By Jonathan Chandra
After 11 years, an impactful program has come to an end.
Far removed from the main part of campus, beyond the Bennett Center and the Road Halls, over the bridge that drapes across the Route 128, is the southernmost residence hall on campus: Dexter House. Located at 5 Parsons Hill Rd., the house is the home of the final cohort of the Elijah Project.
On a bright Sunday afternoon, members of the program sat scattered around an expansive wooden table in the middle of the Dexter kitchen. In between impromptu a cappella, anecdotes about temperamental shower water, and accidental spillage of soap on pasta, they answered questions about how they felt about the end of the program.
“To be honest, right in this moment it’s hard to imagine a group of people from a different intentional community moving in, because we’re grieving the end of this eleven-year long family. There’s so much memory and history here, and it’s sad that it’s ending,” admitted Cher Chow ’17.
The Elijah Project (EP) was started in 2005 in response to a proposal from the Eli Lilly Foundation to faith-based schools which offered $2.5 million dollars of seed money in a drive to enhance discussions about faith and vocation. A year before, the Jerusalem and Athens Forum had been founded as part of the same directive.
Dealing with issues of faith and vocation, the program spanned three semesters for each cohort, beginning in the spring. Two seminar courses were part of the program, “Foundations of Work and Vocation” in the spring, and “Discernment, Decision Making, and the Will of God” in the fall, after each cohort had moved into the Dexter House. Individualized summer internships took place between the two courses.
Gregory Carmer, former dean of chapel, and his wife, Laura Carmer, co-directed the program until its cancellation last summer. The discontinuation of the Elijah Project was an administrative decision, reportedly tied to larger budget discussions. It coincided with the laying off of Carmer, who nevertheless voluntarily taught the fall seminar for the current cohort so that students could finish the program.
“I’d like to acknowledge Greg and Laura Carmer for their 11 years of investment in the program, tweaking it and molding it to be the best it could be for Gordon College students. Each aspect of the program was so thought out, and everything we did had a purpose behind it, and that’s entirely thanks to them,” said Kelly Pape ’17.
While Dr. Cramer is no longer employed by the school, Mrs. Carmer continues to work as Director of Student Care at the Global Education Office. She agreed to comment about the cessation of the program. Among other things, she lauded the capacity of the Elijah Project over the years to bring a diverse group of people under a unified mission.
“The Elijah Project from the very beginning has drawn in people from all majors. And that has been a beautiful picture of the kingdom of God, of the body of Christ. There was always a sense of being able to support and celebrate each other because each student knew each other not just personally and spiritually, but vocationally,” she said.
“Truthfully, it’s been a huge grief to both my husband and I,” she added, mirroring the sentiment of the current cohort. “We put a lot of ourselves into the program, so personally it’s very sad to see it ending. And professionally, I think, it’s a loss for the school. We’ve had people—faculty and staff—from other campuses contact us about it, so what we’re doing is being modelled by other schools. Greg’s been to conferences and presented on it, students have told us when they’ve interviewed for the program that it’s part of the reason they came to Gordon. I feel confident in saying that it will be a significant loss for the school.”
Respond, a program centered around service, both internally and in the community, will replace the Elijah Project as the intentional community in Dexter House for the 2016-2017 academic year. The program is reaching the end of its first year, and will be moving from its current home in Gedney Hall. Gedney will be converted to an all-female residence hall.
“We’ve really been mindful of the transition as we’ve been recruiting next year’s cohort for Respond. EP has been an awesome part of the community, and we know it’s going to be a change for a new group to be there,” said Katie Breitigan, incumbent director of the program, when questioned about the move.
Though a somberness overlay the cohort members as they were questioned about the end of the Elijah Project, they expressed a playful energy among themselves throughout the interview, evidence of the closeness brought upon by intentional community. And though there is grief that the program is near its end, there is appreciation, too, for the richness of the experience.
“All these things we talk about in class, and in convocation, in chapel. The Elijah Project took a lot of those abstract ideas and made them very concrete in the context of community. There has been nothing else I’ve done here at Gordon that has made everything so real to me,” said Isabel Packevicz ’17, iterating a fitting epitaph for a program that has served the school so well.
At the arrival of the next academic year, Dexter House will remain standing at 5 Parsons Hill Road. New faces will sit around the expansive kitchen table, participants of an entirely new program. But though the Elijah Project is at its end, the impact it has had on its members will remain for years to come.