This is one article in a series explaining changes at Gordon College, called Define: Gordon
By: Jonathan Chandra ‘19
In Beverly, a small, congregational church is tucked into the corner of Corning and Hale streets. On the Hale Street side, a tall cross is affixed to the outside wall, and a white sign on the lawn reads Church in the Cove in blue letters.Pews are filled with people of all sorts on Sundays. Amid many retirees are a number of couples in their 20s and 30s, with young children close by. There is even a golden retriever panting in one pew.
After worship – a blend of hymns and early-2000s praise music – the pastor stands at the pulpit, peering over spectacles at his congregation. Members voice “joys and concerns” to be prayed for. Among other issues, he listens intently to concerns about recent layoffs at North Shore Medical Center, and smiles at news that a baby has been born.
The pastor’s name is Greg Carmer, and he began preaching at Church in the Cove in January. Carmer was previously employed by Gordon College, most notably for 12 years as Dean of Chapel (now known as Office of the Chaplain). He was replaced by Tom Haugen in November 2013 and transitioned to be Dean of Christian Life and Theologian-in-Residence. He was laid off by the summer of 2015 as part of the budget prioritization process.
Among the congregates is his wife, Laura, who works at Gordon as the Director of Student Care in the Global Education Office.
Just as they are central to the Church in the Cove, the Carmers were at the heart of Gordon’s Elijah Project (EP), an intentional living community that examined issues of faith and vocation. They designed and directed the program from its inception in 2005 to its termination in 2016.
EP was founded in 2005 in response to a proposal from the Eli Lilly Foundation. The proposal offered $2.5 million in seed money to start programs at faith-based schools that would enhance discussions about faith and vocation. The Jerusalem and Athens Forum was founded as part of the same directive.
The program touched on complex questions, such as:
-What does it mean to be a responsible human and faithful Christian in today’s world?
-How do I affirm the goodness of all of God’s creation despite the distortions within it?
-How am I gifted? What are my unique interests and abilities?
-How can I best partner with God in His creative and redemptive work in this beautiful but fallen world?
Each EP participant spent three semesters in the program, from the beginning of one spring semester to the end of the following year’s spring semester. Seminar classes, internships and communal living were mainstays of the program.
Though the Carmers were co-directors through the EP’s existence, each had their own role. Greg taught two seminar classes, Foundations of Work and Vocation in the spring and Discernment, Decision Making and the Will of God in the fall. Laura focused on extracurricular elements of the program, intentional community and internship placement.
Rachel Ashley ’13 described the impact of the Carmers in an email:
“I cannot imagine my college experience without Laura and Greg Carmer. Their wise counsel has been invaluable to my growth. They never resorted to easy answers when I came to them with tough questions and they never failed to respond to me with compassion. I am so thankful to have them in my life and continue to have them in my life (we are still in touch!)”
In the spirit of practical application, each EP participant took on a summer internship, some of which proved formative for students’ future careers.
“I connect my internship at Cape Symphony Orchestra as a first step towards my current employment at the New York Philharmonic,” said Ian Good ’11, who now works as a production assistant and composer.
Community was a staple of each EP experience. From the beginning of the program, each cohort, which ranged from 12 to 16 students, lived together in Dexter House for one academic year. Jessica Hunkler ’14 reflected on the impact of in-house community, saying, “I remember part of the way through the program looking around the room at my housemates and being deeply grateful for the things they had each imparted on me. I believe we all walked away reflecting pieces of each other. Our values and passions started to shape each other’s and created a mosaic of a community.”
Communal living was not always easy, however. Mei Wu ’15 recalled the struggles her cohort sometimes had amid contentious topics and strong personalities.
“We experienced a very real community of people that just didn’t necessarily all mesh and count each other as like, best friends, but I think we had each others’ backs and supported each other and learned about one another in our diversity and our differences, and I think it was a hard thing to do.”
John Castellucio ’06, an Editor at Salem News, was a member of the first EP cohort. He said, “It helped a lot, because I think a lot of people in general, they get to the end [of college] and they don’t have a career waiting for them. There’s a lot of pressure from your family, from your peers, you know, from just the world. You have to pay your college loans and all the rest, and you have to get a car. We [EP] really tried to keep a lot of that separate from the discussion.”
In an interview, Greg Carmer described the unique impact of the program, saying, “All college students take classes, most are given an opportunity to reflect on big questions in class at some point, all of them live somewhere, all of them, almost all of them are engaged in some type of experiential education through internships. But what the Elijah Project does is it makes those things work in concert with one another, in sustained relationship and ongoing conversation about ‘Who am I?’, ‘Who is God’ and ‘What do I do with this life of mine?”
On behalf of EP, Greg Carmer presented at conferences for the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVue) and the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). He consulted schools like King University and Messiah College about integrative vocational programs.
Despite positive responses from within and outside of the College, EP was discontinued after the 2015-2016 academic year. This decision coincided with the layoff of Greg Carmer the summer before.
In an interview last year, Laura Carmer offered the following comment: “Truthfully, it’s been a huge grief to both my husband and I. 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.”
EP alumna JaeLim Jeon ’11 agreed with the sentiment, saying, “It’s definitely a huge loss. That [EP] was one of the things I’d tell my high schoolers to apply to Gordon for, but obviously it’s no longer there.” Jeon, an executive assistant at Taejon International School in South Korea, estimates that seven or eight students ultimately attended Gordon because of her referrals.
Sarah Tang ’16 expressed regret at now being unable to recommend her underclassmen peers to the terminated program.
“I think after you go through something, you really want people that you care about or people you see potential in go through the same thing, be impacted like you were, and be impacted by the Carmers and loved by them like you were, and that is sadly not possible on Gordon’s campus anymore.”
Rachel Dale’ 17, a member of the final cohort, said that “it feels like a major loss for the students—one, that in a few years, they won’t even know they have suffered—and I think it signifies a movement in an unfortunately uncritical direction for the College as a whole.”
EP alumni, however, decided to celebrate the life of the program rather than dwell on its end. Members of the final cohort worked together to organize a reunion with EP alumnus Prashan DeVisser ‘08, President and Founder of Global Unites.
On April 30, 2016, former participants came to Dexter from as near as Beverly Farms and as far away as Sri Lanka. Of 152 alumni, close to 70 were present. With significant others and children, total attendance exceeded 100 people.
The reunion included a meal, conversation and alumni speaking about their experiences in the program. A slideshow of cohorts over the years was shown and the Carmers were presented with a book of memories, notes and photographs from past EP participants. 47 of those that could not make the reunion sent in content.
Jacob Brooks ’10, who is in his fifth year as a Resident Director at Gordon, reflected on the experience, saying, “If I was to try to have a reunion around graduation for like, people who lived in Nyland. You know, good luck to me. Nyland’s been around for what, 14 years now? I’d get like maybe 20 people to show up.”
“It felt like there was close to 100 people in that house for Greg and Laura. People who like, flew out and, you know, sacrificed a lot to be there. It was just so reflective of how that experience was just so impactful in our life. It was crazy man. It’s hard to describe. I don’t get moved by much,but I was moved by that experience,” said Brooks, who credits the Carmers’ investment in students as the reason he returned to Gordon as an RD.
Though Greg and Laura Carmer are no longer directors of EP, and though the program has met its end, they have found a new community to invest in at the Church in the Cove. In the opinion of recent graduate and EP alum Kika Ghobrial ’16, there is beauty in the transition.
“It’s really cool to see how God used what happened to Greg to now take him and use him in a church setting at Church of the Cove, and really give him a new role there. He has totally redeemed what has happened,” he said. “Now the outcome of it is something beautiful.”
The Tartan interviewed 11 alumni, hailing from all but two EP cohorts. Those interviewed expressed grief, passion and nostalgia in equal parts. It is clear that the experience of community, discernment about vocation and memories of the care poured out by the Carmers live on in the hearts and minds of those who came out of the program.
Brooks said, “I’m just one of 150 other people in Elijah who I know are using things they took from their class to pour into others…There’s that ongoing life. Elijah lives on. EP lives on.”
Liam Adams ‘17 contributed to this article.