NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s Advent season tradition, the Lighting of the Green, returns for its 21st year.
The event will take place on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m. on the college Green, in the center of the campus.
Participants form a circle on the sidewalk around the Green, holding unlit candles that are supplied. Most of the campus lights are turned off but there will be ushers with flashlights to help people find their places in the dark. It takes about 250 people to entirely circle the Green.
After some singing of Christmas carols, led by professor of Bible and religion Patty Shelly, reading of some Scripture passages and a brief meditation, the candles will be lighted to form “a wreath around the Green,” according to campus pastor Amy Barker.
At the end of the service, everyone walks into the middle of the Green with their lights to sing one or two additional carols. Finally, everyone is invited to the dining hall for cookies and hot drinks.
The Lighting of the Green began in 1986 when Beth Hege, then a Bethel student, had the idea to have a one-time candlelit vigil around the Green as an expression of peace and light at Christmas, and asked the Campus Ministries team if they would organize it. After experiencing it, so many people said this needed to become a Bethel tradition that it has been carried on ever since.
Peter Goerzen, a Bethel College senior, is about the same age as the Lighting of the Green and remembers following his father, physical plant director Les Goerzen, into the campus buildings around the Green to extinguish lights that normally stay on all night [see sidebar]. “As a student, I see how this precious tradition has grown, with new faces bearing that same light that continues to shine in the darkness,” Goerzen said.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.
Sidebar: Lighting the dark
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. –John 1:5, NRSV
As a young boy, I would scurry closely behind my father’s brisk step as he hurried from building to building, switching off all the lights facing the Green in preparation for Bethel College’s annual Lighting of the Green. The campus, majestic and ornate in its soft night-time lighting, gradually slipped into a bold, dark solitude.
At last all the lights had been extinguished and, with the campus perfectly dark and still, we climbed the old wooden steps in the Administration Building to a window overlooking the Green. My father lifted me up so I could see, and we waited in silence as several dozen students began to gather in the crisp, cold December night for the still-young Bethel College Christmas tradition.
I strained to hear the Scripture reading. Then some barely-perceptible singing. Then came my favorite part: one candle light appeared, and I watched intently as that single small flame gradually spread across the Green, each little light taking its place in the stunning wreath of warmth and light in the cold, dark night.
As a young boy, I could not have understood the meaning of the first chapter of John or have grasped the powerful symbolism of the flame being passed around the Green, but somehow I knew that it was special and significant. I knew I wanted to be a part of it, to see my little flame dance before my eyes and pass the light on until all was bright.
I have never lost that desire as I have grown older and come to understand the poignant light metaphor. I still want to see my own light grow and dance before my eyes, to see my faith grow stronger and closer to God. And I still want to pass on that light, to share the peace and love in the Good News of Christ with those around me, even as others share with me. I want to be a part of that warmth and light that touches even the coldest and darkest of hearts in the coldest, darkest corners of the world.
Now, as a student, I see how this precious tradition has grown, how new faces now bear that same light that continues to shine in the darkness. Now I too receive the flame, watch it grow and pass it on. A smile crosses my face as I remember watching others doing the same years ago. I look up to that window in the Ad Building, and I know my father is there, still quietly watching.
Peter Goerzen, Newton, is a senior at Bethel College. His father, Les Goerzen, is Bethel’s physical plant director.