I recently got a phone call from Marshall Rowe, Director of Alumni Relations at Covenant College in Chattanooga, TN. Marshall was in the area and wanted to stop by for a chat. We were not able to connect but it did cause me to reflect on my long and unofficial association with Covenant.
My first exposure to Covenant College was in April 1967, scarcely 10 years after its founding, when I was part of a national recruiting team for Campus Crusade for Christ. We travelled around the country, visiting colleges to talk to students about joining up with Bill Bright’s outfit. Our tour took us to Chattanooga in April and we visited Covenant along with Tennessee Temple, University of Tennessee and University of Chattanooga (now part of the UT system). My impression of Covenant was that it was a very small Christian college which was lukewarm towards us and raised prickly questions about our approach to evangelism. The state schools and Temple were much warmer. But Covenant administration did let us on campus, gave us a chapel and scheduled student interviews.
My next run in with Covenant College was with the CC students at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis in the early 1970s. I was attending the seminary at the suggestion of Francis Schaeffer and the introduction of Christian college educated seminarians was new to me. I had graduated from the University of Washington in secular Seattle and had become a Christian through Campus Crusade in l965. I had met Christian college grads on the staff of Campus Crusade but this was my real introduction to Covenant grads. In general, I was a bit ambivalent about the Covenant men. That is, until I met the seminary president’s kid, Rob Rayburn. I remember being asked to go to the college for a seminary
recruiting trip in the winter of l973. The car load of seminarians was to be made up of Covenant College grads, a Wheaton College grad and me, as senior class president. Rayburn was along for the ride and I dreaded the eight hour trip with a bunch of younger Christian college products. We got in the car and off we went. I laughed the entire trip to and from Lookout Mountain, GA.I had a great time and it made me a believer in Covenant. See a 20 year tribute to young Rayburn on another blog.
I graduated from Covenant Seminary in l973 and went into the pastorate of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical
Synod which owned the college and seminary. During my seminary years Dr. Will Barker, Dean of Faculty at Covenant Seminary, suggested I interview with his brother, Dr. Nick Barker Dean of Faculty at Covenant College, for an entry position in the Bible Department. While there were financial restraints on the college at the time, Nick was interviewing for the future. Another person interviewing for the same position was James Hurley, a PhD from Harvard. Tough competition. Dr. Hurley was eventually hired and went on to a distinguished academic career.
I left the RPC, ES pastorate after three or four years (depending on how one counts) and when the RPs joined the newer Presbyterian Church in America in l982 I did not transfer my ordination to the merged denomination.
In business during the l980s, Kathy and I were able to financially help several Covenant students pay their bills. This kept the connection to “my” college alive during these wilderness years. I was operating the family real estate brokerage company at the time in Ellensburg,WA, far from the theological action. In October l987 I joined the Covenant personnel hunt when I wrote my friend Joel Belz, who was on the Presidential Search Committee, commending Frank Brock for the position. I hadn’t met Brock at that time but had read of his volunteer work at Covenant over the previous year and knew that the Brock family was one ofTennessee’s most prominent families. A year later, in l988, Rob Rayburn (pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church) and I brought Dr. Carl F. H. Henry and President Brock out to Seattle for a Covenant College weekend capped by an elegant banquet at the Columbia Tower Club 76 floors above Seattle! (See my comments on another blog)
While our two daughters were growing up in central Washington we would send them off to the PCA summer camp at Horn Creek, Colorado, and daily vacation Bible schools at Green Lake Presbyterian Church (pastored by seminary classmate and CC recruiting companion Steve Leonard) in Seattle. These summer camps were a life line and a God-send to solid training and Christian companionships for Angie and Karissa. An added bonus was that the girls met Covenant students who were counselors at the camps.
In the spring of 1990 Karissa was accepted into the American Studies Association summer program at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. At the end of the program, we took the opportunity to visit six small colleges on the east coast: William & Mary, Davidson, St. John’s, University of the South, Washington & Lee and lastly, Covenant. I had selected these names from the 1991 National Review College Guide. As we visited these elite campuses, some offered early admittance (St. John’s, Washington & Lee) and others rolled out the red carpet for us (Davidson, Sewanee). All were elegant and impressive.
Except Covenant. It was a horror story. When we arrived, there was a summer conference of teens who were liberating the historic Carter Hall from the college administration. Boom boxes and furniture gymnastics were the order of the day in that great building. When we went to the admission office they had no record of our appointment. They were disorganized and not prepared. We had already given money to the college in scholarship aid, and proud papa had been figuratively wined and dined with his family in some of the finest private colleges in the region and here we were at our own college which was more akin to a junior college than a selective Christian college. I took Karissa’s hand and marched out of Carter Hall headed for the car with the admonition, “Let’s go, Karissa. This is not the college for you.” We got outside to the parking lot and my 18 year old daughter began to hold back and cry. She said, “Dad, this is where I want to go to college. I have been waiting for this all my life. This is holy ground.” I stood there stunned, remembering that the main reason Covenant was even on our list of colleges was that it was academically good enough for Bronwyn Rayburn Leonard, a very bright friend of the family, and so it would be good enough for our daughters. I meekly replied, “Ok, Karissa, let’s go back in to talk to the folks.” Both Karissa and Angie would graduate from Covenant in the 90s and go on to marry Christian men and attend graduate school (Angie is even at Covenant Seminary!).
Part of Karissa’s scholarship package was a violin scholarship. She had studied violin as a school girl. So in l983 Kathy and I began to fund a small endowment for violin students at Covenant called the Buswell Scholarship, named for James (Jamie) Buswell, the nationally recognized violinist and son of John Buswell who had recruited me to Covenant Theological Seminary in l969. My philanthropic philosophy (to the extent I have one) is that the joy of endowing, even in a small way (and it will be small), a scholarship or designated fund is not restricted to those whom God has enabled to acquire great wealth. Rather, by regular payments of smaller amounts (i.e., $500 – $1000) one can accumulate enough money in a fund to make a difference, and be a stakeholder in an institution. It is this philosophy that motivated us to begin to “endow” several scholarships at Covenant. In l991 we began the Gordon Clark Philosophy Scholarship with a small donation of $500.
And in l998 we began the Francis and Edith Schaeffer Scholarship for Biblical studies with another small donation. As part of the Schaeffer Scholarship, Kathy flew to Rochester, Minn. in the spring of ‘98 and picked up Mrs. Schaeffer and accompanied her to Covenant for several luncheon talks and Q & A sessions. Edith made the presentation of the scholarship to the first Covenant recipient. It was a time of great honor for Kathy as she spent days with Edith on the road and at the college.
We continued to add to the funds as God enabled. The scholarship funds diminished over time as Covenant attempted to keep up with the inflationary climb of costs and we couldn’t keep up the donations to off set the increase in costs. So the amount given to students decreased over time. Still the joy for us middle class supporters in helping some students pay for their Covenant education was and continues to be a blessing. The philosophy of us little guys helping other little guys get through Covenant is one which I continue to embrace. This notion of fund raising for the Parent’s Council would come out of this “little man” giving idea.
l996 was a big year for us with Covenant College. I received one of the highest honors of my life: I was invited to give the commencement speech at Covenant’s graduation in May (see the speech on another blog). A big surprise was that the Commencement Concert by the college chorale and chamber choir was dedicated to us for the Buswell Scholarship. The family sat in the beautiful MacLellan Chapel stunned in surprise. As one can imagine, it was a magical time for the Case family. especially Karissa, who was graduating.
Earlier, in April 1996, I sent Charlie Phillips, Vice president for Development at Covenant a fax stating my opinion that Covenant needed an “active parents’ organization” to raise funds for the college. Money follows the children and Kathy and I were looking for ways to enhance our second daughter’s (Angie) college experience at Covenant. Christian grandparents would do the same. So I argued that a vital arm of the development department at Covenant must be a parents’ group. Later in l996 I was asked, and readily accepted, the role to begin a Parents’ Council at the college. Charlie Phillips had the right philosophy for membership on the council: It was to be a development arm of the College and thus its purpose was to raise money and students. Two young Covenant grads were assigned to assist and push us along: Troy Duble (son of development guru Allen Duble) and Lucas Mininger.
On that founding Parents’ Council were John and Jan Hitchcock (Georgia), Steve and Marni Halvorson (North Carolina), Archie and Debbie Hager (Missouri), Nick and Martha Ogburn (Maryland), Jim and Susan Taylor (Florida), John and Joann Tolson (Florida), Ricardo and Ana Varela (Tennessee), Curt and Mary Zacharias (Arizona), and Kathy and Bob Case (Washington) (see my speech on another blog).
That early Council was committed to honoring good teaching since that was the focus of Covenant. Our kids were being taught by full professors
and not by teaching assistants. So we wanted to show our appreciation for the good teachers at Covenant. In this vein, one of the things we instituted was the Sanderson Award to be given each year to an outstanding member of the faculty, as determined by the Council. The award was named for the well-known Covenant College/Seminary scholar, John Sanderson. The first award was given at the 1999 commencement to history professor Dr. Louis Voskuil. (See my comments on another blog.)
In those early years we also organized Parents’ Weekend when we invited Parents to come to the campus and sit in on faculty presentations ranging from philosophy to biology to art to economics.
When the new presidential search process began in 2000 I suggested that the Parents’ Council have an official representative on the search committee. I was starting a new job and didn’t want any more responsibilities, but there were members on the Council who would offer a unique perspective and focus on the role parents should play in the next president’s vision for the college. The suggestion was turned down.
A current note: I suggest that the new presidential search committee now underway for a replacement of Dr. Neil Nielson appoint an official representative from the Parents’ Council which would signify that the group is a stakeholder in the future of Covenant College.
I resigned from the Parents’ Council in 2001 due to my focused attention on the new World Journalism Institute.
In 2003 I hired Kim Collins, a 1999 Covenant College graduate who was also a recent WJI graduate, to be my assistant at the institute. In time, Kim became the Deputy Director and dean of faculty for our New York course. Among her many responsibilities was coordinating our first intensive, multi-week high school journalism workshop. Fittingly, it was held on the campus of Covenant College in the summer of 2004.
In 2005 Kathy and I were able to give that year’s graduates of Covenant a complementary copy of Nancy Pearcey’s just published book, Total Truth. Nancy was working for WJI as the Francis Schaeffer Chair of Cultural Apologetics. Her book was an elegant reformulation of Francis Schaeffer’s thought about the need to think Christianly about the world around us. Perfect for Covenant’s mission as Dr. Nielson wrote me, “Thank you for helping us send them off with clear ideas about thinking and living Christianly.”
We have continued to think of Covenant as our college, even as the years fall away. The main reason for this loyalty comes from the promise of Covenant. Much of what I said in l996 in my commencement address holds true for me today. The title of my talk was, “The Entrustment of Covenant College,” (1 Tim. 6:20). I said then and I repeat that the fundamental uniqueness of Covenant’s education is that the board of trustees is committed to an integrated Christian world and life education. Faculty, administrators and students cannot change this commitment as long as the board of trustees holds fast to this promise rooted in the Westminster Confession of Faith written in 1646. Jeremiah gave Covenant’s biblical marching orders in 6:16: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
As we move into the summer of 2011, Kathy and I see our commitment to “our” college extending into the future. Remember those grandparents that I believed were going to help fund projects at Covenant as part of the Parents’ Council? Well, God has given us our first grandchild and she would look great in Tartan blue!