Determining a direction

Northfield’s challenge, opportunity

The announcement of Grand Canyon University’s withdrawal from the project of “putting new life” into the Northfield campus came as a shock to many of us. Some of us were rejoicing over a rebirth of Dwight L. Moody’s original vision to provide grounding for young people in higher education, and the tenets of the historical Christian faith.

As someone who knows the area well, works nearby and drives through Northfield twice a day to and from work, I can bet the reactions were across the spectrum and might be represented by statements like:

■ Forget renovating this rental property. Now there won’t be any students looking for housing after all.

■ Good riddance. I don’t want anything to change anyway. I have a nice big house and I’m allergic to change.

■ Oh, no! I was looking forward to getting one of those hundreds of jobs a college would mean.

■ I’m a graduate of the secularized Northfield Mount Hermon and I don’t want our name associated with fundamentalist Christians.

■ I’m an older person and graduate of Northfield Mount Hermon back when it provided a grounding in the Bible and I’m brokenhearted that the old campus will continue to be empty.

Enough with conjecture. It’s time for all of us in the area to look ahead. As the Chinese language, with its two symbols for the word “crisis” shows us, an event like this proposes both “peril” and “opportunity.” Now is the time for the people of Northfield to prepare.

As a New Englander “from away,” having only lived in nearby Swanzey, N.H., for a dozen years, may I be so bold as to invite Northfield to consider:

What kind of town you want in a hundred years?

■ If you want your children to move away or to move home to raise their children?

■ That Northfield probably wasn’t much of anything before Flemming Revell prevailed (and it took years) upon Dwight Moody to build the Northfield school.

■ Moody knew that often buildings originally dedicated to God end up inhabited by profane activities (read Harvard, Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia ...)

■ A Christian college or university has benefits to a region and not just a town. Did you know that Grand Canyon University is a premier source of registered nurses and its program is recognized nationally? I bring that fact up not to rub salt in the wound, but to expand the scope of some minds to the possibilities a future school might bring.

To conclude, C.S. Lewis College and Grand Canyon University have gotten away. They are gone and won’t be back. What can Northfield do? They can develop a consensus vision for what the town is and isn’t prepared to do. They can think through questions like, would the town be willing to “ramp up” infrastructure slowly as enrollment increases, rather than presenting up-front, full-bore requirements.

I know this isn’t Kansas, Toto, and it isn’t any other warm and sunny place where biblical Christianity has thrived side-by-side with civil society and social structures. We live in rocky ground where everyone wants their say-so and we want things cheap. Some of the folk who have old money from the mills and tanneries and works have difficulty relating to people without such advantages.

No, I don’t live in Northfield, but by the grace of God, I dream about working at Northfield, and I pray that a vibrant, faithful Christian school will pick up the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20 or Mark 1:17 or Acts 1:8) work that Dwight Moody took up at Northfield.

Friends, do you know Northfield is famous throughout the faithful world? Its name is blessed because it is linked with the Light of the World going into dark corners of the world. A bus full of South Korean pastors who unashamedly worshipped and sang songs of praises on the grounds not long ago understood that truth.

Neighbors, we have a challenge and an opportunity before us. Yes, WE, because these considerations are of a regional, national, international, and “eternal” nature. This dark and cold corner of our country needs the warmth of Christian compassion. Our region is the least churched, has the highest per-capita income, and the lowest charitable giving of any other section of the nation.

No wonder the dialogue is so lively.

Rev. John Brown lives in Swanzey, N.H.

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