The white wooden pews of the Charles E. Hayworth Sr. Memorial Chapel have long served as a place of faith and worship for students at High Point University. Yet it’s obvious to Rev. Preston Davis, who joined HPU as minister to the university in July, that religious life doesn’t stay quietly seated there. It spreads to the classroom where students and faculty have challenging but fulfilling dialogue about their faith. It’s taken into the community when chapel offerings are used to purchase Christmas gifts for more than 150 local children. It permeates campus and encourages students to live lives of worth and significance. Below, Davis explains that religious life on campus should not only inspire students, but challenge them to live purposefully.
Q. You recently served as pastor of a church in Bessemer City, N.C. but chose to come to High Point University to minister to students. What inspired you to be here?
A. My two years in Bessemer City, which is close to my hometown in Mooresville, N.C., were a true blessing. I performed eight funerals in my first year as a 27-year-old pastor, and that will teach you a lot about the power and delicate nature of life. I wrestled with leaving Bessemer City, but when I thought about the chance to minister to 18 to 22 year olds here, my decision was a no-brainer. College is perhaps the most formative time in life. Remembering my own college experience, it was the time when I was doing a lot of soul searching. I was asking questions, being challenged in my faith (which ultimately was a good thing), and my father was battling cancer. Having the opportunity to help someone who is in that same situation in their life is such an honor for me.
Q. High Point University was founded as a Methodist institution in 1924, but it celebrates students from all faiths and backgrounds. What’s the function of the chapel on a liberal arts campus?
A. We have a unique opportunity at HPU in that there are two veins where our energy and dedication flows. The first is being deeply rooted in the United Methodist Church and what the earliest followers of Jesus called “The Way,” or living in the way of Christ’s teachings. We want to celebrate and honor that heritage. At the same time, our chapel is a place of inclusion. We have students from 47 states, 30 countries and an array of faiths and backgrounds. The chapel office is dedicated to fostering the religious life of students from all backgrounds. Our Catholic students have Mass where they can worship. Jewish students have a vibrant Hillel. We want to continue to celebrate and foster the various faiths of all students.
Q. You point out that faith should inspire growth and change. How can a chapel do that?
A. I want our chapel to be the embodiment of a parable. Jesus spoke in parables to tell stories that get inside us, reorient us, make us ask questions, and spark change and understanding. The chapel will serve as a place of affirmation so students know they are children of God and God loves them. But if it doesn’t challenge them, if they don’t go through transformations that put them outside of their comfort zone, then something isn’t working. That’s because change and transformation lead us to become the people that God wants us to be and live the lives God created for us. Having a faith community can be something that lifts you up, but also a place that challenges you and reminds you to walk humbly.
Q. The chapel and its Board of Stewards have a longstanding mission to love the community. How do you start expanding on their thousands of hours of service and dollars donated?
A. I’m fortunate to work with such an inspiring group of students. Right now, my goal is to have 1,000 cups of coffee this year. In other words, I want my calendar to overflow with lunches and coffee meetings that allow me to get to know faculty, staff and students and faith leaders in our community. I want both myself and the Board of Stewards to sincerely ask, “How can we help?”
With that said, there was a tremendous amount of accomplishments from the chapel before I arrived. They raised $10,000 for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program; they donated $1,300 to West End Ministries; they held a Halloween “Trunk or Treat,” a Thanksgiving dinner, a Valentine’s Day party and an Easter egg hunt for the Boys and Girls Club. That’s the kind of love we want to keep multiplying. At the heart of the gospels is a love ethic that challenges everything you do. We always want to do more. We want to live out the words of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, when he said, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”