Lemonjello’s Coffee, a popular community spot in town, has its patio set, and patrons are enjoying their drinks, reading or in conversation. Lounging in the sunlight is Bruce Benedict, Hope College’s chaplain of worship and arts. It’s not unusual to see him here or around Dimnent Memorial Chapel, where four days out of the week he’s onstage singing with upperclassmen students.
Music has always been a part of Benedict’s life, and like his love for the musical arts, his faith is strong and everlasting.
Benedict grew up in a small rural Methodist church in Virginia where his dad was the choir director. It was the type of church that sang traditional hymns and had a pianist who knew the chords by memory. It was here that Benedict’s love for Christ and music took root. His father fed that love, which stemmed from his own collegiate studies in music and the ability to play cello and piano.
Even though music runs in Benedict’s family, neither his father, who majored in psychology and eventually became a professor at James Madison University, nor Benedict himself studied music.
“For some reason, when I went to college, I thought I liked music too much to study it,” Benedict said. “So I started off as a biology major, and thought I was going to be pre-med.” It made sense to him, considering there are doctors in his family. Yet, in true college form, Benedict switched to a music major. However, after the realization that it would take him six years to graduate, Benedict switched back, while minoring in music and adding a philosophy major.
Now, the boy who grew up around the college campus is the man in his third year at Hope, teaching worship minor courses, performing with Chapel Band and advising the Hope College Concert Series (HCCS).
“That’s the fun part of my job,” Benedict said, while explaining how much he gets to interact with students.
Of his commitments, HCCS is the newest. Since Peter Boumgarder, associate professor of management, is on sabbatical, Benedict was called in to assist Chris Bohle, associate director of student life, in advising the students of HCCS. Benedict explained that concerts are important, but he feels that we live in a culture that does not appreciate them enough. Take Hope for example. In one week, there could be two to three concerts.
“That’s what is awesome about a college community—there’s so many concerts going on.” You’ll never have this kind of experience to engage in live music [outside of college],” Benedict said.
Benedict went on to say that “Music has this amazing way of connecting us to other people as well.” People with likeminded appreciations for the same band can come together and enjoy music together. This appreciation for the art of concerts has made him a natural and essential part of the HCCS team.
“I didn’t know him that well, so I was excited to get to know him better since I had heard such great things, and he lives up to all the expectations,” said McKenzie Stock (’18), student director of HCCS. Stock went on to commend Benedict’s joy, humor, insight and ability to relate to students.
Benedict relayed that he is enjoying his time so much with the members of HCCS that it will be hard for him to leave once his semester is up. Yet, even without advising the concert series, Benedict will have music in his life through Chapel Band.
“I love getting to hang out with the students and make something,” Benedict said. And students love him as well.
“I sometimes describe him as an uncle because he is very, very supportive, and he’s like our biggest fan in anything we do,” said Sarah Carpenter (’17), member of Chapel Band. “But also he’s very funny—he likes to joke around with us, but also knows when to get down to business, or will call us out if anything needs to be fixed or can be improved upon.”
It was a great intervention by God when Trygve Johnson, dean of the chapel, met Benedict and invited him to visit Hope and interview for the chaplain of worship and arts position, which was left vacant after the fall of 2013. Benedict had been planning on going to graduate school at Duke University, since finishing his pastoral degree at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, but was interested and visited Hope.
“He doesn’t care about the fear of men, he cares about the fear of the Lord,” Carpenter said. “He always wants to be obedient.”
Benedict followed God’s call from Virginia to North Carolina, to London, England, to Orlando and presently Holland. And following God has given him great happiness.
“It’s also a real privilege to be a part of a community that likes to gather and worship,” said Benedict.
Benedict is dedicated to all the commitments he has and takes the time to be the responsible leader of the group.
“Bruce would always get to setup Monday, Wednesday, Friday, if I came and setup at 6:30 in the morning, he would be at setup around 6:45, and the rest of the team would get there around 7 a.m. or 7:15 a.m.,” said Abbie Harlow (’17), who used to be a part of the tech team for Chapel services.
Not only that, he is intentional. Harlow recalls a time this summer when she was working at the Marigold Lodge as a gardener. She was pulling weeds early in the morning when she recognized the Hope ministry team.
“A lot of people walked by that knew me that morning,” Harlow said.
Yet, Bruce was one of two men who stopped and talked to her.
“He was asking me how I was doing, and how my summer went, so he’s very personable,” Harlow said. “He really wants to know how you are doing and what’s going on in your life.”
It is those attributes that leave a lasting impression of who he is.
“He’s a nut,” said Carpenter. “There’s nobody else on this planet like Bruce Benedict.”