In these days when we are wrestling with all of the issues brought to us by COVID-19, I find it helpful to remember Chapman’s past. Perhaps our connection to Chapman’s founders, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) can help us reframe our present and point us into the future.

This is not the first very challenging time we have faced:

  • Hesperian College, which is our predecessor school that takes us back to an 1861 founding, did have to close its doors. But out of the ashes of that event, its assets were given to Southern California Disciples to be part of the effort begun by C. C. Chapman to open a Disciples of Christ college in Los Angeles.
  • The Great Depression nearly did us in—it was C. C. Chapman’s leadership and sacrificial giving that got us through, and, in gratitude, the university now bears his name.
  • In the 1970’s, because of property investments that did not produce expected revenue and some poor financial management, the school ended up with crushing indebtedness. Disciples’ Church Extension Fund stepped in consolidate our debt and worked with us until we had emerged from the crisis. They found a way for us when there seemed to be no way.

The lesson for today?  Maybe our past can help us reframe our present more positively.

We have weathered both the great recession and COVID without laying off faculty and staff. There are very few sectors in our nation, particularly education, that have that track record. Even the university’s brief stoppage of payments into staff and faculty retirements is currently being made up. It gives me great hope about our future.

Have we done everything perfectly through this pandemic? Likely each one of us could name something that we think could have been done better. Some folks have a pretty long list. And as I have listened to colleagues, the lists aren’t the same. There are some who think we should still be completely remote and others who think that any kind of vaccine and mask mandate is wrong. Some have gotten great support from supervisors, colleagues and human resources, and others whose experience has been trying.

Chapman is a big tent. And part of what fuels frustration and division now is that all of us are carrying wounds from COVID—and some of us were already wounded by life before the pandemic. Almost no one is their best self these days. Knowing that, this is what I try to do every day at work—I assume positive intent. I assume that faculty and staff, trustees and administrators are trying to do the best that they can do. Objectively, is that possible? Of course not. But I am not here to judge who is worthy of my positivity. What seems perfectly illogical from my point of view can be completely reasonable from the standpoint of another. There are always things that I don’t know because I have not done that job or lived that life story.

I keep finding over and over that our diversity is our strength. Whenever people with diverse perspectives work together, they are generally able to craft a solution that is stronger than any one person could have devised alone.   And when each of us assumes positive intent, we open not only our ears, but our hearts to each other.

I’m about to write a contract for a major event next March. It is the same annual event—even the same speaker—that was the first major event cancelled as the campus was shutting down 20 months ago. I know something now that I never imagined 2 years ago– that a pandemic or an earthquake or zombie apocalypse could cancel it, too. Therefore, I live in hope.

And that is getting me through.

*Dr. Fred Craddock (1928-2015), Disciples’ premier professor of preaching and New Testament.