Baldwin — A 19th century English chapel being rebuilt on the Baldwin campus welcomed visitors to a weekly campus ministry service for the first time Thursday.
It's not every day that the Rev. Ira DeSpain leads his campus service at Baker University in a robe.
"I like to keep things pretty informal," he said Thursday, shortly before his weekly service began. "But this is a special day."
So, clad in a white robe and multicolored, woven clergyman's stole instead of his usual dress shirt and tie, DeSpain helped 165 worshippers welcome a historic addition to the Baker campus.
Thursday marked the first campus service in a 19th century English chapel purchased by Baker in 1995 and being rebuilt in Baldwin.
"Miracles do happen," DeSpain said from the pulpit. "And we are here because of a vision, of persistence, and generosity."
While workers who are putting finishing touches on the church took a break, visitors lining the pews watched a videotape of the last service conducted in the church in Sproxton, England.
The tape showed villagers cleaning up the church, which had been abandoned in 1988, for the farewell service. Longtime congregation members recalled their memories of the chapel and read an inscription on the building's stained-glass windows.
During Thursday's service, visitors followed suit.
DeSpain: "For thou must share if thou wouldst keep."
Congregation: "That good thing from above."
DeSpain: "Ceasing to share we cease to have."
Congregation: "Such is the law of love."
Dan Lambert, Baker president, was part of an overflow crowd that watched the service while standing.
"In some ways, this is a really happy moment for me," he said. "But for me, the high moment happened when I was sitting in the chapel, all by myself, a week ago when the first pew was put in.
"There was a moment of realization that a dream had come true. It was stunning. I can't describe it."
Lambert brainstormed the relocation project to provide a permanent place of worship for the campus and symbolically tie Baker to its pioneer Methodist founders.
The school remains associated with the Methodist church but maintains no religious admissions guidelines.
Thursday's service, open to students, staff and community members of all faiths, marked the second time DeSpain had welcomed a group of students into the chapel. Last spring, he brought students from the old service site in a music hall to the building, then an open-roofed shell.
"This is an important symbol for us," he said. "It's a strong symbol of where we come from and what we stand for."
The chapel will officially be rededicated on Oct. 23 in a ceremony scheduled to be attended by Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister.