From Redeemer NYC to Redeemer MS

From 1996 to 2001, my wife and I lived in Nyack, NY, twenty-five miles north of New York City, while we were teaching at a small Christian liberal arts college in the area. Both being from the South originally (Virginia and Georgia), we expected to find many places to worship, fellowship, and hear the preaching of God’s word in such a heavily populated area of the country—but we were mistaken. In fact, those five years of our married life were the most difficult we have had in regard to finding a church home.

One of the saving graces—and one of the conduits of saving grace—during those years was Tim Keller. As often as possible, we drove into Manhattan on Sunday mornings or evenings to hear Keller preach in Hunter College Auditorium or at a church on the West Side. My wife and I often commented that one Keller sermon gave us spiritual food to feed on for several weeks.

Furthermore, a Sunday evening sermon during January 2001 changed the direction of our lives. Keller preached about the importance of consistent participation in the body life of the church—being with other Christians and being under the preaching of God’s word. Because of the difficulty we had finding a church where we could belong and serve (Redeemer Church in NYC was a one-hour drive for us one way), that sermon—ironically—prompted us to consider moving south again.

Seemingly out of the blue, I received a call a week later from a friend in Jackson, MS, about an opening in the English department at Belhaven College. We have lived, worked, and worshiped in Jackson since July 2001, and, through God’s grace, attend Redeemer Church, Jackson, MS—a church that often reminds us of Redeemer Church, NYC. Tim Keller’s teaching and preaching change lives because they hold forth again and again the Great Life Changer.

Randall A. Smith, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Chair, Creative Writing Department

Dr. Tim Keller, Founder and Pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and New York Times Bestselling Author, is coming to Belhaven University on Thursday, February 24. He will be speaking on his new book King’s Cross, in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall at 7:00 pm. For more information see release “Dr. Tim Keller Speaks at Belhaven University.”

The Undo Button

The beginning of a new year is often a time for renewed vows usually attributed to something that we should be doing…should do better…or should not do at all! It’s also a time when some are filled with many regrets as we look back over a year checkered with actions we never should have taken.

Today when one works on a computer, there is a great feature that brings much comfort – the wonderful ‘undo’ button. In most Microsoft apps, it’s that counter- clockwise curvy arrow that can wipe out ‘the error of our ways,’ and get us back on track. No matter how big or small the mistake, one simple click (or many if needed) on that glorious icon gives us a clean slate to try again.
We often need a huge ‘undo’ button for our lives. Unrealistic? Sure… but most of us would love to have such a button that we could press to make the wrong things right. So many times, the second after we’ve said or done something, we wish it could be undone.

Thankfully, God can pour out His mercy on us…we just need to ask for it…yes…no button needed. See the words below…He longs to be gracious! Ask Him for mercy and grace today…every day…and walk in His love and strength in the year ahead.

David Potvin
Assistant Vice President
Belhaven University

This inspirational nugget was included in The Pulse the Campus Operations monthly e-newsletter.

The Singing Christmas Tree: A Look Back at a Belhaven Tradition


The Singing Christmas Tree is one of a number of traditions that Belhaven can call truly its own. Students of last year, especially the singers, will not readily forget the falling of the snow as the 77th annual Singing Christmas Tree sent forth its first notes and the spontaneous, campus-wide celebration of life that followed. People from across Jackson gather yearly, and have for more than half a century, to enjoy the secular and sacred music that the chorus gives from an odd, pyramidal stair of platforms.

The Singing Christmas Tree is one of the most potent legacies of Mrs. Mignonne Caldwell, a voice teacher at Belhaven normally called “Miss Nonne.” Christmastime was celebrated at Belhaven before; caroling was a tradition before the tree. Girls would gather at a faculty member’s house for two hours of practicing, coffee, and cake. At midnight they would walk through Jackson, singing Christmas songs to their neighbors. It was also common for student organizations to “adopt” a local poor family and give them presents, fruit baskets, and clothing. But there was also a great Christmas Day feast with the president and faculty. In 1933, Mrs. Caldwell had the idea of an after-dinner entertainment where a chorus of girls arranged themselves in the shape of a Christmas tree and sang for the guests.

This happened every year for three years, until the people of Jackson started pressing the college for performances. The Singing Christmas Tree was moved outside and made a public event with free admission. A large wooden structure was devised to support the tree and the singers were given strands of lights to hold. Eventually these were colored lights that changed with each song. The Tree normally sang between the white columns, by the lagoon. In 1962 male singers were added, and the next year the whole spectacle was moved to the Bowl. Every year afterward had about 145-150 singers from students, faculty, and alumni, who visited Belhaven just to sing and attend the reception that was often held for them. It was a great honor for each senior soprano to be selected for the very top of the tree, where she would sing “O Holy Night.” In the 70s the city was sometimes so quiet and the air so clear that she could be heard from N. State Street.

Even without snow, it is always memorable. In one 1975 performance, a jet flew overhead while the chorus sang, “Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth.” Bettye Quinn, Legacy Faculty member, Associate Professor of Education, Director of Elementary Education, first heard the Tree when she was three, and it became her “life’s dream” to sing on it. She did not get the opportunity as a student, but in her earlier years as a faculty member sang regularly. The tradition of changing words in the songs to in-jokes is an old one. Singers used to prank their director, Mr. Ford, by including his name in some of the songs. Although accidents were rare, on the 20′ tree it was not uncommon for girls on the upper levels to faint. Tightly-packed as they were, falling was almost impossible, and it was apparently thought romantic by some girls in the 70s to be carried down afterward by male students.

The tradition has been a huge success. In the 70s and 80s the Tree was attended yearly by a crowd of about 20,000. Alumni brought the idea with them to other communities, and colleges across the country picked up on it. Belhaven made instruction packets and technical books available to various organizations interested in the idea. Postcards were issued with a picture of the Tree, and it was noted among various other Jackson attractions and quaint Christmas traditions in magazines. Today the Singing Christmas Tree idea, which once existed only in the mind of Belhaven instructor “Miss Nonne,” is popular worldwide, and a tradition of which Belhaven may rightly be proud.

Rex Bradshaw is a senior history major at Belhaven University. Rex digs through the Belhaven archives for lesser-known facts and stories from Belhaven’s history.

With Rex in the Archives

As I walked into the Belhaven archives today, the familiar musty smell of old brown pages came to my nose. It always acts as a sort of intoxicant, filling my mind with thoughts of years which no-one remembers, books which have remained unopened for decades, thoughts of men and women lost in the abundance of words preserved across the world.

Today my eyes were drawn especially to the large Bibles on the back wall. I examined one of them, the Lemly family Bible—Bessy Lemly being an art professor who gave her name to the room in which the archives are now. The Bible is an immense and heavy tome, the cover a solid black with raised, elaborate gold floral designs spread across the binding and up and down the cracking spine. The date on the title page is 1874, and it boasts features such as commentary by six Bible scholars, nine hundred illustrations, the Apocrypha, a concordance, comprehensive Bible dictionary, and a concise history of all religious denominations. Magnificent engravings, including those by Gustave Dore, fill the pages and lend a dramatic air to the most casual of readings.

The most interesting and unique part of the volume, however, is the family portraits in the back. These are pages with four squares each wherein old photos are pasted. Only the first page has later annotations in pen. In one of the front squares there is a distinguished-looking old man, frowning thoughtfully, named Frances S. Smith; his costume seems to place him around the 1860s. Beside him is another portrait that appears possibly older: a young, intense man called Virginius Smith. The others have names are designated “Napoleon Smith,” a handsome, intelligent professional, and “Frank,” a man bearing a close resemblance to Napoleon but appearing older and milder in nature. Other portraits include that of a middle-aged woman in a voluminous black dress; an elderly lady in black, probably a widow, holding up a tiny Bible; a young, dashing fellow with a striped waistcoat, who looks like he could be Errol Flynn’s brother; and many of wide-eyed infants.

After indulging my imagination in hypothesizing lives and personalities for these people, I stumbled across a box of Kodak slide duplicates from the 1960s. Holding them up to the light, I saw various scenes of college life as it was fifty years ago. One shows a group of students, boys and girls uniformly in jeans and polo shirts. On another, a couple stands serenely on one of the Belhaven Lake docks, watching the white geese swim about below them. Others include photographs of scenes wherein a well-groomed and suited professor lectures a classroom of young ladies on the phonetic alphabet, using sample words such as “cold,” “ought,” and “cool”; a girl is constructing on a pile of books what is either alien-looking equipment for a science project or non-representational art that vaguely resembles the Eiffel Tower; in what appears to be the Helen White kitchen, an elderly lady instructs two female students with short, bouffant hair on how to clean the inside of a stove burner; young men, still smartly-dressed, lounge in bunk beds, reading, a film roll sitting casually on a nearby dresser.

Other matters draw my attention, and I return the slides to their place. Today I glimpsed two different eras, one belonging specially to the Lemly family and the other to Belhaven, and I left the archives with a sense of being better connected to my Belhaven heritage.

Rex Bradshaw is a senior history major at Belhaven University. Rex digs through the Belhaven archives for lesser-known facts and stories from Belhaven’s history.

Belhaven Homecoming 2010: Q & A with Michael Dukes

Michael Dukes, Director of Development and Alumni at Belhaven University, has directed Belhaven’s Homecoming for four years. He speaks with Inside Belhaven about “Back to Belhaven,” Homecoming 2010:

Q: What are the main events of Belhaven’s Homecoming Weekend?

A: There are what I would consider three pinnacle events:

      One is on Friday night, the Sports Hall of Fame Banquet, where 4-7 of that year’s athletic standouts are inducted into the Hall of Fame. Coaches, families, and former teammates will come back for that event.

      The second of these events is the Alumni Awards Luncheon. This is an opportunity to acknowledge alumni specifically for what they have done in their chosen fields since leaving Belhaven. This is generally a meaningful time for those individuals recognized by their alma mater.

      The third event is the football game. You have to keep in mind that for decade upon decade Belhaven didn’t have football. A number of alumni are used to homecoming being in mid-to-late November and centered around basketball. But the way Belhaven Homecoming has developed with the addition of football, it’s become what you traditionally think of for a Southern homecoming – everybody charging up and going to the big game.

Q: Are there any new aspects or events this year?

A: The newest aspect is that homecoming is a month earlier this year. A lot of colleges and universities do October homecoming, and most high schools do. This will be an interesting experiment.

      Also, we will host parents of current Belhaven students during the weekend. They will have a special continental breakfast with Dr. Parrott on Saturday. We hope this will become a unique event that lasts for years to come.

      Lastly, this is only our second year for the Basketball Mini-camp. Coach Kelsey and his staff have very successful summer camps, and this will be the boiled-down version of one of those; alumni can chat while their kids are involved in a fun activity.

Q: In a sentence, what is Belhaven’s goal for Homecoming weekend?

A: The goal for Homecoming is always to be welcoming and accommodating to all Belhaven alumni and friends.

      I don’t want to say, “If you’re part of this class, Homecoming’s only for you this year.” Because of this, we’ve dropped trying to come up with a new theme every year. Three years ago I decided Homecoming’s going to be “Back to Belhaven” every year. We want to be inclusive of ALL alumni. While there may not be a large group of people who are from your class or even your era, there will still be plenty of things you can do.

      “Back to Belhaven” is the first Friday and Saturday of October. Come reconnect with classmates and campus and be a part of your school’s celebration!