As the black curtain rose in Chicago’s Harris Theater, I searched the audience of 1,500 people for my friends from Wheaton. Singing “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers on stage with Sharon Irving and 25 other musicians who attended the Story conference last Thursday and Friday, Oct. 2 and 3, inspired me.
The Story conference was all about inspiring self-titled “creatives,” people such as writers, musicians, and artists of all sorts. Attendees also included 10 faculty and 50 students from Wheaton College who were given tickets through Wheaton’s new institution on faith and vocation, “Opus: the art of work.”
Program Manager Ben Norquist said Opus “exist(s) to bring attention to the rich theological picture of where our work and our vocations fit into the Christian life and into God’s grand plans for the world.” Opus began in July 2014 and was given funds to allow 60 students and faculty to attend the sixth annual Story conference last weekend on Oct. 2 and 3.
Story conference presenters included a variety of “creative” such as writers, a slam poet, a tattoo artist and multiple singer-songwriters. An illusionist, the director of “The Fault in Our Stars,” an Emmy Award winning photojournalist and the global director of creativity and innovation at The Walt Disney Company also spoke and performed.
The Story conference provided free tea, coffee and large, fresh apples. During breaks, attendees milled about, forming connections by exchanging phone numbers and business cards. I exchanged my album “Home” with Naomi Marie, a fellow soprano in “Ho Hey,” for her album titled “Primary Colors.” Another singer from our performance, a worship leader at a church in Missouri, threw business cards at us in case we were ever in the area.
People attending the conference also visited tables promoting story books and music licensing, a stand for World Vision and special talks from the Affari Project and from published authors.
“We love this because it’s another step for these students toward capturing a vision for how they would like to contribute to the life of the world with the work of their lives,” Opus’s Program Manager Norquist said about the Story conference.
Norquist explained that Opus’s focus on the merging of vocation, Christian life and God’s global plans is “a discussion that raises the dignity of all forms of ethical work. Conceived of in this way, vocation isn’t merely occupation — it’s first the devotion we render to God, and second, the multiform ways in which we contribute to the life of the world through all of our paid and unpaid work.”
Norquist added that Opus has three main goals, which he defined as, firstly, “Supporting scholar-teachers who are developing a deeper, clearer Christian vision of vocation;” secondly, “helping students launch into occupations where they can serve the world well through the best use of their gifts;” and thirdly, “developing a campus culture that celebrates economic work as an essential part of an overall witness to the goodness of God in a confused world.”
Besides providing the opportunity to attend the Story Conference, Opus’s main activities for 2014-15 include establishing a faculty fellowship program, launching 10 vocational discernment groups, planning and hosting a conference entitled “Work: For Human Flourishing,” establishing a small grants program and creating a faith and vocation resource library.
Norquist described the origin of the new institute’s name, saying, “The word opus, literally ‘work’ in Latin, has been defined as a musical work of art or other masterful work of fine art. Op. cit, in scholarship refers to works cited in the footnotes or endnotes. A magnum opus is a masterwork. All of these uses of the word ‘opus’ hint at the reality that the various kinds of work that we will do can reflect greater realities and can even point the world to God. That’s the vision we bring with us into this year.”
The Story conference was an opportunity to learn about different types of creative work available as careers. Although Wheaton students and faculty expressed mixed responses to the conference, it was a chance to evaluate the worldviews behind various types of storytelling, form connections with other artists and storytellers and be inspired in creative passions.