The Ransdell Chapel Story
Michael V. Carter
Ransdell Chapel is a beacon of Campbellsville University's Christ-centered educational focus as a Christian university in the Baptist tradition.1 What began as a prayer became a reality because two incredibly generous individuals, Dr. George W. and Marie T. Ransdell, provided the lead gift.
It was just a decade ago, on our first visit to Campbellsville University, when Debbie and I drove through the campus and walked its tree-lined sidewalks, greeted along the way by warm, smiling faculty and students. After we toured nearly every facility, it struck me that Campbellsville University had no formal facility to hold her corporate worship services. I believe the heart of a Christian school is largely symbolized by her chapel, and this nearly century-old institution was in need of a chapel.
We were told that growing numbers of students through the years had necessitated changes in the location of chapel services, from the historic Russell Creek Academy administration building, to the current Administration Building, to the Alumni Building, to the Student Activities Center, to Powell Athletic Center and then, from time to time, to the facilities of Campbellsville Baptist Church.
Although we can worship God no matter the condition or location of our surroundings, I as a new president placed the construction of a chapel among my top priorities. I felt we needed a designated place that would say to our community, and to the world, that Campbellsville University is Christian and that a Christian worldview shapes the mission of our university.
I began earnestly praying that God would somehow, someday bring to Campbellsville University an individual or family whose heart burned with the same desire as many others on our campus to fund the construction of a new chapel facility where our university community could gather to praise and worship God. As a Baptist, I see worship as the first step toward serving others. Hence, a chapel building per se would serve as the starting point for servant leadership and missions. If we are to love God and our neighbors (Mark 12:28-31), then the chapel experience and an actual building in which to worship the Lord seemed essential to Christian college life for students and faculty alike.
As I began to learn more about the University during my first months, we employed several assessment techniques to help prioritize needs. In the analyses, students scored a chapel as the greatest need on campus. Many alumni, trustees, faculty and administrators placed a chapel as one of several important buildings needed in order to truly serve students.
Throughout the coming months, the trustees, faculty, staff and coaches prayed for direction.
God answered our prayers, working through Louisville trustee Dr. George Ransdell and his wife, Marie. A breakthrough came in their home as we prayed together. I remember looking up at Marie who had tears in her eyes as she whispered, "I can’t stand the thought of those children going to the gym to worship.”2
In my fourth year as president, this godly couple announced their intention to provide a $1 million lead gift toward the construction of what would be known as Ransdell Chapel.
George said that he and Marie were inspired to give to the chapel project because of Campbellsville University’s unswerving devotion to its Christian mission and to the fact that the students were in need of a place of spiritual dignity to worship on campus throughout the week.
I’ll never forget George’s words in the beginning, “We have made this gift to Campbellsville University not to receive credit, but to give credit to God’s glorious love for us all. None of us, not even Marie and me and our children and grandchildren, would be anything had it not been for the saving grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is imperative that each one of us, during this lifetime, takes a stand for good and for God’s plan of salvation.”3
After that first defining moment of generosity, many challenges would follow for the leadership of the university. The work of creating a chapel began in earnest, balancing design, location and budget realities. To date approximately 400 individuals have joined the Ransdells in making gifts to help pay for the chapel. Several friends have made sacrificial gifts to see the chapel project move forward. George and Marie would come forth several more times to assist in helping to cover this cost of the much needed facility.
While Ransdell Chapel stands facing Hoskins Street today as if it has always belonged there, choosing that location came after many other ideas were prayed about and tabled. At one point we thought of tearing down an older building and placing it in the middle of campus. As one can imagine, this was the catalyst for a whole series of other conversations about the university’s master plan and her future.
Preliminary designs were reviewed by members of the Board of Trustees at regular meetings and at various committee meetings. Plans were worked over and over again. Hours upon hours were spent in planning and assessing options.
Many trustees, administrative staff and faculty gave their best efforts in planning so that a beautiful cost-effective building could be built. Much thought went into the question of purpose for the building. The Ransdells and others decided the building would be a chapel, used exclusively for the purposes of teaching, preaching and sacred music. It would not be for theater. Much of the design revolved around the decision to purchase the historic pipe organ from Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Everyone was in agreement that a grand pipe organ was a necessity for the chapel.
As the interior of the chapel came together, we were to be given another significant gift from the Ransdell family, this one from George and Marie’s son, Michael, in the form of a wonderful Bechstein grand piano. When the beautifully restored antique Farrand and Votey organ and the grand piano are both are played together, it sounds like the gates of heaven are opening up. (See related article “Farrand and Votey Organ Installed in Ransdell Chapel” by Wesley Roberts, also in this issue.)
Fundraising challenges had to be balanced with the everyday needs of the growing university. There were times when it seemed almost too much to ask for after having just celebrated the addition of the tremendous E. Bruce Heilman Student Complex.
The chapel groundbreaking took place on an unforgettably cold October 25, 2005 when heaters inside large tents were required. The 800-seat chapel was projected to be complete in 16-18 months. George and Marie were unable to attend the groundbreaking but their son Michael, representing them, said, “I wish my Mom and Dad could have been here today to see the joy and pleasure of the people celebrating this new chapel. My parents and I are equally concerned that this bring glory to God. I believe, particularly based on what I've heard today, that that is going to occur. I pray that many are brought to faith, to believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.”4
Every day was one of anticipation with the Campbellsville University website camera trained on the chapel as construction progressed for observance over the Internet. Fervent prayers and staying true to our mission kept the chapel going up.
A special Day of Prayer was held on December 11, 2006 when it was time to place the steeple and cross on Ransdell Chapel. The steeple was dedicated to the late Dr. Jerry Bennett, former chair of the Board of Trustees, who died May 30, 2006. He would have loved that moment on what he had such a short time before called ‘Holy ground’ at the chapel groundbreaking. Dr. Bennett, a number of trustees, both current and former, faculty, staff, coaches and alumni knew the services to be held in the sanctuary would change lives for eternity. Several of us wrote our names and a message on the cross in honor of Jerry who had been among the first to believe we could make the chapel a reality. Campbellsville Industries, who manufactured the steeple, sent several of its representatives to watch one of Jerry’s business partners, Wilbur Cox, place the cross high on the steeple. One could not help but believe that Jerry was peering down from heaven on Mr. Cox as he put the final touch on the steeple.
The cornerstone set the morning of the Day of Prayer read: Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it (from Psalm 127:1).
During a candlelit prayer walk through the chapel as the Day of Prayer came to a close, students, faculty, staff and alumni were asked to tour the building and pray for the various persons who would be participating in the many programs in the chapel. Ransdell Chapel was built to withstand being in use every hour of the day.
Hundreds of scripture verses were written on the raw concrete and unfinished walls that day in preparation for the chapel to receive her finishing touches. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community came together to share their favorite verses as we prayer-walked the chapel.
At the pinnacle of the University’s Centennial Celebration, just under a thousand people crowded into the newly-completed Ransdell Chapel for the official dedication service held April 18, 2007. All our voices were joined together in a high-church celebration of praise offered up in special music, song and God’s Word. George and other trustees were with me on the platform in that unforgettable moment. Our joy was overflowing as we gazed out into the faces of alumni, current students, faculty, community members, staff, coaches and special guests filling that sanctuary. One could sense how humbling and thankful everyone felt–Campbellsville University has a chapel–not just another building, but a chapel that will serve her students for years and years.
I took in the beauty of the building, the unique blend of glass, wood and steel, the purity of sound and the light of God’s world coming through her majestic windows. All were the results of so much planning, hours of prayerful consideration, hard work, design and re-design.
A highlight of the celebration was Ephesian Trilogy, a musical work created especially for the occasion and presented by the combined University Chorale and Concert Chorus, the University Orchestra and Organ, by noted American composer Jeff Cranfill, who was in the audience. We were blessed to have the students and faculty from the School of Music under the direction of Dr. Robert Gaddis, dean, assisted by Dr. David McCullough, Dr. Frieda Gebert, Dr. Wesley Roberts and Mrs. Nevalyn Moore.
Leaders of the church in attendance included guest speaker Dr. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.; and Dr. Bill Mackey, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, along with others from Convention offices in who were present. The call to worship was given by Dr. John Hurtgen, dean of the School of Theology; Old Testament scripture reading of Psalm 100 by Rev. George Gaddie (’42), former member of the Board of Trustees; and New Testament scripture reading of Colossians 3:12- 17 by Dr. Sarah Stafford (’89), chair of the faculty and associate professor of English.
The invocation was given by the Rev. Ed Pavy, director of Campus Ministries, followed by a statement of the purpose of the chapel by Dr. Frank Cheatham (’65), vice president for academic affairs.
The Rev. David Walters (’97 and ’04), vice president for admissions and student services, thanked the Ransdells on behalf of all the students who were part of the dedication ceremony and all who are to come after them.
The Rev. John Chowning, vice president for church and external relations and planner of the dedication service said he believed Ransdell Chapel would be pivotal in the next 100 years.
Other program participants included Dr. David Morris, chairman of the University Board of Trustees; Dr. Skip Alexander, pastor of Campbellsville Baptist Church; the Rev. Todd Parish, director of Kentucky Heartland Outreach; Justin Watson (’07), president of the Baptist Campus Ministries; Corri Jermaine Irving, senior, who read his poem “Ransdell Chapel”; and Dr. Robert Clark, vice president for academics emeritus and director of missions for the Taylor County Baptist Association, who presented Dr. Carter with a check from the Association to assist with the remaining chapel debt.
Dedication day was one that will live forever in the minds of those who joined together and shared it in the new chapel.
As the semester came to a close, the first graduate commencement was held May 4, 2007 in the chapel, followed by the first summer camp meetings. The largest camp that first summer had 700 members. They were able to use Campbellsville University solely because we had a chapel large enough to hold their numbers required for evening worship.
The first opening convocation was held on August 29, 2007 in Ransdell Chapel–another memorable ceremony in the history of the school. Campbellsville University began a new academic year with thankful hearts as we officially opened school in the Chapel.
Another first has just taken place at this writing, the first wedding was held in Ransdell Chapel on March 29, 2008. I am reminded of Michael Ransdell’s words from the groundbreaking, “There's even a chance that students from the university may become married in the chapel and that would be a wonderful and miraculous thing.”5
He was right. The first wedding is just one of what will be many joyous celebrations the chapel was built to house.
Ransdell Chapel is the result of people who caught the vision, prayed and worked to make it happen. I am humbled and deeply thankful for those kind and gentle hearts who gave of themselves. Without these good and faithful people Campbellsville University would not be where she is today, standing forth to provide an excellent education through a Christ-centered approach.
May all who enter Ransdell Chapel have their lives enriched by the good news of Jesus Christ.
1 With thanks to Linda Waggener, Joan McKinney and John Chowning for their assistance with this article.
2 Campbellsville University website news archives, December 18, 2006, www.campbellsville.edu/news/2006/12_18.asp.
3 Marc C. Whitt, “God Gave Us This Money a Dollar at a Time,” Campbellsvillian, Winter 2002, p. 4.
4 TV-4 coverage of Ransdell Chapel groundbreaking, October 25,