Erskine College and Seminary President Dr. Robert E. Gustafson spoke to students, faculty, staff, and community members Aug. 31 during a Formal Opening Convocation marking the 179th year of the college and the 181st year of the seminary.
Gustafson was named president by the Erskine Board of Trustees in May, several months after becoming interim president upon the retirement of Dr. Paul Kooistra.
College Provost Dr. John D. Basie offered a welcome to members of the Erskine community and guests gathered in the Due West ARP Church. “All of us bear God’s image,” he said. “Together we celebrate the beginning of another year of cultivation of that image through intentional Christ-centered intellectual and spiritual community.”
The president’s address, “Liminal Moments,” was preceded by two scripture readings—Psalm 127, which begins with the memorable assertion, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain who build it” and Isaiah 28:16, in which the Lord speaks of a “precious corner stone.”
Describing Psalm 127 as one of the “Songs of Ascent” sung by Israelites on their way to Jerusalem, Gustafson said the psalm refers to key elements of “what makes human life worthwhile,” and these include “family, work, home, and community relationships.” He urged Erskine students to think of themselves as “pilgrims on a journey with these mentors here,” referring to the professors who will guide and inspire them.
He explained that the word “liminal” in the title of his address comes from a root word meaning “threshold,” and so “Liminal Moments” are those in which there is movement from one space to another, or from one way of life to another. “College is a creative liminal space for all of you,” he said.
Citing the reading from Isaiah 28, with its reference to a “precious corner stone,” Gustafson said that in the ancient world, cornerstones were “absolutely essential,” and a building would lack stability if the cornerstone were not properly placed. For Christians, the chief cornerstone is Christ. “Unless the Lord builds your house, it is going to be in vain,” he said.
“This liminal moment is so important. Take time to invite Christ in. It will make a difference for the rest of your years.”
The Rev. Paul G. Patrick, chaplain of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, gave the invocation and benediction and offered a prayer for the college and seminary, and Seminary Provost Dr. R. Leslie Holmes read the scripture passages.
Musicians for the service included the Erskine Choraleers, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Keith D. Timms and accompanied by Prof. Tobi Otekayi, pianist; and Sarah Hecox, organist.