Mississippi College

Mississippi College Celebrates Provine Chapel's 150th Birthday

August 10, 2009

Mississippi College's oldest building, Provine Chapel celebrates its rich history and strong Christian heritage with a series of concerts marking its 150th anniversary.

Major events to trumpet Provine's birthday at Baptist-affiliated MC begin with an organ recital led by guest artist Jeanette Fishell of Indiana University on Sept. 15.

A November 1 hymn festival and the annual Festival of Lights Christmas concert led by the Mississippi Singers Dec. 3-5 are some of the other highlights this fall. Two more Provine concerts are set for the spring of 2010, including a second hymn festival April 6.

Built at a cost of $25,000 from 1859 through 1860, Provine Chapel is truly "a Mississippi College icon," says retired MC art professor Kenneth Quinn.

And who can disagree? Certainly not Quinn. The Jacksonian's painting of Provine Chapel, with its Corinthian columns standing tall, is one of the treasures hanging in Nelson Hall, MC's administration building.

Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright once declared Provine Hall to be one of the finest pieces of Neo-Grecian architecture he's ever seen in America. For generations, Provine Chapel was the place for the MC community and Clinton Baptists to worship until First Baptist Church-Clinton was built in 1922.

Soon after the MC chapel opened, the Civil War pitted North versus South. U.S. General Ulysses Grant used the ground floor of the facility to quarter his horses, while his wounded soldiers were treated in the "hospital" upstairs. Today, 14 original chapel pews remain on the upper deck of the building. Forever popular with MC people, Provine Chapel is reserved for 15 to 20 weddings each year. Restored last year, Provine's prized organ is the envy of institutions around the globe.

Mississippi College music professor Carol Joy Sparkman is one of many singing the praises of Provine Chapel. As a student and faculty member, Sparkman was part of performance recitals at Provine with her peers and accompanied students and choirs on the piano.

Sparkman says she eagerly anticipates the series of concerts at Provine this fall and spring. "These concerts will give me the opportunity to participate in different ways: as an audience member, a performer and host to incredible musicians," Sparkman said. "The slate of concerts is diverse and will have a wide range of appeal."

Lynda Street, the secretary of the Christian Studies Department, has kept up with Provine history for 20 years. She's the go-to person when one wants to know the facts about Provine and is the first stop to inquire about booking weddings at the facility.

Her office sits on Provine's first floor. She's also serving as Provine's tour guide when visitors come calling. Provine is a special place to her as a Mississippi College graduate from the Class of 1964. As part of her class's 45th reunion and Provine's big birthday, her class will gather for a special worship service there during MC's 2009 Homecoming Weekend. Alums return to their alma mater in Clinton from Oct. 30 through Nov. 1.

Wayne VanHorn, the dean of the School of Christian Studies and the Arts, is equally passionate about Provine. His office is next-door to Street's on the building's first floor. Provine represents what MC is all about - its close association with the Mississippi Baptist Convention starting in 1850. MC is the nation's second oldest Baptist college.

Jim Turcotte, MC's vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, has vivid Provine moments from his undergraduate days in the early 1980s.The former MC Choctaws football player was one of the pallbearers at the funeral of MC football legend Edwin "Goat" Hale. MC's gridiron great played before and after World War I. In the early 1920s, MC won its share of games against such teams as Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU and Tulane largely due to the exploits of Goat Hale.

In more recent times, the MC family came together at Provine Chapel for an emotional funeral service in the fall of 2007. With prayers recited in English and Chinese, MC faculty, staff and students mourned the loss of 27-year-old Lina Song. The much-admired graduate student from China was struck by a car and killed after she walked one evening along U.S. 80 in Clinton.

Named for one of MC's early presidents, John William Provine, the historic chapel rests near another university landmark, the Servant Savior sculpture by internationally celebrated artist Sam Gore of Clinton.

Provine Chapel's major renoavtion dates back to 1960, the year of its Centennial. After falling into disreapir, its revival was a major project of the MC Alumni Association and received the blessing of MC trustees. The flooring was worn thin and had to be replaced. The pews, except some of the originals in the balcony, were replaced, too. The renovations of the building cost $140,000.

With a splendid history that saw its first bricks coming from a kiln south of Clinton, Provine Chapel has much to celebrate during its 150th anniversary during the 2009-2010 academic year.

Other events in the special Provine tribute include a Feb. 19 concert dubbed Voces8, that will feature an international a cappella ensemble. On that winter 2010 evening, the sounds of early music as well as opera, pop and jazz standards will be heard in the chapel. Music lovers and those who love Provine Chapel should relish every moment at the Mississippi College landmark.

For more information on the special concerts at Provine Chapel, contact Linda Edwards of the MC Department of Music at 601.925.3440. The first two fall concerts are free. There's a $10 admission general admission charge for the Festival of Lights. To find out more about the chapel's history, contact Lynda Street at 601.925.3218.

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