by John A. Hayes '71
Note: Alumnus John Hayes sent us the story of his recent re-discovery of Robert Dewey's Friday Chapel farewell ceremony. We are honored to publish both John's story and Dean Dewey's sermon. And we encourage alumni to share with us "K" speeches and writings that were significant to them in ways small and large. Contact Jim VanSweden (269.337.7291 or email@example.com).
At some point during my freshman year at "K" I learned that Dean of the Chapel Robert Dewey and I had arrived on campus at the same time: September 1967. (Turns out it was his second arrival; he came to "K" as a student in 1940, left for military service in 1943, and returned after the war to complete his degree in 1947).
But 20 years later, in 1967, the discovery of our shared arrivals somehow changed my view of him. I saw him more as a searcher - like me - and less an authority figure, standing and gesturing at some prescribed version of events. At a time when all authority was being questioned, if not disrespected, this new view was no small thing.
During the next few years he worked with students struggling to find their own truth about obligations of patriotism, morality, the military draft, and the war in Vietnam. For us, this was indeed a big thing. Dean Dewey's voice was respected and valued during a difficult period, probably more than he realized.
I graduated from "K" in 1971. Many years later Dean Dewey's 1987 retirement sermon was published in an issue of that year's alumni magazine. I must have read it then, and it must have been important to me because not long ago I found it saved in an obscure file drawer. The discovery occurred shortly after my own retirement after 35 years with the U.S. Postal Service, mostly in information technology. Once again it seemed Dean Dewey and I were sharing a transition. Re-reading his farewell sermon led me to recall my life before my career, and to focus on the blessings and insights received from friends and co-workers during my career....just like Dean Dewey. He expresses gratitude for the accomplishments and people - especially the people - he saw as highlights of his 20 years at Kalamazoo College.
If you read his farewell sermon you'll see he speaks of scores - groups of 20 years. There was a score of years between his "K" arrivals, and a score between his first and last "K" sermons. He includes an amusing reference to imaginary memorial service speeches. Who could know that a score- and-one years after this farewell sermon the world would lose this fine man who, at that last moment, most likely thought what he had said some 20 years earlier: Deo Gratias.
Author John Hayes
Deo Gratias: A Farewell Sermon
Delivered by Robert D. Dewey, Dean of the Chapel, August 28, 1987
Once again we come to a final Friday Chapel marking the end of another quarter, the 36th, if my counting is accurate, since the beginning of Friday Chapel in 1978, which makes this the 360th service in this particular dispensation.
One wonders, "How these things can be?" And what remains to be said. Some of you will not be surprised to learn that after considerable effort I managed to put together a few final remarks.
First, though, a question... How many speeches have you composed - at least in your mind - to be delivered at your funeral or memorial service? Somewhere I read that the average human being composes at least four such speeches before his or her death, three of which are throwaways and one of which he or she rarely delivers in person.
In like manner, preachers and chaplains, before they leave their flocks, draft a number of final sermons searching for the one thing to be said in the last available gasp.
Four weeks ago, I threw away a brilliant series of sermons I had planned to preach this summer, through which, after the example of a great Yale president in the past, I had hoped to launch from the pulpit of Stetson Chapel the third great awakening in America, even as his has been credited with the launching the second... it seemed a bit grandiose.
Three weeks ago, I tore up a blistering "Get Even Jeremiad" in which all my enemies were finally, fully and publicly exposed, thoroughly discredited and properly consigned to you-know-where.
Last week, I lit a match and burned a baleful "homily of regrets..."
So I am left, not with a sermon, but a doxology in one voice.
On a September morning, 20 years ago, I left my new home in the College grove, rounded DeWater's corner and looked up at the south side of Stetson Chapel - her five large windows, tiled roof above and beyond, her still voiceless tower. It was like coming home. Twenty years earlier, I had left campus, B.A. in hand, to begin graduate work at Yale Divinity School.
Stopping on the walk, in 1967, I gazed up at the chapel and said a prayer:
"O God, help me do this well. Make me an instrument of your grace, mercy and love so that I may serve you and this college. And remember how much I need this job. Amen."
That shift from piety to practicality can be explained. I had just returned with my family from two exciting but stressful years in South India. We needed to put down roots. I had dragged my wife and four children around enough in my peripatetic ministry. But all I had was a one-year contract at a salary rather less than the total cost of a year's education at Kalamazoo College today. I needed more than a year. Although the money would not pay the bills the first year, the salary might grow if we could stay. And certainly the title was magnificent! On the walk that day, I realized that I had never dreamed of being anything so lofty as a Dean of the Chapel and that I had no wish to ever be anything else the rest of my life.
Now, suddenly, 20 more years have passed. It is almost September 1987. Graduating as a World War II veteran at 24-and-a-half, returning at 44-and-a-half as an exhausted missionary, now an aging actor of 64-and-a-half, it is time to say: "Thank you, Kazoo, and goodbye." Thank you - to Phil Thomas who persuaded President Hicks to hire me from India "sight unseen;" to the religion department upon which I was foisted by Presidential fiat when they had hoped to bring someone of consequence; to Dick Means, who proposed me for membership in the AAUP chapter, then a thriving body, and who persisted until that august group, with considerable reluctance, accepted into its ranks "a man of cloth;" to Jeff and Carol [Smith] than whom there cannot be finer neighbors in all the world; and to all of you. But above all, for answering that 1967 prayer tossed heavenward from the walk just beyond the corner of DeWaters, it is time to say - Deo gratias!
This summer has been a time of reflection. Old files - telling of achievements and failures, battles won and battles lost, time of high joy and times of profound sorrow - have been pitched out, but the imprint of the years remains. The sum of my reflection is a sense that I have made a contribution to this college and her people. But what has become even more evident to me is how much I have received and learned in the last two decades.
I came as a preacher; at least, I thought of myself that way. A few years ago, Phil Thomas, cleaning out one of his files, sent me a copy of my maiden sermon in this place. It had a modest title, "The Human Condition." Reading the yellowing pages, I remembered how nervous I was, how exciting it had been to preach to a full chapel (it was required, you see), how gratifying were the words of praise that followed in the narthex and how reassuring to sense that I had been affirmed, perhaps confirmed for more than one year as the Dean of the Chapel. The content? I blush to speak of it now. I had, among other things, suggested that there was a need for a doctrine of original righteousness to counter the weight of the doctrine of original sin and had attempted in 20 minutes to outline it. No wonder Phil liked it, optimistic Unitarian that he is!
As the enthusiastic crowds departed, one man held back, waiting. I recognized my new colleague, John Spencer. Eager for some approving word from him - for I knew he was highly regarded by his peers for his discernment and wisdom - I walked over to him. We had the narthex to ourselves. John had waited for that. He was a thoughtful man.
"Original righteousness, eh?" he said. "A few points we need to discuss about that." And then giving me an absolutely winning smile, he continued, "And about original sin as well." He brought me down with a gentleness and a brevity that I do not think I fully appreciated at the time. But it was the beginning of many fruitful encounters with an incomparable mentor and friend.
If I came thinking I was to be the college preacher, I soon learned to listen carefully to John Spencer's sermons with both ears open. I was to discover as the years passed that I was surrounded by a remarkable "college of preachers," many in this room, for whom, along with John Spencer, it is time to say, Deo gratias!
Soon after I arrived, I was cast into a prophetic role by circumstance and choice. Those were years when assassinations and crises stumbled over each other in rapid succession, competing with established routines, values, and expectations for attention and response, whether in the general society or on campus. The murder of Martin Luther King in 1968 led to demonstrations and demands by black students on campus and to a community coalition of blacks and whites called Action Now, led by Howard Wolpe, a WMU faculty member. I was one of several spokesmen who attended Monday night city commission meetings for almost a year, calling for an end to discrimination in housing, employment, and education and for the creation of a board to review cases of police brutality. Later as the movement to end the war in Vietnam waxed hot and then hotter, my days - and many nights - in my office and in my home - were filled with meetings with students to plan services featuring folk songs, poetry, and passionate protest speeches; long counseling sessions with conscientious objectors seeking help with draft boards or parents; planning teach-ins; campus demonstrations and marches to Bronson Park; and organizing a quick trip to Washington to participate in a massive anti-war rally.
One day, Dr. Chen called on me in my cubbyhole in Humphrey House. At the time, he was vice president, standing in for the ailing Dr. Hicks. He had come to discuss a problem he felt I should know about. It turns out I was the problem.
"You have an image as a radical," he said, suggesting that I created certain difficulties for the College and hinting at rumors circulating about my left-wing loyalties.
I protested. I was doing my job as a chaplain, serving the needs of the students and the causes I believed in. The rumors were false, I said. "You are describing a perception people have, not a reality."
"Perception more important than reality," said Dr. Chen.
I don't think I changed my behavior, but I had certainly been advised. It is a time to say for Dr. Chen and for others who have tried to help me understand the ways of the world, Deo gratias!
The pastoral work of the chaplaincy developed from an incident I have described to a few of you. It is time to make a full disclosure, even though it is embarrassing to tell you the story of how I became, overnight, a counselor. One of the things about being new here is that it is difficult to know how to enter the peculiar dynamics of this place.
One of my responsibilities was to be "the college counselor." I was ready and eager to serve, but in the first weeks not a soul came to see me. I had, literally, nothing to do. I wasn't teaching yet, there was no Friday Chapel in those days, nor Forum or LACC.
I could have tolerated this inactivity myself, but I had been given a student secretary, a smart senior woman, majoring in political science, editor of the Index, soon to be off to a highly successful career as a lawyer, from which she returns to Kalamazoo from time to time for meetings of the Board of Trustees. In those days, she was full of vinegar! She had been devoted to my predecessor, "a brilliant, powerful, influential man," she told me, who had been elevated - if that is the right word - to a vice presidency because of his administrative skill, his writing and lecturing, and his remarkable mind.
So here I was, in my Humphrey warren, with hardly anything to do, no students coming to see me, trying desperately to impress my student worker with the idea that I, too, had something to contribute to the "great K." What happened was that we talked to each other - we had the time and were both rather verbal - and we began to know and like each other. She sympathized with my situation: a college counselor with no one to counsel! "Just wait," she said. "When they get to know you, you won't have time for all those who show up."
One morning I found a note she had left on my desk before going to class. It listed three students who wanted to see me that morning. I was elated. A young man came at 8:30 a.m. and for a half hour poured out his troubles. I was surprised that he had such dramatic problems and so many of them. We agreed we would need another half hour another time. He was followed by a young woman. Her difficulties were even more extreme - signs of pregnancy, an alcoholic father, an impending divorce, a boyfriend who had "flown the coop," a GPA less than 1.0, no money to continue at Kalamazoo, and so forth.
About halfway into that half hour, I realized what was happening. It was a set-up. My student secretary had prevailed upon some of her senior friends to get to know the new Dean of the Chapel by this ruse. When she returned to the office at 11:30, the picture of innocent interest in how my day was going, I was furious and let her know it. Then I laughed. She joined me. We became fast friends. I did become a college counselor in time with more students to talk to than I could adequately accommodate.
In the past 20 years, nothing has been more significant for me than sharing the pain, the delight, the growth, the joys, and sorrows in those relationships inadequately called "counseling." These have never been polar situations - "You have the problem; I have the solution," - but times of mutual learning and growth. It is time to say thank you for Margaret Stewart and for this great privilege, Deo gratias!
From the beginning, I have taught. Except for two of three years, I have done some teaching each year: large classes
"I realized what was happening. It was a set-up."in New Testament and Christian ethics in the beginning, then smaller ones in the history of Christianity in America and even persuasive speech. And one course, 20 years ahead of its time, with Berne Jacobs and Marigene Arnold, "Self, Society and Value," the course I most enjoyed.
There were also innumerable informal teaching situations using acronyms some of you will, and most of you won't, remember: RIP, FIP, and even DIP, though that one never got off the ground. The letters stand for Residential, Freshman and Departmental Interaction Plans and bear some resemblance to a more familiar "IP" in the system. I look for them all to come around again some day. When they do - as brand new inventions of smart, young types - let me know; Herb Bogart and I want to lift a glass in our own memories.
My own teaching probably ranks somewhere between good and fair. But what the experience has led me to is an appreciation of the remarkable teaching of others on this faculty. I have come to see how rare great teaching is and how absolutely critical to liberal education. I also learned by experience how important good students are.
I vividly recall an early encounter with a good student in a large New Testament class in Dewing 305. The student challenged me about a statement I made in a lecture. That can be disturbing to a fairly new and inexperienced teacher, especially in front of 75 other students. It calls for an instant decision. Mistakenly, mine was to play the authority; to insist, rather testily, that the student was wrong and I was right. Not feeling altogether confident about this, I checked with another faculty member after class, John Wickstrom, who politely informed me that I was wrong, and the student was right. My public apology the next morning was not easy, but it was therapeutic. For that student, my thanks, and for a host of others from whom I have learned, Deo gratias!
For me, the priestly role of the Dean of the Chapel was initially the least apparent. Over the years, it has emerged as increasingly important. Unfamiliar to most "independent" Protestants, it can hardly be avoided in a community with such a large Catholic presence. I remember a student in a K'xx group. He was the kind who wanted to do everything correctly and perfectly at college, a nervous young man. I mentioned Friday Chapel and urged him to attend.
Later in the conversation, he picked up on my suggestion.
"What time is Mass?" he asked.
"Well, it isn't Mass exactly, but you should still try it out."
"It'll do for my Sunday obligation, won't it?"
(I could see some instructing mother there.)
In a college with such rich traditions, ceremonies and rituals, prayers for that college have become central for me. They occur here and there and now and then in the college year - brief intrusions into the larger activity of the place - probably very trivial intrusions to some. They have not seemed trivial to me.
It is true that I joke with the President about authority on campus, claiming to have more than he does. Standing in front of 100 or 3,000, I intone, "Let us pray," and everyone shuts up. Is there any other time that happens here?
Jokes aside, these priestly duties, especially those that have come at a time of death of a beloved member of this community, seem to speak to the very nature and character of this college. One immediate writing assignment I have set for myself is to put together the petitions I've offered at convocations, baccalaureate, commencement, memorial services and many other such occasions, in a small book called Prayers for a College. It won't sell well, but it may shed light on what is going on in a community like ours and suggest what some of it means.
I do have a confession to make; I have played to the audience a bit in the "short prayer" that concludes the annual June parade of graduates across the platform. I can only hope God is amused by the cheer that goes up for a prayer - a benediction following the two hour ritual - that is hardly longer than the words, Deo gratias!
Finally, let me add some comments about "Friday Chapel." It is, I think, the most distinctive achievement of the last ten years, and it is mutual - we did it together. In one sense, it is not unique.
There are chapels and services of worship at colleges and universities across the nation. But I think Friday Chapel at Kalamazoo has unique qualities.
For the most part, what happens is more traditional and with a minimal response. Somehow the approach in Friday Chapel is more genuinely ecumenical and innovative. It is fragile and always subject to complaints that it is "too religious," on the one hand, or "inadequately religious," on the other. But I think it offers a unique weekly experience for students and faculty here.
Lately, the image of a prism has come to represent Friday Chapel for me. Speakers from different religious traditions, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and even "humanistic," and from different departments and disciplines within the College, cast various kinds of light on what is ultimately important - in the broadest and most generous sense. In this building, which itself is so light, and in a college whose motto is "Lux esto," Friday Chapel continually renews us, interprets what this common experience means, and adds light and insight to what is most central to the life and work of this community.
It always impresses me how seriously faculty and other speakers take the invitation to speak here. It is not routine for them, not simply another lecture; it is some kind of personal statement about faith that makes this regular service so distinctive and vital for us. Add the music - for which we are indebted to Paula Romanaux, Judy Breneman, singers and soloists - and the "fellowship" over coffee and cookies, with the table laid by Gilda Cekola, and we have in Friday Chapel a weekly gathering more important than numbers would indicate, a community at worship who sustain this College in intangible ways, a place and a people Jeff Smith calls "the soul of the College." I am sure you join me in saying for this Friday Chapel, Deo gratias!
Twenty years. And now another Dean of the Chapel will walk from the same house in the grove I once lived in, take the DeWater's corner, glimpse the south side of Stetson Chapel and, perhaps, say a prayer, a petition to be in this place and for this people a preacher, prophet, pastor, teacher, and priest worthy of this calling. I have no doubt that God will help him. I know that he will need the help of the ministry of laity in this place: that college of preachers, pastors, teachers and priests to each other, which you all are. I covet for him the day when he will say as I do today, Deo gratias! Amen.
A torch is passed: Dean of the Chapel Bob Dewey meets with his successor Gary Dorrien in 1987.
Dean Dewey at a 1970 anti-war protest
Vice President for Students Dewey in 1973
Expressing his thespian passion - Dewey reads with actor Ralph Waite, Murder in the Cathedral, in 1977.
Playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman
In the role of a Kansas newspaper editor