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Taking up the towel

Taylor community reminded what it means to serve one another

Erika Norton | Echo

A new symbol of life together at Taylor is making its way to each member of the campus community.

Each student and faculty member will receive a towel for them to use throughout their time at Taylor. Thirty years after the first towels were given out at graduation, the new “one another” towels symbolize the commitment made to the Life Together Covenant (LTC) as a Taylor community.

Steve Mortland, vice president for enrollment management and marketing, described how the idea to give out a new towel came about. He said that administration realized the LTC had become a list of rules that incoming freshman would simply describe by comparing it to other schools’ covenant agreements.

The objective was first to solidify a theology behind the towel given at graduation, but more importantly, to create a theology around a new symbol of what it means to live in community under the LTC.

“I felt like we were missing an opportunity to communicate well to students what it means to do life together, to actually live in community with each other,” Mortland said.

When designing the towels, Mortland said that they wanted to create a tangible expression of the mission of the university. It is a symbol of the emphasis Taylor places on serving one another in love.

“We began to think through designing something that would say while you’re a part of this community, you’re living life together.” Mortland said. “Remember that you’re called to something more than just following rules and being nice.”

Paige Williams, Quynn Foster, Claudia Viscarra and Molly King of Third Breuninger sport their new "one another" towels. (Photograph by Luke Lines)

Paige Williams, Quynn Foster, Claudia Viscarra and Molly King of Third Breuninger sport their new “one another” towels. (Photograph by Luke Lines)

The towels are designed with the words “one another” printed on each, symbolizing the section of the LTC that describes the responsibilities for community. Philippians 2:4 describes the attitude one should have towards living these responsibilities out.

“We live this way but we’re imperfect and we’ll screw it up,” Mortland said. “But we live this way out of a humility that is rooted in our love for God and His love for us. We tried to capture this message on the towel itself.”

Students, faculty and staff will receive their towel within the context of the small community they live in, according to Mortland. PAs will hand them out to their wing/halls and faculty will receive them by whomever they directly report to.

Each hall will decide how they wish to distribute the towels, creating a tradition within that group. After this year, upon beginning their Taylor experience, new students and faculty will receive the towel to remind them of their commitment to the community.

There will not be a ceremony for incoming freshmen because there is no accountability there, according to Mortland. Each hall will continue their new tradition as their way to welcome freshmen into their hall, presenting them the towel, and all it stands for, face-to-face.

“I felt like it was really important to think differently about how we remind and help students and, truthfully (also) faculty and staff, that living in community isn’t Disney Land,” Mortland said. “It isn’t happiness. It’s sometimes hard and difficult stuff.”

The goal initially was to have the towels ready for opening day and then they would be given out after the first chapel, according to Mortland, but there were problems getting them to campus on time and issues with the printer.

Many towels have already been given out, including on Third Breuninger, whose PAs and DA performed a foot-washing ceremony using the towels while on their wing retreat.

“I thought it was a really neat experience,” said freshman Sara Padgett. “They went one by one, and then they sat their and prayed over us, which was really cool because it showed that they really cared about us.”

Overall, the student response to the towels has been affirming, according to Skip Trudeau, dean of students.

“So far, the reports back that I’ve gotten from the residence halls have been very positive,” Trudeau said. “Students are really engaging, at least intellectually, with the process. That’s kind of what we were hoping for.”

Campus Pastor Randy Gruendyke explained the difference between the towel received at graduation and the new “one another” towel.

“I think the one at graduation is really more of a memento of your Taylor experience than a trajectory on which that experience should set you for the rest of your life,” Gruendyke said. “I think the purpose of the towel is, in a sense, to see how dirty you can get it, how it captivates your imagination for service.”

By taking the towel at graduation, the hope is that graduates plan to continue living up to the ideals learned while at Taylor, Mortland explained. He hopes the new Taylor towel will be meaningful for students, maybe even more so than the towel received at graduation.

“This towel will become, probably for many, more meaningful in some ways because it will be something they carried over a four-year period,” Mortland said. “It might even carry more of the dirt of that experience and be a reminder of the messiness of living life together.”

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