The Berea College Campus Christian Center was established in 1971. In 2009, it was renamed the Willis D. Weatherford Campus Christian Center.
Christian ideals were embedded into Berea since the very beginning when Reverend John G. Fee established Union Church, one of the first ecumenical churches in America. The preamble to the Great Commitments written in 1859 stated the overall purpose of the institution was to, “promote the cause of Christ.” Berea has since greatly emphasized the importance of Christian values to its administration, faculty, and students through the years to this day.
Although Christianity played a vital role in the original founding of the college and continued to be a matter of great importance throughout its history, the college struggled to maintain a steady organization of Christian leaders and students to coordinate religious activities on campus. In 1946 it was observed that, “There is an evident lack of direction and coordination in the campus religious program.” During that time period there was no trained individual assigned to the task of directing the campus’s overall religious activities, let alone a committee. In the early 1950’s Francis Hutchins recognized the need for change and introduced a new position, Coordinator of Religious Activities, to which he appointed Reverend Robert Cornette.
In the 1960s the Christian Youth Council (CYC) was organized functioning as the coordinating body for campus religious activities. It was made up of various denominational fellowships on the Berea Campus such as the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The CYC’s purpose was to build up the Christian community and provide a place to exchange programs, idea, and methods among different Christian groups.
In 1970, President Willis D. Weatherford, began to develop a new program, the Campus Christian Center (CCC), to help further enhance the College’s Christian commitment. In an overview of his proposal Weatherford presented the CCC as an idea, not a place. He said, “As we envision the strengthening of the spiritual life of the College through the Campus Christian Center, we are not thinking in terms of brick and mortar, but in terms of human thought and activity which will penetrate the classroom, the labor assignment, the daily residence, the recreation and all other aspects of life in the Berea College Community.”
In order to obtain the funds necessary for this new program Weatherford wrote a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Eli Lilly requesting a grant. In this letter he described the Campus Christian Center as a way to support the “new elements in spiritual emphasis.” In 1970 he received a million dollar grant from the Eli Lilly Foundation. In 1971 the Campus Christian Center was officially established. On December 18, 1972, James Economos, from the William M. Scholl Foundation, sent Berea a check for $10,000 to aid the Campus Christian Center in its cause. The CCC made good use of its funding. It supported the employment of two full-time ministers, relieving the Pastor and staff of Union Church the responsibility of their spiritual oversight of the students. They also hired an annual visiting professor of religion from the Lilly Foundation. The purpose behind the CCC was to stimulate Berea students intellectually by way of religious perspectives. As President Weatherford himself said, “We must help students establish at the heart of campus life, a strong religious belief, ecumenical in character, enlightened by reason, which will influence their intellectual lives and daily activities.”
The CCC functioned similarly to the CYC. It was an association placed in charge of coordinating religious campus activities, and conducted meetings with the various smaller religious groups on campus such as the Baptist Student Union, Black Music Ensemble, Canterbury Club (Episcopal), Newman Club (Roman Catholic), Chi Alpha (Assembly of God) and the College Fellowship (Union Church). Representatives from these groups met monthly to lend mutual support, coordinate schedules, and plan special all-campus activities. The CCC also placed student chaplains in each dormitory, implanting a source of spiritual guidance in a place easily accessible to students. The CCC has effectively directed the religious activities on Berea’s campus to this day.
A central location for the CCC is the Danforth Chapel. It is a beautiful, small, gothic cathedral located inside the Draper Building. The chapel’s location in the Draper Building, one of the central academic buildings on campus, signifies the College’s vision of relationship between spirituality or religious experience with education. It is a place open to students throughout the day and evening to sit, pray, meditate, and reflect. The chapel has been used for special services such as prayer groups, sacred musical performances, weddings, and days of remembrance. Adjoining the chapel is the Fireside room, a place well furnished with comfortable seating and a large wooden table in the center. This room is generally used for prayer groups, discussions, conferences, and small-group social affairs.
The influence of the CCC has extended beyond Berea’s students and campus life. It has organized responses to several international crises including: the earthquakes in Mexico, the Persian Gulf War, and hunger in Ethiopia. The CCC has also offered help in surrounding communities and visited several health clinics through the program People Who Care. They have built homes through Habitat for Humanity, and in the summer Berea students are spread to the corners of the nation and around the world, supported as ministry interns by the CCC.
Because of the ecumenical nature of the college the CCC embraces not only the Christian religions, but also the non-Christian religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. The CCC fully supports Berea’s motto: “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” The CCC has created an inclusive, welcome environment appealing to people of all faith traditions. It has added two non-Christian organizations in the past couple of years: the Buddhist Student Association and the Muslim Student Association. The incorporation of such programs has greatly expanded the minds of many students spiritually. Lee Morris, an early director of the CCC observed that a number of students first entering Berea had never before formally worshipped under the guidance of someone from a different denomination or different ethnic origin or of a different sex.
One program, coordinated by the CCC focuses in particular on understanding various religions, is the Interfaith Dialogue. This organization of students, faculty, and staff meets weekly to explore and discuss various different traditions. Many students have expressed their appreciation for the variety of forms for worship, and the opportunity to become more familiar with different religions. One student said, “The Christian Center has helped me confront religious diversity, and I’ve solidified my own faith through learning about others.” Another said, “I think the Campus Christian Center has served an invaluable source of support and counseling. They offer tremendous service to the broad spectrum of students in Berea, regardless of religious beliefs.”
The CCC has benefited students in various other ways as well. It has sponsored numerous campus events such as Accent on Christian Faith Week (a series of presentations from prominent Christians throughout the world), and the annual Robbins Peace and Reconciliation lecture. It also provides opportunities for students to share their talents through music, dance and speech, counseling, service opportunities, and a support group. One student said, “The Campus Christian Center has taken a sincere interest in helping meet the needs of Berea students. I have found it to be a warm and inviting place with a staff that wants to be a part of students’ lives.” In some cases the CCC has helped individuals get through difficult times during their experience at Berea. One student once reported that he had considered climbing the water tower and jumping to his death, but after a worship service in the Danforth Chapel, he changed his mind.