For the first time since the 1930s, Harvard University has accredited a chaplain who is a conservative, Reformed minister. The Rev. Dr. G. Joseph Gatis, Esq., a Harvard alumnus, has gained official recognition for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a more Bible-oriented denomination than the "mainline" Presbyterian body.
On December 6, 1997, Northeast Presbytery installed the Rev. Dr. G. Joseph Gatis, Esq., as a Presbyterian Church in America chaplain at Harvard University. At least 112, including several atheists, attended the event. Highlighting the service was the a capella singing of Psalm 124 ("Now Israel May Say, and That in Truth"), led by Tom Fisher, a ruling elder at the Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Cambridge and a Harvard alumnus. Noted author and churchman Dr. Mike Horton, a friend of the new chaplain, delivered the sermon. The two scholars have been comparing notes to establish a PCA study center ministry for Harvard similar to that at Yale University, where Dr. Horton is a post-doctoral fellow.
The approval for Dr. Gatis came in March 1997, after an administrative examining commission had examined his records, investigated him for an entire month, deliberated his admittance, and found no objections. The commission, which approved him with no dissenting votes, informed him that he "sailed right through." Undoubtedly helping his application was a long list of endorsement letters. One of them came from one of the resident atheists, who stated that if Harvard was going to send missionaries, please send more like Joseph!
Harvard, which prides itself on ideological diversity, apparently found Gatis's credentials to be a welcome addition to its staff. His long retinue of degrees-four masters and three doctorates, a Th.D., a Ph.D., and a J.D., (with a fourth doctorate being completed at Westminster Theological Seminary)-proved to be of value at the Cambridge, Mass., school with its vaunted academic reputation.
But Dr. Gatis does not fit any stereotype. He has served as a jail minister, open-air evangelist, nursing home chaplain, and a missionary in Cyprus. He has held numerous elected student positions at the various schools he has attended. He also serves part-time as counsel to the Rutherford Institute on the First Amendment, which Joseph studied at Harvard.
His burning desire is to see reformation and revival at Harvard. Typically, Joseph is on campus or at Harvard Square twelve to fourteen hours a day. He eats most of his meals at school cafeterias, the Harvard Faculty Club, or places frequented by students at Harvard Square.
Being an officially recognized chaplain gives him tremendous accessibility to students. His office-fully paid for by the university-is strategically located at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard.
He is positioned for availability. Moreover, for the last two years, Joseph has established a network of Bible studies and Biblical discussion groups, primarily with graduate students, as Harvard has more than twice as many graduate students as undergraduates. On average, he either teaches, leads, or participates in discussion groups with over 40 graduate students per week.
Some weeks are more than average. For instance, the Harvard Law School Christian fellowship has invited Joseph to preach three times this academic year. The first time Joseph preached at the law school, on the subject "Christian Humility in the Legal Profession," over 60 attended. On the law school Christian retreat, where Joseph preached on "Why Does God Allow His Own to Suffer?", 34 students attended. Joseph was asked by Inter-Varsity staff to speak at the graduate retreat in February with Harvard, Yale, and MIT graduate students, where he spoke on "The Inter-relation of Harvard College and the Great Awakening." The leader of the Education School Graduate Fellowship is bringing Joseph to the ed school this March to speak on "Christians and the Public Schools." Even the Harvard Atheist Discussion Group has invited him to lecture.
A Ph.D. student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education sent an advertisement for a Thursday night Bible study to the 42 members of the ed school graduate Christian fellowship, stating: "We've been greatly blessed by the presence of Joseph Gatis, a chaplain here at Harvard. His knowledge, wisdom, and compassion have been soul-sustaining."
The PCA chaplain has acquired a reputation on campus. One Harvard staff member was about to go for a job interview. The minister volunteered to shine her shoes. The staffer told others that "no one has ministered to me like that in a long time."
The only campus-wide seekers' meetings advertised in Harvard newspapers were put in motion by Dr. Gatis. In the Harvard Law Advisor, the weekly bulletin for the law school, he and several law students who study Romans with him, listed an advertisement: "Anyone interested in asking questions about Christianity is welcome to have dinner at the Hark on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m." Since September 1996, he, along with some other Christians, has met on Saturday nights with Harvard atheists. The group has been nicknamed "CHAT-Christians and Harvard Atheists Talk." At the last meeting last fall, 11 attended.
Prior to Dr. Gatis's establishment at Harvard, Reformed University Ministries (RUM), the denominational campus ministry, had a worker in the pipeline for Harvard, Glenn Hoburg, to reach undergraduates. Mr. Hoburg, who has been licensed by the PCA, arrived this fall. RUM has mostly ministered on Southern campuses, which are usually far more hospitable than the Ivy League. Without the help of Gatis-an officially recognized chaplain-Hoburg could not meet with students on campus. The place where undergraduates typically have their study groups and Bible studies, Lamont, is not accessible without a current Harvard ID card. During security checks on campus, no one can get on campus without a current Harvard ID card. Even the use of the name of the university by those not officially on staff-no big deal with many Southeastern Conference schools-is prohibited. The Harvard Office of Technology and Trademark Licensing warns, on threat of a lawsuit, that only "students, faculty, staff, and fellows of Harvard University may use the university's name. It will be protected with the utmost zeal."
The opening night of the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) under Mr. Hoburg had two students. During the fall semester, three undergraduate students attended the RUF. Two of the three students were referrals from Dr. Gatis's office, which receives cards at the start of the academic year on which students can indicate their religious interest or affiliation.
Official recognition of anyone without significant academic credentials is hard to come by. This fall, for instance, Harvard approved a new Bhuddist chaplain. He went undergraduate to Yale, has a masters from Harvard, and has published two books.
Recognizing the hand of Providence in establishing Joseph at Harvard, Northeast Presbytery received him last September as "PCA Harvard Chaplain." He was installed as a "home missionary, evangelist, and apologist" to Harvard University at an historic service on the campus on December 6.
This significant breakthrough for the Calvinist movement has occurred with only timid financial support. Gatis is functioning at about 25-30% of his support level. He does some part-time legal consulting from his Harvard chaplain's office when students are not calling or visiting. He even slept on the floor of the upper room of the Reformed Presbyterian worship hall for four months to cut his overhead so he could have more time to be with students.
Dr. Gatis has formed a non-profit corporation, called H.O.P.E., or Harvard Organization of Professing Evangelicals, Inc., to endow this chaplaincy. Its other purposes are to facilitate publications and to hold special events, such as Bible conferences. Tax-deductible gifts may be given directly to H.O.P.E. or through Northeast Presbytery.
Rev. Dr. G. Joseph Gatis, Esq.
Harvard Yard-Memorial Church
Cambridge, MA 02138
Mr. Luke Powell, Treasurer
RR #1, PO Box 217
Gilmanton Iron Works, NH 03837