by David Ladwig – Horizon Opinion Editor
Two weeks ago a group of about 50 freshman gathered in a lecture hall to learn what it takes to become one of next year’s resident or ministry assistants. Many will interview, but only about half will end up actually receiving a position.
This makes me wonder. What qualities does the student that gets the position have, and how are they different from those that are denied the position? Is one student’s skill set more or less useful than another? How can each student, regardless of whether they get a position or not, affect the fall semester in a positive way?
In an attempt to shine light on these questions, I would like to draw parallels between this, and Old English epic poem.
Beowulf: one of the greatest epic heroes ever conjured up in the mind of humankind. The superman of his time. The first superhero ever created. Beowulf possessed amazing physical strength, courage and wisdom. But perhaps more important than all the rest, was his undying loyalty to his people. And because of Beowulf’s loyalty, he and his small band of warriors were able to fully buy into one unified mission. This undying loyalty of the men to Beowulf, and Beowulf to his men is called “comitatus” and it is alluded to every time Beowulf and his warriors defeat a foe.
First, Beowulf and his men sail to Denmark to fight the evil demon, Grenedel, who is terrorizing the Danish people. Beowulf, to show his bravery, fights Grendel with his bare hands. The gruesome battle ends when Beowulf rips off Grendel’s arm and the monster shrinks back into the swamp to die. Upon hearing the news of her son’s death, Grendel’s mother becomes enraged and heads out to kill Beowulf. But Beowulf and his faithful men go out to fight and defeat her on her home territory. After the victory, Beowulf and his band of men sail back to their home, Geatland. By this time, Beowulf’s fame had spread throughout the land, and he eventually became the king of Geatland, his reign lasting for some 50 years. However, over the years Beowulf’s men began to grow unfaithful due to their own greed. Beowulf was an aged man when he heard of the awakening of a fiery dragon. He called upon his once faithful band of warriors, but they did not answer. Regardless, Beowulf headed out with only the help of Wiglaf to fight the dragon, and came out victorious, but with a great price. The dragon landed a fatal bite to his neck. The comitatus disintegrated, and Beowulf died.
The point is this: The most important quality to look for in students seeking a leadership position is undying loyalty. Loyalty to the Hesston College mission. Loyalty to each other.
People want to follow leaders who are invested in them. But what of the students that applied and were rejected? Their loyalty is perhaps as important than the leader’s. For just as Beowulf, as great as he was, could not stand alone when his men betrayed him, so neither can the leaders stand alone without the complete loyalty of their comrades.
Shared loyalty – comitatus – cultivates a strong community. And a unified community will make for a very exciting fall semester, regardless of who is chosen as resident or ministry assistant.