At the inception of this year, Ray Van Neste, professor of biblical studies, theology and missions, published a book titled From the Cloud of Witnesses: Founders Day Addresses at Union University in which he seeks to give students and alumni a deep appreciation for Union’s history.
The book is a compilation of all the Founder’s Day addresses given by Union faculty up until this year. Because Founder’s Day addresses are a fairly recent tradition started by former president David S. Dockery, Van Neste considered it vital to capture the six addresses given to date.
“I gathered them because this is a relatively new thing,” Van Neste said. “I wanted to help tell the Union story so other people, who weren’t there, could see these.”
Seeing the bigger picture is Van Neste’s passion, and he believes it is the responsibility of every institution to cherish and retell its story.
“My biggest hope is that people connected to Union would see for the first time, or see anew, some of the great stories of our history, some of the ways that God has been at work here in the past, and to help us see that what we are doing today is part of a bigger story,” Van Neste said.
In his introduction, Van Neste emphasizes the importance of “reclaiming” history. He writes: “one of the best ways to reinvigorate people is to restore their awareness of and appreciation of their past.”
The first three chapters of the book focus on key influential figures in Union’s past, and the last three focus on the broader history of Union.
Beginning with a foreword by Dockery, the book revolves around Union’s science heritage, individuals who have helped shaped Union, ways in which Union has engaged the broader world across time and some darker pieces of the university’s history — from times of the Civil War through the recent tornado.
“There have been so many calamities that have occurred,” Van Neste said. “So many of them could have shut us down but didn’t.”
Black and white photos add vibrancy to stories recounted in the work, and the exclusive focus on Union sets this book apart from Van Neste’s other published work which centers primarily on theology.
“The unique thing about this book is its connection to Union,” Van Neste said. “It revolves around things that don’t have to do with theology or Bible history. It’s the ‘Union-ness’ that makes this book distinct.”