The Faculty Senate President asked me to do devotions for our Faculty Senate meetings today, because, as he said, “I’m hoping you might be willing to say a few words about G. W.” Here are my few words:
In their first years here, Bethel students are encouraged to learn about the past—in part—to see their story in the context of the “cloud of witnesses” that have gone before them. While Hebrews 11 points them to figures like Abraham and Moses, it is perhaps instructive for us to look at the example of a more recent addition to this cloud of witnesses, namely GW Carlson.
The word that springs first to mind regarding GW is “avuncular.” I’m not sure, for example, that any of his advisees ever knew that there was such a thing as a degree evaluation, because GW basically just told them what they were going to take. And, he adhered to a strict code of patronizing locally-owned restaurants, sometimes much to the chagrin of his colleagues. Although I have forgotten much of my 2-day interview experience at Bethel University, one vivid memory that remains is of dining with the History Department faculty at Roseville’s Countryside Restaurant, famous as much for its down-home atmosphere as for its broasted chicken. Broasted chicken?
As I continued to ponder GW, however, I thought it might be more fitting to describe him as an evangelist. And although GW would deny he adhered to any formal creed, he certainly had a particular message.
#1. Love and read books. Lots of them.
#2. Love Bethel, but make sure you go see the rest of the world too. At the information sessions for potential students, GW always told them they needed to figure out how to leave this place, at least for an interim, preferably for a whole semester.
#3. Love people. For over four decades, GW was the heart of this institution, and his pietism was evident in the way that he treated people. He recognized difference as an asset and embraced it. He relished personal contact, and he was a strong advocate of resolving conflict—not through the impersonal medium of telephone or email—but by walking the halls. He made an effort to see and know people, and in that way, he demonstrated for me what pietism could mean.
When I think of GW’s legacy, what he leaves behind, I immediately think of all of his disciples out there in the world: particularly the social studies education majors. Few escaped with a stand-alone Education major, because GW felt that a second major in, say, history helped such students understand they needed to love books. Few escaped without an off-campus experience of some kind. But, most of all, I like to think that none escaped learning GW’s central message, and that they are out there now, walking the hallways of their respective institutions, practicing GW’s pietism.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, who by a voice from heaven didst proclaim, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; Multiply, we beseech thee, to GW, Stacey, Lynda, and all those who rest in Jesus, the manifold blessings of thy love, that the good work which thou didst begin in them may be perfected unto the day of Jesus Christ. And of thy mercy, O heavenly Father, vouchsafe that we, who now serve thee here on earth, may at last, together with them, be found meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; for the sake of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.