Christian life at Middlebury has existed since the founding of the college in 1800 – Middlebury was originally an institution for educating ministers, and associated with the Presbyterian church. When six Williams College students decided to transfer to different colleges in the first decade of the 19th Century in order that their “Haystack Movement” (now seen as the genesis of modern evangelical ministry) could grow, one of the six came to Middlebury.
Throughout the 19th Century, Middlebury’s religious calling led to various overt expressions that Christian faith was the focal point of the college. Alexander Twilight, the first African-American in the nation to graduate from college, did so from Middlebury in 1823, and started a career as a minister. Revivals, especially at the town’s Congregational church, extended to the student body in the latter decades of the century. Daily chapel was a mandatory aspect of college life until the 1940s, with weekly mandatory chapel vanishing in the 1950s.
The Chaplaincy as a separate job at the college has existed since 1937, and one of the most long-standing Chaplains, Rev. Charles Scott, served in the post from 1951 to 1986. As weekly chapel was taken away from the college’s schedule, Chaplain Scott encouraged the small groups of students who still wanted to make their faith a priority in their college years, and religious organizations including Newman, Hillel, and Interfaith flourished with his guidance.
The 1970s saw much growth, and the organization (by now called “Christian Fellowship”) began receiving visits from iterant InterVarsity workers including George Gentsch and Linda Doll. InterVaristy was at that time a predominantly iterant ministry, and any staff worker who visited Middlebury’s campus also visited a half-dozen schools in Vermont, and likely more in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. Obviously IV staff visits were few and far between, usually for a week during a semester.
It wasn’t until the late 70s, as InterVarsity began attracting more staff and slowly shifting away from itinerant ministry, that Christian Fellowship had regular IV staff presence. Jeff Woodward served Middlebury and other schools in Vermont, and came to campus once a month, starting in Fall of 1978. As Jeff became more active with the students, a decision to affiliate the Fellowship with InterVarsity officially was talked about, and happened in Spring of 1980, making the group “InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.” In 1983, Steve Thrall joined Jeff as a monthly staff worker, and though Jeff left Vermont in 1985, Steve continued through Spring 1987.
After ten years, Greg left campus staff in Spring 1997 to work for InterVarsity Press, and since then, numerous staff workers, all alums, have worked for InterVarsity at the college. The list includes Dave and Christina O’Hara (both ’91) for 1997-98, Kerra Struthers ’98 for 1998-2002, Tom Langsdorf ’00 for 2002-03, Mike and Sandy Unger (both ’03) for 2003-04, and Steve Bertolino ’00 for 2003-present.
Over the earlier years of the group, a handful of faculty advised the organization, but these links with faculty slowly died out over the course of the 1970s. Matt Dickerson arrived as a computer science professor at the college in Fall 1990, and has been the faculty advisor ever since, taking on increased service to the student Leadership since Fall 1998. The membership of the group increased to 70 by the end of the millennium, and in 2001 the name changed slightly yet again to be known as “Middlebury InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.” We still just refer to it as “CF,” though. Now, in Spring 2005, our membership numbers over 85 students.
Other traditions involve the Fellowship, or certain groups within the Fellowship, going on retreat together, under our own steam or through InterVarsity. For example, before the beginning every school year for the past decade or so, the student leadership team has taken a few days to go on retreat together to talk, pray, study Scripture, and plan events for the coming year. Community service, and both domestic and international missions work have increased in recent years as well.
Involvement with a few local churches is strong, and for the past four years a group of students have been involved with a missions group in Juarez, Mexico. In the past half-dozen years, various students have also been part of missions work in places including Boston, New York, Atlantic City, California, Texas, South Africa, Uzbekistan, the Czech Republic, Poland, Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, China, and India.
Through all of this, we have tried to maintain an orthodox, Biblically-based interpretation of Christ’s teachings, both in theology and in practical day-to-day life. Even since the days of the Christian Association, the group has been predominantly Protestant in tenor and membership, though never exclusively so, and members of CF have ranged the entire denominational spectrum, from Greek Orthodox to Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic to Pentecostal, mainline evangelical to traditional apostolic. We’re excited to see where God is leading us as a group, and how He will grow us in faith as individuals and as a Fellowship.
– Steve Bertolino, IVCF Staff Member, Spring 2005