Before the fourth of January, Rev. Dr. LaKendra Hardware (or just Rev. LaKendra, as she’s known on campus) and Rev. Gwen Gustafson-Zook’s paths had never crossed. Now, based in Wyse 108B, they share not only the role of interim campus pastors, but also a passion for aiding students, staff and faculty at GC.
“It’s been great,” Gustafson-Zook said when asked about working with Hardware. “We bring different experiences. We are better together than either of us are by ourselves.”
Hardware echoed this same excitement to be working with Gustafson-Zook, “We need each other.” She said “I’m in awe of how God put us together.”
Gustafson-Zook, originally from Portland, Oregon, did not grow up Mennonite. She came to learn about the denomination while she was working in Atlanta, Georgia through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). She went on to work with MCC in Denver, Colorado and Kingston, Jamaica.
Hardware also didn’t grow up Mennonite. She is Baptist by denomination but enjoys the learning experience of exposing herself to other faith traditions, and has previously worked at a Catholic institution.
“Being a part of that showed me that the world is a lot wider than any particular denomination,” she said.
This ability to experience other traditions is part of what brought Hardware to Goshen College.
“It was a God assignment and an opportunity to learn more,” she said.
Hardware didn’t know a lot about the institution but had a friend who had worked at GC.
“Whenever she talked about it, it brought warmth to her face, and joy,” she said. “So for me, that was just another sign that this was a good place to look into.”
In the year 2000 a house on South 8th Street, only a block from campus, went up for sale. It was at this point, that Gustafson-Zook foresaw a future with Goshen College.
“[I] had this kind of a sense, that at some point I’m going to be working at the college, and I’m going to be really glad that I live so close,” she said. “I often felt that if I had known about Goshen College when I was looking for a place in my teens…I would have loved it.”
12 years later, Gustafson-Zook’s vision became a reality when she became a minister of worship at Goshen College from 2012 through 2014.
“I really enjoyed working for Goshen College,” she said. “In life, you look for those places where your work doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like your life and what you want to be doing. That’s how that role felt.”
When asked about her decision to come back, she explained that it was a no-brainer.
With Hardware and Gustafson-Zook taking on their new roles, they both wish to bring new ideas to campus, as well as to carry on work from last semester.
Hardware looks forward to starting a series of Bible studies next month.
“I love looking at the word of God,” she said. “Looking at the Bible, looking at the text, looking at what it’s saying and applying it to our lives today.”
Along with this, Hardware is also working with the Ministry Leadership team. After spending 14 years with students in campus ministry she has a passion for empowering students to lead the community.
A new idea that Gustafson-Zook has brought to the campus is contemplative prayer.
“It brings together contemplative experience and increasing consciousness with action in the world,” she said.
Gustafson-Zook explains how these two things go hand in hand.
“[If you’re] going to be sustained in action, you need some rootedness and contemplation,” she said. “If you’re going to do serious contemplation then it better lend itself to action so that you’re not just sticking your head in the sand.”
There is work on campus that was already in progress at their arrival that they are also excited to further. The interfaith conversation that was started last fall after a campus visit from Eboo Patel is something they wish to continue.
“I’m passionate [about interfaith work] because we live on this earth together,” Gustafson-Zook said. “We’ve got to find a way to get along… to value what other people bring to the table.
Both are excited to bring their different experience to Goshen, and to work together to try new things, as well as to learn from the students and traditions that are already in place.