Cross of Christ Chapel Dedication
The Cross of Christ Chapel Dedication was held on the evening of September 6, 2020. Several key members of Chowan University’s administration and campus ministry were involved in paying tribute to the newly finished chapel to a crowd of limited guests due to pandemic regulations. President Dr. Kirk Peterson opened the ceremony to a socially distanced, masked clad crowd. On behalf of Mrs. Farris, Dr. Peterson gave all the glory to God for His steadfast love and guidance. He continued by extending heartfelt gratitude to Edith Farris for her financial contributions, to Dr. and Mrs. White for championing this project, and to the faithful guests in attendance. Rev. Anita Thompson, member of the Ministerial Board of Associates, properly initiated the ceremony with an evening prayer of thanksgiving.
Student Campus Ministry Chaplain, Patrick Krack followed with the scripture reading from John 14: 1-8. This reference is especially significant as it is the foundation of the Christian faith and the Biblical purpose for the Cross of Christ Chapel. It describes Jesus comforting his disciples with the words now etched into the chapel’s altar, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
M. Christopher White, retired Chancellor, who envisioned the project during his time at Chowan, offered words of reflection. He shared that a chapel had been attempted many times over his tenure, but given the other needs of the University in the past two decades, it had not come to fruition until now. Honoring Mrs. Farris’s commitment to improving her alma mater, Dr. White referenced several of her previous projects and for having the vision to create The Farris Prayer Room in Whitaker Library. But both Mrs. Farris and Dr. White agreed that the campus lacked an architectural symbol that says “Jesus is worshiped here”.
The criteria for the outdoor chapel were structured to create a perfect worship environment. The location for the chapel must be in a serene place, encouraging worship, and near water to evoke the New Testament where the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River play important roles. The chapel also needed to have clear visibility and accessibility to the campus community. Lake Vann’s picturesque bank provided all of these requirements. Dr. White closed remarking on the spiritual satisfaction the Cross of Christ Chapel brings him saying, “To dream a dream without action is empty [and] worthless. But to have that dream shared and adopted by others and have it become reality is in itself a religious experience. It is gratifying.”
Rev. Mari E.Wiles, Minister to the University, preached further on the dedication passage from John 14: 1-8. This section of John is known as the “farewell message of Christ” because Jesus delivers it to the disciples shortly before he is crucified, encouraging them to stay the course. He reminds us through this passage that in the midst of all of the chaos and uncertainty in life, there is no need to be troubled. Though fear insists that God is not enough to sustain us, His word reminds us that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” The Cross of Christ Chapel embodies this message as a place for us to gather on the principle that no matter what life brings, God is enough.
Dr. Montrose Streeter, Vice President for Student Affairs offered a prayer of dedication with a powerful petition to those attending. To officially consecrate the chapel, Rev. Wiles and the student ministry chaplains held communion for willing attendees as Dr. Benjamin Thorburn, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities, provided musical meditation with an a cappella rendition of prolific hymnists Fanny Crosby’s “To God Be the Glory.” Associate Minister to the University, Amber Simpson, evoked the New Testament’s Great Commission to close the dedication, reminding the audience that just as we delight in the new chapel, Christ delights in us as His image-bearers, bringing the lost to Him.
Edith “Edie” Vick Farris, class of 1953, had a dream that Chowan University needed a chapel. So from a divine direction, she worked with John M. Tayloe, then Vice President for Development, and Dr. White, then President, to fund what would become the Farris Prayer Room dedicated in 2018 and named in memory of her late husband LTC (U. S. Army) Phil Farris. While she has helped accomplish part of her dream, Mrs. Farris knew there was still no overt sign of Chowan’s Christian heritage on campus.
During the dedication, W. Frank Rose, Chair of Chowan’s Board of Trustees, offered words of appreciation, affirming that Mrs. Farris’s vision had been fulfilled; this chapel is the first visible sign on campus signifying Chowan is a Christian university. He profoundly noted that not only is the chapel an important symbol of Chowan’s faith but it stands as a holy place of reflection, celebration, and remembrance.
The timing of this outdoor chapel could not be more perfect. In a time suddenly thrust upon us where we are limited to the number of people allowed to gather, the Farris Prayer Room and campus ministry are limited to serving only a couple people at a time. This sacred place allows for more people to safely gather and retreat to the peaceful solitude of Christ. The Cross of Christ Chapel is a beautiful illustration of how even in a period where life is framed with uncertainty, God’s providence has prepared us.