Wheaton College seized a special opportunity for collaboration, discovery, and celebration when the grand opening of their Armerding Center for Music and the Arts aligned with the joyful return of students, faculty, and the community to campus in the fall of 2021. And it was grand.
A full year of programming was developed featuring poets, playwrights, composers, musicians, and visual artists. Their creative works became part of campus life and the surrounding community. A Year of the Arts, Faith & Imagination initiative also included a campus-wide opportunity to experience The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition. The Heritage Edition was made available to Wheaton College through a special Heritage Program which offers options to experience Volume 6 Gospels and Acts on loan for up to one year.
“The Saint John’s Bible was significant for Wheaton College because the inscripturated Word of God is central to our mission and voluntary community,” explained Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken. “As a Christ-centered liberal arts college we remember the many unnamed artisans from centuries ago who labored to make beautiful copies of the Bible with the materials they had at hand—vellum, parchment, hand-made inks, quill pens—and working only by natural light by day or candlelight by night.”
“The Saint John’s Bible not only brings the beauty of the illuminated page back to life today but brings the very Word of God to life,” observed Dr. Ryken.
Wheaton’s 2,400 students were first introduced to The Saint John’s Bible in January during a special chapel service. Faculty member Richard Gibson, Ph.D. gave a talk he titled “In Praise of Scribes” to honor the scribes who carried scriptures down through the ages. As he spoke about the power of hand writing scripture, Jeremy Botts, a member of the Art faculty calligraphed a verse for the students to feel the power and beauty of handwritten Word.
“The service was inspired by The Saint John’s Bible, but it was about much more than the Bible itself,” shared Claire Miller, Student Chaplain of Worship and the Arts. “It was more about ‘how does this Bible lead us into worship?’”
“The Chapel service was just the first of a whole host of ways that the Bible was brought into the lives of students and the community,” said Dr. Michael Wilder, Dean of the Conservatory of Music and Division of Arts and Communication. “It touched so many people.”
Student and professional woodworker Matthew Golz built a beautiful black walnut and Plexiglas display case for the Gospels and Acts volume as it made its way to nine campus destinations, pausing in each campus building for several weeks. Throughout its travels, a page would be turned daily o encourage engagement with the verses and illuminations.
“Students on their way to classes, faculty and staff at work, and campus visitors all expressed delight over the beauty and meaning of the illuminated scriptures,” said Dr. Wilder. “Even the children attending our Community School of the Arts would use the step stool to peer at the pages.
“People are somewhat astounded at the care with which the creators of this volume put together the calligraphy and the illuminations in such an appropriately lavish way. They are so grateful to experience the various elements and engage with scripture.”
“Wheaton College has a deep and abiding love for the Bible, believing as we do that it is the very Word of God,” Dr. Ryken commented. “By moving our loaned copy of the Gospels and Acts Heritage Edition volume around campus, we were reinforcing our conviction that the Bible is relevant for all of life—for public worship, for music and the arts, for the social and natural sciences, for athletics, for residence life, and for table fellowship.”
In her role as Student Chaplain, Claire saw The Saint John’s Bible as an opportunity for students to engage with the art as a spiritual discipline. From her own perspective, she found the illumination accompanying Luke’s passage “you gave me no kiss” to be particularly meaningful. As Claire spent time with the illumination and reflected on the imagery, a connection to the story created for her with dimension beyond the written word.
“There was this beauty and abundance presented in the relationship the woman had with Jesus, but the Pharisees are off to the side. They are not willing to join in. It was through staring at that picture for a long time and trying to think about how this spoke to me, that I was able to talk about the verse like that,” said Claire about her talks during Chapel services. “This Bible shows a way to engage with art in a way that is engaging you with scripture too.”
“As members of our campus community gazed upon this Bible’s uniquely beautiful pages, we were reminded how much we truly love God’s Living Word,” concluded Dr. Ryken.
“As we have experienced this volume of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible on campus this year, we have realized what a rich blessing it would be if the college owned the complete set. This Bible opens the door to conversation, history, and beauty, as it is such a beautiful presentation of text and imagery,” reflected Dr. Wilder. “Our vision for acquiring this Bible has grown over the year and we welcome support of those who share our hope of securing The Saint John’s Bible for Wheaton College.”
If you or your organization are interested in learning more about bringing the Word of God to life through The Saint John’s Bible, please contact Rev. Dr. John F. Ross, Executive Director, The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program.