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Chapel service marks new beginning for Union community

Union President David S. Dockery leads a Scripture reading as part of the Feb. 19 chapel service. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
Union President David S. Dockery leads a Scripture reading as part of the Feb. 19 chapel service. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.Feb. 20, 2008 – Responding correctly to challenges and difficulties can result in a fresh and total dependence upon God, Union University President David S. Dockery said Feb. 19.

“Out of the rubble across this campus I am praying that we will see renewal in the lives of dozens, and hundreds, of students, staff, faculty, administrators and trustees,” Dockery said.

Dockery addressed a standing-room-only crowd of about 1,500 people who gathered in the G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel for the first time since a Feb. 5 tornado decimated parts of Union’s campus. The service featured singing, Scripture reading, prayer and a devotional address from Dockery.

Union students returned to the campus Feb. 19 after a two-week break from class, as university personnel worked to make the campus operational again. Classes began today.

“Blessed Be Your Name,” echoed throughout the chapel as students, faculty members and others in the Union community gathered to praise the God who spared the Union body from death.

“Blessed be your name, on the road marked with suffering,” the crowd sang. “You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, ‘Blessed be your name.’”

Dockery noted that this is a time for students to start anew as they, once again, begin university life at Union.

“The Miller Tower clock that has not moved for 336 hours will move again as we start afresh,” Dockery said in his greeting to the gathered body. “We start afresh because of God’s grace, his providence and the hard work and determination of his people.”

Provost Carla Sanderson expressed words of care and devotion over Union’s situation through prayer.

“O Lord, thank you for providing a place of refuge in the rubble,” Sanderson prayed. “A perfect and strong refuge that saved our loved ones from death.”

Although the tornado that caused about $40 million in damages left many devastated and displaced, Dockery said the Union family continues to push forward with hope in God’s sovereignty and provisions.

“It is hard to imagine 14 days ago where we stand,” Dockery said. “But by God’s grace, we are here tonight to enjoy one another’s fellowship, to reconnect together and to focus on the God who has sustained us.”

Dockery said that although many students may desire to return to life at Union as it was prior to the storm, he said looking forward in faith would provide sustainment despite the difficulty.

“For some of us, Feb. 5 has resulted in much confusion, causing us to struggle deeply with our faith,” Dockery said. “But faith is not free from complexity nor is it free from challenge.”

Dockery used Psalm 84 to relate Union’s past and future to the prayers of the psalmist, who longed for the place where he had met the living God. He emphasized to Union students that it was the psalmist’s displacement from that special location that created within him a longing for God and the things of God.

“It may well be that our current situation may result in a new yearning and hunger for God and the things of God for many of us here tonight, Dockery said.

The university president identified two things that students can know: that like the psalmist, they must go through their own “valley of tears,” but that through the difficulties “the one, true, living God is both good and faithful.”

“Some of us have shed tears daily for the past 14 days,” Dockery said.

“For the next several months we will be passing through the ‘Valley of Baca,’ the valley of tears, and we will help each other and hold onto each other,” he said.

Dockery cited C.S. Lewis’ book “The Problem of Pain,” in which Lewis says that God often uses the experiences of suffering as a megaphone to awaken his people. Suffering and pain, according to Lewis, are often the essential means by which God brings about dependence, fortitude, patience and forgiveness in his children.

“Certainly we have seen hundreds of acts of mercy and compassion from people near and far,” Dockery said. “Now we pray that God will work in our lives to bring about patience with one another, forgiveness when we have been wronged as well as seeking forgiveness when we have been the ones in the wrong, and fortitude and courage to face the challenges that are now ours.

“Most of all, we pray for an urgent sense of our complete and total dependence upon God for all aspects of life,” he continued.

Dockery said that although the pre-Feb. 5 Union University is irretrievable, he looks forward to “new future.”

“Here, the impossible can become possible,” Dockery said in comparing Union’s situation with that of the psalmist. “Affliction can point us to joy. Ashes can become beauty, hardship can be turned to rejoicing, rubble can become renewal and weakness can be transformed into strength. We can, by God’s grace, become an oasis of hope to others across this campus.

“We claim the promise of the final verse of Psalm 84: ‘O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in you.’”

By Brittany Howerton ('08)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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