February 22 2018

Students have been invited to fast and pray throughout Thursday, Feb. 22  in a school-wide day of prayer which will culminate in an 8 p.m. worship service at Pierce Chapel. The event is the first of its kind that Chaplain Tim Blackmon can recall in recent Wheaton history and will coincide with similar opportunities at nearly 2,000 campuses nationwide for the Collegiate Day of Prayer.

“We’re praying for the same things we said we were going to pray for last month [in chapel]: that people would have firsthand experience of the love of the Father; that they would submit every thought, word, and deed to the lordship of Jesus; and that they would get a daily dose of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” Blackmon said. “Those are the three main things that we’re praying for, so we hope that [students] will join us in that.”

The event arose out of a desire to “double down on prayer,” Blackmon said. At chapel on Feb. 4, Blackmon and Student Chaplain for prayer Luke Nelessen announced an initiative to pray for every student and faculty member at Wheaton College by name each week. Thursday’s event is a continuation of that same theme.

“Throughout this school year there’s been a noticeable increase in interest in prayer on campus,” Nelessen said. “This day of prayer and fasting serves as an opportunity for various groups and movements to pray in unison.”

“If you think you have problems that can be solved with natural solutions, you look for natural solutions,” Blackmon explained. “If you have problems of supernatural proportions, you need supernatural solutions … We really want to feel like we’re supporting and nourishing and encouraging the campus with a time of focused prayer.”

Blackmon also identified timing as an impetus for the event. February, he said, is “a challenging month in so many different ways,” and, with a little less than forty days until Easter, it is also the season of Lent.

The academic calendar, however, also makes February “a challenging month” for many students, Blackmon said. As an RA on Smith 1 South last year, senior Chloe Burris observed a combination of increased workload with pressures about housing, academic, and extracurricular plans for the following year and the strain it places on many at Wheaton.

“I know that we follow an academic calendar more than we follow the liturgical church calendar, but I do think it’s important for us to know what time of year it is,” Blackmon said. “This is a season for us to repent, to seek God’s face, to ask for his help, to ask him to do what we can’t do for ourselves.”

“I think prayer is a critical response,” said Burris, who is currently the Assistant Resident Director (ARD) of Smith-Traber. “When we recognize our needs communally and bring them to the Lord, we know that he not only answers, but also invites us into his work here and in the world.”

Mac-Evans ARD Josiah Haas also identified with the need for prayer at this point in the academic year. As a part of Residence Life staff, I understand why students can often feel overwhelmed during February because I have felt that way myself. In the midst of a hard month, Residence Life seeks to support students through consistently providing safe spaces for students to be known and cared for. Through this, Res Life hopes to aid in caring for students, connecting them to the many resources around campus, and helping them care for themselves.

Prayer is always an appropriate response when life feels overwhelming. Through prayer we are able to intimately be known by God, be honest about how we’re doing, lament hard situations and cling to His promises and His character. Often in times of prayer we can receive comfort and peace from the Holy Spirit when life seems like it is a raging storm around us.

Students have also been invited to join in fasting, a spiritual discipline in which “you stop doing something in order to get something that you can’t normally get,” Blackmon explained. Like prayer, fasting will look different for each student, and could involve abstaining from food, social media, or something else.

“Often we lack a deep hunger for God and his Kingdom because we are continually satisfied by the things of this world, including food,” said professor of Christian Formation and Ministry Dr. David Setran. “Fasting, by removing food even for a short time, can serve as a means by which our gaze is shifted to the food that will not perish.”

Wheaton’s efforts join those of 1,367 other colleges who have been “adopted” by students or by community churches as part of the Collegiate Day of Prayer (CDOP). CDOP has its roots in the Second Great Awakening, when a handful of New England campuses began to have yearly concerted days of prayer. The trend spread as religiously-founded schools began to proliferate across the country. Today, CDOP is an organized movement to maintain those prayer efforts at secular as well as Christian colleges and universities.

Students in Gold Star Chapel, Buswell Library, Meyer Science Center, the BGC prayer chapel and the prayer chapels in all four dorms on campus will also be uniting with thousands of alumni and parents. The Chaplain’s Office received a request from Wheaton’s Alumni Engagement Office asking for specific prayer needs. Blackmon communicated the aforementioned requests — for experiences of the love of the Father, the lordship of Jesus and the peace of the Spirit — to them.

“Now that we’re having this college-wide day of prayer … you get this entire 40,000[-person] Wheaton community praying for the College,” Blackmon said. “And I think we need prayer today as much as we’ve ever needed it.”

Prayer guides will be available all day today at Gold Star Chapel, room 155 in Buswell, and in dorm prayer chapels to focus the campus’ specific prayer, and students are encouraged to gather at Pierce this evening for a time of worship, confession and scripture reading.