Take Me To Church

I listen to a good deal of music.  More work gets done that way, so I am busy bopping along to OK GO as I write this.

In the past few weeks, a song entitled “Take Me To Church” has come across my shuffling playlist.  There is one poignant line that sticks out to me:  “I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife.”  Often, this is how people feel about church–it was an experience of judgment and pain rather than hope and safety.  We are comfortably situated right smack-dab in the middle of the Bible belt,  and we tend to overlook the idea that there are those around us who are unchurched.  And at Belhaven, we are privy to see this truth as it is fleshed out in the lives of some students.  Many lost and hurting souls who feel abandoned by the church find themselves at Belhaven in class with peers and professors who care about them, who ask about them, and, more importantly, who pray for them.

I have had two interactions in the last few weeks wherein a student or graduate was commending Belhaven for her magnificent Faculty.  To quote one, “I had lost my hope in the church until coming to Belhaven.  One particular professor demonstrated to me that hope does still lie in the people that make up the church.  I have returned.”

Our identifier is “Our Standard is Christ.”  Dr. Roger Parrott, President of Belhaven, said, “Jesus prayed, taught, mentored, and loved in ways that connected eternal life with earthly life.”   At the end of the day, what it boils down to is that we are created to be in relationship–with God and others.  The personal investment of Belhaven Faculty in their students bridges that gap for many students.  Praise the Lord for such faithfulness!

What makes Belhaven unique?

In a recent conversation about the last blog, someone asked me, “What  makes Belhaven any different from any other small Christian college?”  The question pulled me up short of a sufficient answer.  Would not they say the same things…”the Faculty care about me” or “the people are like a second family”?  So, I fell asleep wrestling with those questions.

What I finally came to was this:  Belhaven is greater than the sum of all her parts.  Belhaven is made up of caring Staff and Faculty.  Her people perpetuate her good name and significant history.  Her quality and standards reflect a sincere love for Christ.  The Belhaven family, flawed and all, is an extension of our lives (home, church, etc.).  I asked myself (probably aloud as I tend to often talk to myself), “What made Belhaven unique for me?”

Simple.  Her people:  Dr. Wynn Kenyon.  Dr. and Mrs. Martin.  Angela Willoughby.  Dr. Al Chestnut.  Monica Thomas.  John Mark Whitney (insert smiley face).

The campus has always been pretty.  The food has always been sufficient (now, it’s a down-right smorgasbord).  And every class will define their time differently, “Oh, remember when we …fed the ducks down at the lake…danced in the fountain…walked through the gardens on campus…created a fine rendition of Fiddler on the Roof…wore hats and hose…studied/worked/lived in the Pub…competed in Green and Gold day…held May Day festivities…”

My point is made.  What made Belhaven unique for you?


What am I buying here?

French Camp Academy was my home for five years before coming to Belhaven as a student.  Chamberlain-Hunt Academy was my home for seven years after being a student at Belhaven.  It is very easy to sell someone on why they should support these causes.  French Camp is a loving home-school for children from dysfunctional families.  Chamberlain-Hunt provides a structure for boys who are desperately crying out for routine.  But, when I came back to work for Belhaven’s Office of Development, I had a hard time articulating what we were trying to do.  Why should I ask people to support Belhaven?  What reason do they have to invest in us…especially if they paid tuition?  Five years later, I have found an answer.

Twenty or so years ago, there was an appeal crafted with the testimonies of several Belhaven students.  Accolades that boasted of “genuine care of Faculty for students,” and “the relationships made while at Belhaven” were most prominent.  Last week, I tried to recreate that same type of appeal in video format.  It was great fun getting to talk with current students.  But, what I found most interesting (and my “aha” moment) was the amount of overlap between the two groups.  Students were asked, “What are the top three things you love about Belhaven?”  And the answers were the same:  “The Faculty care about me as a person, not just a number” and “The relationships with people here–this is like my family” and “The community allows me to grow spiritually and emotionally.”

Tuition covers classes, room and board, meal plans, and the like.  But, as alumni and friends of Belhaven, that’s not what we are “buying.”  We are buying an experience unique to each student whereby they are a member of a living, growing community.  We are buying opportunities for current and future students to say that their University Faculty knew them by name.  I am buying into the same environment that fostered me as a person/student and that I want others to experience.  I am buying, without reservation, the chance for students to make real relationships that last a lifetime and change that life within.



Say, who’s the cook around here?

As I go through old yearbooks, catalogues and obscure archives (thanks to Charlie Gaudin), I find interesting things.  Some things are interesting only to me.  Some things are interesting to a few people.  Through this blog post, I want to find out who is interested in my find this week:

“The first edition of Belhaven College’s alumni cookbook BENEATH THE COLUMNS is rolling off the presses …”

The hard work of Becky Wilson, Laura Husband, and Weezie Polk produced BENEATH THE COLUMNS replete with drawings and stories.  This cookbook took 3 months to pull together, includes 900 recipes from alumni, friends, faculty and staff, and was ready in time for Christmas!

I am not a great cook.  In fact, I’ve only JUST discovered that there is a pan dedicated solely to omelets.  However, I LOVE the idea of old recipes, pen and ink drawings, and Belhaven stories.

So, whether you are the cook in your kitchen or not, would you be interested in a reprint?

E-mail me at bwhitney@belhaven.edu and share your thoughts.

Your Grandmother’s Sewing Machine? I think not!


old black and white machine

This is what my grandmother’s first sewing machine looked like–in all of it’s antiquated beauty.  It was, however, difficult to use.  Don’t get me wrong, it was simpler than hand sewing items, but…

Twenty years ago, theatre at Belhaven consisted of a group of volunteer students (aptly named the Highland Players).  We produced, rehearsed, and performed in a building that no longer exists.  We prepared in classrooms with gross carpet, few windows, and sometimes alongside an actual acadmic class meeting.  And, yet, that team, in love with the art of acting, cranked out sets, costumes, songs and performances that could hang with the best of them.   And Belhaven has only gotten better.  Watch this clip of past productions:


Past presentations of Belhaven’s Theatre Department can only impress upon one the delicate and sophisticated art of costume-making.  Belhaven’s Theatre blog has a post about this very subject (which you can read here) stating:  “…a story and concept can be told and supported by the design elements of a production.”

Now, what would one need to create such costumes?  SEWING MACHINES!  Not the pedal operated beasts of antiquity, but machines of grand operational effectiveness that allow for the ease of creativity for the seamstress (or seamster).  Like all things, sewing machines need repair and replacement...especially, if a group wants to continue to put together such quality performances as Belhaven’s Theatre Department!

Productions worth watching are the ones where the members backstage are seen as just as important as those onstage.  As BU’s Theatre Department has grown and expanded, it’s time now to update the necessary accouterments so they may continue to put forth that which is worth watching!  So, run on over to e-news that will have hit your inboxes and click on a sewing machine to give to this effort.


Spurred by Grace…

…Bound by Love  compiled by Kathleen Page Clark and Clarice Townes Miller

“People ask ‘How can a group of twenty women stay together for thirty-five years?’  It is all the more amazing when people learn that these women come from a background of ten different denominations, attend twelve different churches, live in ten different cities and are from different cultural and educational backgrounds.

These women, who call themselves the SPURS, chose their name from Hebrews 10:24:  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together.  They have met and spurred each other on for thirty-five years.

Many people have asked the SPURS to share how their lives have been dramatically and positively affected by being a part of a loving, caring, supportive, prayerful and Christ-centered group of women.  Many of these stories have never been told or written.  Their joys and sorrows are the threads that make the beautiful SPUR tapestry.  There are stories with tragic situations that end with a redemptive quality that will encourage any reader.  Some stories will make you laugh and remind you how much fun it is to be a Christian.  There is hardly a life circumstance that the SPURS have not experienced.  Their stories confirm the fact that being a Christian does not guarantee a smooth journey through life.  They are proof that God is faithful, prayer works, joy comes in the morning and His Word is Truth.

Be encouraged.  Life is hard but God is good.”



Clarice Townes Miller is a Belhaven grad from 1962.  Her words are encouraging and wonderful!  During the homecoming weekend, we will have copies of this book on campus.  Come take a look!


White Columns

What I have found to be true is the comfort that come with that which is familiar.  I was watching the white columns between Preston and Fitzhugh come down last week.  Not knowing what was happening, I felt a sense of betrayal.  I know the history of the columns;  they were the only remaining part of the original building that burned in 1927.    “We can’t possibly be removing them,” I said aloud, “they are part of 100 years of history at Belhaven!”

Seeing them come down (including the baby bats inside) had me wondering about our current title for the annual–White Columns.  The reference was obvious, but I wanted to know what prompted the student body to alter the title of the “official Belhaven organ” from Kinetoscope to White Columns.  I found the answer in the 1941 annual, renamed White Columns:


“As the chaste columns of the Parthenon fittingly symbolized the dignity of truth and the beauty of simplicity, imperishable ideals of Greek culture, so the gleaming columns of Belhaven seem somehow to embody and express that indefinable thing which we feel is distinctive of the institution, and which we call the ‘Spirit of Belhaven’.  Emerging unscathed from the ravages of the flames the twin columns stand today as memorials of a splendid past, as pillars in the temple of wisdom, and as beacons lighting the pathway to the Greater Belhaven.  Here, under their beneficent shadows dwell in happy harmony the stalwart virtues and the gentle graces of life.  Here, beauty and truth, science and art, reason and faith, walk hand in hand; and here, as of old, the humble heart finds a shining ladder of light whose top reaches to heaven, binding heaven and earth in a bond of perpetual peace.  Born of such a spirit, nurtured in such traditions, and inspired by such ideals, the new yearbook “White Columns” rises into the foreground and lifts its torch on the Belhaven scene.”

This description was contained in President Gillespie’s message at the start of the 1941 academic session.  The Belhaven Miss was still published that year containing all the news and chatter of the campus.  But it would soon find an end in consistent publication.

It brings me great comfort to know that we are putting the columns back into place soon(without the bats).  Perhaps, with revitalized columns, that familiar symbol of the “Spirit of Belhaven” will last another 100 years.  

Belhaven remembers Robert “Bob” Johnson, Class of ’73

We were all saddened yesterday by news of the death of one of our own. Robert G. Johnson (Bob), class of 1973, and member of Belhaven’s all-time recording setting basketball team, passed away in Memphis on Sunday, August 11, 2013.  In celebration of his life, there will be a memorial service on Belhaven’s campus on Thursday, August 15 at 11:00 AM*.

Robert G. Johnson, Jr.

Jonesboro, Ark.


Bob died on August 11, 2013 at The Regional Medical Center in Memphis,Tenn., after injuries sustained from an automobile accident in Jonesboro, Ark. Bob was born on March 14, 1951 in Tylertown, MS to Eleanor and Robert Johnson. Bob attended high school in Tylertown. He attended Belhaven College in Jackson on a four year basketball scholarship, where he studied to become a certified public accountant. Bob is survived by his wife Diann and her son Jon Moore; his son, Trey; daughter, Heather; brother, Jimmy; sister, Kathy Stringer and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his brother Johnny Joe Johnson. A memorial service will be held Thursday, August 15 at 11 a.m. in The Barber Auditorium on the Belhaven University campus.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Belhaven University, 1500 Peachtree St., Jackson, MS 39202.

*If anyone would like to speak at the memorial service, please email Luly Johnson or Beth Whitney.

Belhaven’s Fitzhugh Hall a Clarion Ledger Feature

 Excellent story taken from The President’s Reflections Blog:

Belhaven University’s Fitzhugh hall opens a new science, math building


Even though there’s still a couple of weeks before fall semester, a handful of Belhaven University students already were back on campus Tuesday, helping professors prepare new science labs for classes.

The labs are part of a recently finished project on campus, a yearlong $6 million project where the 100-plus-year-old Fitzhugh Hall was partially renovated and expanded following water damage to parts of the building and foundation, said spokesman David Sprayberry.

Sophomore Bethany Savoy of Brandon pitched in Tuesday morning, unpacking boxes in some of the biology labs. “All my classes will be in this building,” said the biology major.

Assisting Savoy was Bianca Key, of Jackson, and Jake Anderson of Phoenix.

“We’re just doing our part,” Savoy noted.

And while the help from students was appreciated, it was the professors in the building that were giddy.

The expansion to Fitzhugh not only meant updated facilities and more space, but it was also a joint effort of different science disciplines to work together, ushering the school’s program into a more modern science, said Reid Bishop, a chemistry professor and chair of the division of science and mathematics.

“One of the main things is the interdisciplinary space,” said Phylip Carlson, a chemistry and physics professor. “Traditional chemistry, biology and physics are in their own separate locations, but modern science doesn’t really work that way.”

The shared space means students can be better prepared for the workforce as well, said Bishop. “If you’re a chemist, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be employed by a biomedical company,” he said as an example.

The labs include computers with microscopes, linked with Wi-Fi for sharing results and findings with the rest of the class. Each new room offers more space, and the building is set up to use ultrapure water — a necessity for many experiments, Bishop pointed out.

“I’m most proud of the behind the scenes kind of stuff,” said Bishop of the technology and equipment installed in Fitzhugh.

With two weeks until students fill up the new site, Bishop and other science professors are itching for the classes to start back up.

“We focus on problems, real-life problems,” Bishop said. “Here we look at how do we use the different science disciplines to attack those problems.”

Wilson Speaks: His life as a Belhaven student, his life as a Belhaven teacher, his life as Belhaven’s ninth President

Last week, Brian Perry (’97), sent me this interview he did with Dr. Newt Wilson before his retirement.  What a sweet reminder of the heart Dr. Wilson had for Belhaven.


Wilson Speaks: His life as a Belhaven student, his life as a Belhaven teacher, his life as Belhaven’s ninth President

The Quarter Tone: March 21, 1995 (Volume 2, Edition 8)
Interview by Brian Perry, Editor

QT: How long have you been associated with Belhaven?

Wilson: I came here as a freshman in 1960, finished in three years and graduated in 1963. I just loaded up and took extra courses. I was a fairly bright student, but I didn’t perceive myself that way. And then I went to seminary for three years and in 1966 I became a Presbyterian minister. It was while I was there I began working at a local junior college, that is what got me interested in education. While I was there the then chairman of what was the then Department o Christian Education Department called me in 1968 and asked if I would like to teach with him in Christian Education. So I thought about it and Becky and I discussed it. So I went back and got my MRE, Masters of Religious Education, to get prepared for my teaching assignment here in the fall of 1969 and low and behold he called me in the summer and said, “Well I’m glad you’re teaching because I’m not going to be here.” So I came in as a freshman teacher in the fall of 1969, wet behind the ears as acting chairman of the department.

Those were some of my most enjoyable times because it game me direct contact with students. And I would say the one thing I probably have regretted most about this job is the demands on the schedule which keep me from being involved in the students. There have been evening events that I’ve wanted to go and sit and listen, and I do go to as many as I can, and athletic events. But I was here until 1973, teaching full time. I was then attending classes at Southern Mississippi and commuting two days a week to teach while getting my doctorate, which I finished in 1975. Then I came up here and from 1976 to 1978 I was dean of students, and that of course put me in direct contact with the students. Then I interviewed for a job at Montreat-Anderson College and Becky and I lived there for two years. At that time the then president here, my immediate predecessor, invited me to come back. And though it was a lot of fun there, my heart was still with Belhaven.

And from that time till I took this job in 1986, I had just about every job on campus. I started as Director of Christian Ministries, then I became the interim Vice President for Academic Affairs, I was even an interim business manager for about six months. The job I had before this presidency was the Executive Vice President of Administration. So Belhaven has been my life. I was Mr. Belhaven, it’s hard to believe that was me, if you’ve seen the picture.

QT: Did you ever dream about this back in 1960 when you entered as a freshman?
Wilson: You know, I hesitate to tell you this, Brian, because it was done with tongue in cheek. But there were three of us who were students my senior year and we decided I would come back one day and be the president, one of the students would be the editor of The Presbyterian Journal and the other would be the moderator of the Presbyterian Church and two of the three of us actually ended up in those jobs.

QT: What are your best memories from your life at Belhaven?
Wilson: Well, I’m going to share something I probably shouldn’t be sharing, but the best memory I had as a student was the year that I was the student body president. At that time we still did what was known as hazing. I think you probably know what that is. And so I had led a group of men, taking all of our freshmen men out to beyond Brandon, in the middle of the country. We had them blindfolded and dropped them off, they had to get back the best way they could. But on the way back, one of the students fell into a drainage ditch and broke his leg. Well, the Dean of Students was on the phone to me the next morning and he was horrified. He said that ‘somebody had done this and that you’re the student body president and you need to find out who did this!’ I assured him that we would start the search and see what we could come up with. [Laughing] And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

And there’s another one, too. I met my wife here. The way I got my first date wither-this was my freshman year-is a friend of mine whose sons attend Belhaven right now, I won’t identify or implicate him. But he and I made a bet and said that whoever could get a date first, the other one would pay for the date. So we flipped a coin to see who would call first and he won the coin toss and he called the girl he wanted to date and she was either not available or told him no. So that’s when I called my now wife, and so I asked her to walk to Primos – I didn’t have a car – to the Primos that burned. She was from St. Louis, Missouri and here was this south Mississippi country boy inviting this St. Louis woman out on a date. And she said wait a minute and let me go ask and see. And I thought, “Who in the world is she going to ask? Is she going to someone else’s phone to call her mother?” She apparently talked to her friends about me and they assured her I was an OK guy. And that was our first date.

As a faculty member, probably the relationship I had with students. I taught most of my classes in this big classroom in Preston. And sometimes when I’d get there early there were a bunch of guys, Christian education guys, and we would get ourselves together and we’d be singing close harmony. A lot of gospel songs, just waiting for class to start, and I really looked forward to that. They’ve been good friends. Of course many of them are in their forties now. But that time as a young faculty member, singing with them, is very precious to me.

Probably the finest memory of this job has been when I worked with the Board of Trustees back in 1987 in redefining Belhaven’s mission. I don’t think many will ever fully appreciate the total transformation and rebirth of this college. And I can say that because I don’t think I had much to do with it. I think what God has given to me is the willingness to make a tough decision. I don’t like to make difficult decisions, I put them off as long as I can if there’s another way around it, but if there is no other option, I will make that decision. And I don’t want to seem audacious; I think God has honored that. But just look around, we have a bright future ahead of us.

QT: Right, I’ve heard some about that decision since I came here and there seemed to have been some resentment and some upset people over that decision.
Wilson: It was needed; it was not pleasant; it was not easy. And there were some very difficult times and I understand. I honor a lot of people who disagree with the decisions. I understand. But when you look at where we are now as a college as to where we were. Maybe you see it as a student, but I want to talk about the faculty, I think as a small liberal arts college, Belhaven has an outstanding faculty. If you have a faculty member who is committed to classroom teaching, then you will improve academically as a school.

QT: I think the spiritual life of the students reflect in that decision. In the yearbooks of the early eighties, you can look at dorm life and see beer cans and liquor bottles everywhere. Now at least students go off campus to do that sort of thing.
Wilson: Because it’s not done with the approval and acceptance of the majority of your peers. And I’m really pleased about that. You know, I want an environment where a student is free to make his choices, that’s obvious and critical in higher education. I want a faculty that is willing to share his or her views, but never impose those views on anyone. But hopefully, we have created an environment where the encouragement and positive influence of the peer will develop a life style that will suit students well. There is out in the business world now, a kind of return to men and women who have moral values, which in our case is driven by a strong Christian truth. And you know, we don’t require students, as some Christian colleges do, to sign a statement of faith. And I’m glad we don’t.

QT: What would you say your biggest disappointment has been during your presidency?
Wilson: Probably that Belhaven has not yet attracted the kind of financial support from some of the major foundations and some of the potentially major donors throughout the southeast, beyond the State of Mississippi. I think that is very critical and I believe that’s what Belhaven is right on the verge of doing. We’ve got some board members, take the Hood family and the Irby family, that have been tremendously generous, but these folks can only do so much. So I think what Belhaven’s opportunity now is to begin to attract some major regional, if not national, support. And I wish before that this had happened earlier on.

QT: What information to you have to release on new buildings, such as the planned student center?
Wilson: The board has committed now, that the capstone project of the campaign will be the construction of the new student center. That’s what I’m going to spend the rest of my time on between now and May 31. We need to close out the pledge amounts to be able to finally commit to that building. As soon as that’s done, I’m ready for the ground breaking. Now, I don’t know when that’s going to be. But I do know that project now is going to be that capstone. I would love for it to start this summer but that might be pressing, that might be a little too optimistic.

QT: Were you here when the original Bailey Building was built?
Wilson: It was not while I was attending but during my first year as Dean of Students. And I think it would be fitting to get this beautiful rendition, which would serve both our commuter and our resident population and bring them together in a more collegian environment for student life.

QT: I think it could increase enrollment, also.
Wilson: I think so, too. I think it’s a good investment. I agree

QT: If you had one piece of advice for the next president, what would it be?
Wilson: Success in any organization is based on the people you hire. If you get good people give them the authority and responsibility they need to do their job. Encourage them in that, get out of the way and let them do their job, and you’ll have your best shot of success.

QT: Do you think in retirement you might decide to teach a course or two?
Wilson: I certainly believe that is a possibility. I would have to wait on such a decision.