulnerable, educating the willing and following our Christ.  There really is no “Plan B”.

For God So LOVED the World that He Gave . ...

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students

June 12, 2020


Sometimes I need more of the story . . .

Pool at Bethesda in Jerusalem - photo credit Dr. Keith Reich

Sometimes I need more of the story . . .

The story is familiar to us. The Gospel writer of John 5:1-8, shares with us that a disabled man has been trying to get into the healing waters at Bethesda for 38 years.  The belief was when the waters first stirred if you could immerse yourself, you would be healed.  The pools were lined with people desperate for healing.

Jesus arrives.  He asks the man the most profound question, “Do you want to get well?”

The man never answers his questions with words.  He starts stating all the reasons he can’t make it to the healing waters.  But when the One who can heals tells him what do to, the man answers the questions, “Do you want to get well?” with his actions.  He takes up his mat and walks into complete healing.

The question demands a response. 

Sometimes we miss that Christ sits with us during Chemo.

Sometimes we mistake that we are waiting alone for the stirring waters of healing of a relationship, a job, mental health.

Sometimes, when we are honest, we don’t pick up our mat and walk because we are too comfortable with our pain, or too afraid of healing.

We have all been by the pool and asked, screamed, whispered, “WHY?” to God.

I believe often the answer to our “whys” is “How”.  God may not reveal all of the “whys” of our brokenness, but God always shows us “how”.  How to walk through a scary diagnosis and recover.  How to survive a betrayal of a spouse or beloved friend. How to navigate a job loss.  How to stand for God’s righteousness, even if standing alone.  How to graduate during a pandemic.  How to put an entire university online in days!  How to find home in the darkest of nights.

What question is Christ asking you today?  Be slow to give excuses and quick to living into healing when Christ tells you “how”.

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students

Friday, May 22, 2020


Why, yes, I did get a speeding ticket in a church bus!

The Bus! Photo credit Mari Wiles

It was after a long week of youth camp and I was tired.  To be honest, I had my rearview mirror tilted so I would watch some “curious” young high school students and missed the police charging up behind me!  I was beyond mortified.  The church name was plastered all over the bus!  The officer took me back into his cruiser for a lengthy lecture about the “precious cargo” I was transporting and was about to give me a warning ticket when one of the “precious cargo”, mooned him!  I got a ticket.

My focus was on the wrong thing.

“I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be my people, and I will be their God for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”  Jeremiah 24:7

I saw a quote this week that has been very meaningful, “We are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm.”  Everyone in the entire world is going through the Covid-19 Pandemic in real-time.  It is unprecedented and overwhelming.  We each have different realities with it.  Some have lost family members and loved ones to this beast. Some of have lost jobs. Some have been put in jeopardy because of their calling/skill set.  Some are careless and seemingly ignorant. Most, if not all of us, are at times focusing on the wrong thing.

“I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be my people, and I will be their God for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”  Jeremiah 24:7

Will you join me today in doing our very best to return to God with our whole heart?  Will you join me today in remembering that in a bus or a car or life – the windshield in front of us is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason.  Life is in the moment and in front of us.  We chose to frame it with the power and peace of God, or limit the view because of old fears and misguided focus/feelings.

“I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be my people, and I will be their God for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”  Jeremiah 24:7

Here’s my heart Lord . .. speak what is true . . .

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students

Friday, May 8, 2020


Breakfast with Jesus

Rev. Craig Janney (’04) made a comment recently that has really stuck with me, “Everyone is wanting to get ‘back to normal’ but is that really the direction we want to go?”

There are many things we all miss about life before a pandemic, but we must be honest that many things in our lives, world, and relationships were not normal. Let’s reframe our hope which is grounded in our faith in Christ. Let’s move forward in faith. Let’s use some of this time to work on our relationship with God, ourselves, and others to reach healthy, growing futures. Much is out of our control, but we can control if we will go backward or forwards.

The Gospel always moves forward.

In John chapter 21, we see the disciples quickly “jumping “back into the life they knew before they encounter Christ and the Call. They return to what was, fishing. Interestingly the only time in scripture where the fish are caught is in the presence of Jesus. When Jesus approaches and tells them to cast on the other side (do a new thing) they catch more than enough.

But what happens next is so encouraging. Jesus already has fish frying up and tells this hungry, confused, anxious group of friends, “Come and have breakfast.” In the middle of our worst days and our best, Jesus is meeting our needs. Today I invite you to make time for Breakfast with Jesus. Sit by the fire of his love and feast on his promises. Imagine if we all got on the same page, the Gospel page, how our new post-pandemic world might look.  

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students

Friday, April 23, 2020


YES!

I believe that the boldest prayer any of us can pray is, “Yes”. 

“Yes,” to God asking me to move to a small town in Eastern North Carolina to love, serve and lead wonderful, capable, messy, beautifully diverse, alive, broken students who are images of God.

“Yes”, to taking students who have never traveled around God’s world and neighborhood to help heal and love some of the lonely cries of this world.

“Yes”, for many of you to take on debt, break generational expectations, defy negative voices, and attempt what seems impossible to earn a college degree.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He has been raised, just as he said..." Matthew 28:5-6

Today is Easter. Today is the day we recognize that it is God who has taken the boldest of risks in saying “Yes” to us.

Easter is the celebration and reminder that God says, “Yes”, to loving us so much God would allow the one Son to be cruelly betrayed, wrongly accused, painfully executed and willingly assume the sins of the world. God said “Yes”, to us when the sky went dark, Christ offered up his last breath, and the very heart of God broke because of the sin of humanity.

God said, “Yes”, to LIFE when Jesus mocked death and rose to eternal life. God is still saying, “Yes” to your life. Easter is a reminder that God is always on the side of Life!

How will you say “Yes” to God today? On this day rest in the ever welcoming arms of our Creator God.  

Happy  Easter!

Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students  

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020

 


Is It I?

 Mark 14:12-21 (RSV)

17 And when it was evening he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were at table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

The meal was prepared. Evening came. A trumpet sounded to announce the beginning of the evening of Passover. Passover – this was the greatest of God’s saving acts – until Jesus himself. It celebrated the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and the Exodus. Jesus and the Twelve arrived at the appointed place, apart from the hubbub of his last week in Jerusalem. As they sat and ate, Jesus said, “One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 

I wonder how loud his voice was. How intense?

Where were the disciples’ reassuring replies? Not even Peter, so often inclined to speak without thinking, said a word. They didn’t answer “No, Lord. None of us!” Instead, the account says they were saddened, distressed, and one by one they said to him, “Is it I?” Slowly, separately, not all together, uncertain.

 Is it I? Is it I? They didn’t know their own hearts and minds.

Things haven’t changed much these past 2000 years. Here we are in Holy Week, preparing for the celebration of “the rest of the story,” and what are we thinking?

Do we even recognize the question? And if so, how do we respond?

I dare say we’re no better than the disciples back then. Like them, we are uncertain of our own hearts and minds.

It’s a terrible moment when we realize that we are in God’s presence, and while people look at our outer façade, God looks at our heart. And for us, there is no place to run and hide from him. And so, when he says, “You will fail me,” the best we can come up with is “Is it I?” Surely, not me . . . please, not me . . . not again.

Even today we’re never altogether sure of ourselves. The strongest of us have weak moments. The most faithful of us fail. In each one of us is the possibility of betrayal. No wonder the disciples were saddened, distressed.

It’s good to know our strengths. It’s dangerous not to know our weaknesses. It’s essential to know we can fail.

Do we ever look back and realize just how close we came to a precipice? How narrowly we escaped? How we almost yielded to some temptation?

We ought to be very humble when we see another fall, go astray. “There but for the grace of God go we.”

After the Passover Feast came the experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas came and betrayed him – with a kiss. The common greeting of teacher and disciple. An intimate expression, one that should have been reserved for honor, respect, love.

I wonder if Judas looked him in the eyes. I wonder if he saw the pity and sympathy, the depth of sorrow that must have been there at the betrayal, at the one who betrayed. 

All along people didn’t understand Jesus. All along they abandoned him. When Jesus fed 5000, why were there only 120 followers after the ascension? Jesus couldn’t hold people to him by performing miracles. He did not. He would not. So he asked, “Will you also go away? Will you also betray?”

The world has always disliked Judas. He hated himself so much he committed suicide. We hate and fear him. 

But I think one of the reasons we hate Judas so much is our fear. We fear there is a little too much of him inside each one of us.For each of us, too, there’s always the possibility of our betraying Jesus. It’s a terrible thought, one that frightens us, one that disarms us. One that leaves us at so much of a loss, that all we can do is cry for mercy. All we can do is ask God to hold us even though we are unable to hold him. 

So, Jesus said, “One of you shall betray me.”

 “Lord, is it I?”

We cannot come to the day of crucifixion without facing the same accusation and having to reply with some response. We are guilty – each one of us. It wasn’t just Judas, so long ago. Each day, we too betray Jesus: by what we do – and leave undone; by what we say – and leave unsaid; by what we think – and what never comes to mind.

As we look at the cross, we hear his voice from the night before: “One of you shall betray me.”

We have all betrayed you, Lord. Forgive us. Cleanse us. Renew us. Bring us back into your love.  

Amen – may it be so.

Dr. Ralph J Brabban II - E. Lee Oliver Fagan Distinguished Professor of Bible

Good Friday, April 10, 2020


Rejoice, it’s Maundy Thursday!

What’s Maundy Thursday you say? Well, Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word mandatum, which means command.  It refers to the new command that Jesus gave to his disciples during his last supper on the Thursday night before he died: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This commandment to love is central to Jesus’ message and is commemorated on Maundy Thursday. 

But, Maundy Thursday commemorates more than just this commandment. Many things happened during Jesus’ last supper.  He washed the disciples feet embodying his message of service. He predicted his death and hardships for the disciples.  He promised the helper, the advocate, the Holy Spirit who would come to aid his followers.  And, in a final prayer to the Father he asked God that his followers may be one. Jesus prayed, “I ask on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). This call for Christian unity is so important, yet we often forget his words and prayer.  We become divided and divisive. We separate the world into “us” and “them.” 

As I write these words I have two dear friends in the hospital with COVID 19.  One has been battling for his life for over a week now.  It is day to day and we do not know if he will survive.  Yet, it has brought those who love him together.  Many of us have been unified in our resolve to pray for healing and to stay in touch on a minute by minute basis. One thing that has struck me during this pandemic is that we, all humans, truly are one. We have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same fears and anxieties, the same desire to protect ourselves and those we love. This human unity has been laid bare by this virus that does not discriminate. There is no one who has escaped based on political views, race, religion, country of origin, gender, and the list could go on.  We really are in this together.  And we will emerge stronger.  

So, as we celebrate this Maundy Thursday, let us remember Jesus’ prayer on his final night, that we may be one, even as He and the Father are one. Let us consider how we can act as one and love one another. 

May the God of Peace bless you and keep you as you navigate this season in your lives. 

Dr. Keith Reich, Chair, Religion Department


And Can It Be | Holy Week Devotional 

Photo courtesy of godtube.com

Looking at the pictures on the wall in my daughter's room I see the smiling faces of family and good friends. People that we haven't seen face-to-face for more than 3 weeks, some even longer. I see us standing shoulder-to-shoulder and with our arms embracing each other and I think to myself... this was before corona. I get a little sad and I wonder when we will ever get back to that type of normal.   

This Holy Week, I think about the way Jesus must have felt as he approached the cross. Perhaps we can relate to the loneliness, even the isolation, he certainly felt as the day he had known about his whole his life was becoming a reality.  Jesus knew that he was going to die but he also knew it was to change the world.

I pray that we are able to find some time this week to reflect on all the good in our lives; our family, friends, students, professors, and neighbors. I pray that we are able to focus on the future when this pandemic will end and we will all be able to be together again.

The hymn And Can It Be by Charles Wesley, arranged by Dan Forrest is one my favorite religious songs. The song humbles me as I contemplate that Jesus did die for me.

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

I invite you to listen to this version and read the beautiful lyrics. I hope you feel moved.

-Frances Cole, Public Services Desk, Whitaker Library

April 8, 2020

 


I'll Fly Away | Holy Week Devotional 

Photo of a Tree Swallow by Ken Christison

John 13:31-35

Standing by the kitchen sink, my grandmother casually said, “I’ll Fly Away, is the song I want at my funeral.”  I nodded and continued eating my cookies and sipping coke from the tiny glass bottle.  

My grandmother did not talk about death all the time, but she would pepper it in our daily routines.  Death was not a taboo subject for her, probably because she learned about it too soon. She was orphaned at six, endured the Great Depression, and in her fifties, survived a massive heart attack.

Along with teaching me about death, my grandmother taught me about living.  She was witty, practical, and frugal. Most of all, she was a kind and faithful Christian. My grandmother “flew away” thirty years ago, but what I learned from her still lives within me.  

In the last week of Jesus’s earthly life he prepares the disciples for his death. He says,     

“Little children, I am with you a little longer.  You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews I now say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. “   

Before Jesus spoke these words, he demonstrated his love by humbly washing their feet. Then he summed up his time with them --- I love you, so love each other.  What good words for the disciples as they were about to face the scariest, saddest days of their lives.  

This holy week, Jesus prepares us for his death.  He tells us the cross is coming.  He knows we are living in scary, uncertain days.   Remember all the things He has taught you, remember the times when he has sustained you.  Hear Him say, “I love you.”  Embrace his love and in return let us love one another.  

Lou Ann Gilliam, Director of Church & Community Relations
April 7, 2020


Holy Week is here! | Holy Week Devotional

The scent of Sunday palms lingers in our hands and the ringing of "Hosanna!" echoes in the air. I imagine that these sights and sounds stayed in the air as that first Holy week progressed, especially when Jesus was arrested, found guilty, and crucified. 

I imagine that the worst moments of that week left people confused. I bet they longed for the sounds of "Hosanna!" instead of the screams of, "Crucify Him!" and then the dreaded silence that came after the passion. 

The first Holy week was a disappointment with a crisis and a pile of confusion wrapped up in it. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus's followers fled when he was arrested. I imagine they felt anxiety, grief, fear of the known. 
Sound familiar? We do not have to stretch our imaginations to see similarities between that first passion week and holy week 2020. 
Today's crisis is not exactly the same, but we can see some common threads of life running through both. Jesus's absence created uncertainty. What were the disciples to do now? The absence of routines, jobs, normalcy creates uncertainty in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. Where do we go from here? 

As we think about our current situations, whatever they may be, I think it is okay for us not to know what to do or where to go. At the end of the week Christ will rise. Christ's love will endure. 

Uncertainty, fear, anxiety are not the end. 

This global pandemic is not the end. 

Christ's death was not the end. 

As we reflect on the "Hosannas!" of what once was, I pray that we will persevere and hold onto the hope that is coming-- onto the resurrection that is coming. It will be here soon. 

Amen. 

Amber Nicole Simpson, Associate Minister to the University 
April 6, 2020


Meet me on the playground… to touch the stars!

View of the Milky Way in Northeastern NC photo by Ken Christison​

As I child, I loved to swing.  I tried to go as high as I possibly could.  Do you remember?  We leaned back and kick out at the same time.  In playground vocabulary we used called it, “pumping” our legs.  We would encourage each other to pump harder!  We thought we could fly!

Thankfully the reality that we could not fly never reached the swing sets.  Today, children are still leaning back and kicking out to touch the stars.

Luke 17:20-21, “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered them saying, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

As we approach Holy Week we have the beauty of reading the whole story.  The first followers of Christ didn’t have that luxury.  They could not understand how the Kingdom of God could be present in a relationship with Christ and be in the future as an eternal dwelling with God.  The opposing realities were impossible to them.

God seems to love the impossible.  God calls us to be proverbial trapeze artists. In faith, we are to let go of one ring and trust and the next one will be within our reach.  God calls us to give until we are empty, trusting that God will refill our cup to overflowing.  God calls us to trust that the tomb will only be a temporary resting place for a Savior which will rise again to offer all of us redemption.  God calls us to lean into God Almighty as we kick back on all our fears, worries, frustrations, failures and doubts.  God calls us to remember if the stars are the limit, we need to keep flying.

There seems to be a blanket of fear and uncertainty around us and around the world.  May we boldly proclaim that the Kingdom of God is NOW?  That with glad expectancy is Easter will come again.  Let us we join our voices with all the faithful to say the grave is an impossible dwelling for the Living Christ and we get to share that truth every day.  Let us lean in to Jesus and soar to touch the stars!

Rev. Mari E. Wiles, Minister to the University and Associate Dean of Students

April 3, 2020


Fear and Faith do not come from the same seed.

We find ourselves as a world and as individuals in a unique space.  We haven't traveled this road before so we can become afraid, anxious and self-absorbed.  These are all normal reactions to stress and fear.  We can feel these things but we must not stay planted in them.

God doesn't always give us a detailed plan of what will happen next.  However, God is always faithful to reveal God's self.  God is ever-present with us.

In scripture, we find "fear not" and "do not be afraid" 366 times.  God is giving us a verse for each day (and even one for leap year) to remind us over and over to not lead with fear.  Fear only makes us less than the person God dreams us to be.

This day may we decide to be a people of Faith.  Faith will take us where Fear can not go.  Faith will help us to see that God is in control.  Faith will help us see ways to help our neighbor.  Faith will show us ways to be encouragers to each other.  Faith will walk through dark times into the Light.

"Tell fearful souls, "Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs.  He's on his way!  He'll save you!" Isaiah 35:4

Fear and Faith do not come from the same seed.  You decide which you will water.

Trusting God,  Rev. Mari Wiles, Minister to the University & Associate Dean of Students

March 20, 2020