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Co-founder Dr. Elmer Towns shares memories of first chapel message delivered to Liberty students in 1971

Dr. Elmer Towns delivers the same message he gave at the original chapel service: whatever God has called you to do, do it. (Photos by KJ Jugar)

With the Vines Center packed with Homecoming guests for Friday’s Convocation, and the university in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary, it was fitting to welcome the speaker from Liberty’s first chapel service in 1971, Liberty co-founder Dr. Elmer Towns.

In introducing Towns, Campus Pastor Jonathan Falwell said that his father, Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell, was scheduled to deliver the inaugural chapel sermon for the 154 students of the first-ever class at Liberty (then called Lynchburg Baptist College). But when Jerry Falwell was unable to attend at the last minute, Towns stepped in.

I’ve asked Elmer to come today as a co-founder of Liberty University and take a few minutes to share with you what he shared with our very first student body in September of 1971 during our first chapel service that Lynchburg Baptist College ever had,” Jonathan Falwell said.

Using the same Bible and handwritten notes he utilized that day, Towns took to the Convocation stage on Friday, receiving a standing ovation. He recalled that September morning 50 years ago. He said that when he heard that Falwell couldn’t make it to the service, he opened his Bible to a verse he had recently studied in 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it.” Towns pointed out that in his Bible he had underlined those last two words: do it.

At the time of the first chapel, Liberty didn’t have a campus to call its own. Students lived on Treasure Island, a property on the James River owned by Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, and classes were held in the church building itself. Despite the limited facilities and small student body, Towns told the students in 1971 that God had great things in store for the young university.

“In that first chapel I said, ‘Young people, we don’t have any dormitories, we don’t have any classrooms, we don’t have a library, we have nothing. But God has called you here, God can do something great through you, and faithful is God who calls you to do it,’” Towns recalled. “We had nothing but a vision of what we were going to do for God. (Now) God has done it. God has done something great through our students.”

The founding of the school came with three main goals, Towns said: to train people to go out into every field of work and change the world, to always look toward the future, and to be based out of the Church. In the five decades since, the school has continued its original mission of Training Champions for Christ, remaining on the cutting edge of education, and doing it all with God leading the way.

“The greatest thing about Liberty is not the buildings, not the faculty, not the accreditation, not the 7,000 acres we have here,” Towns said. “The greatest thing about Liberty is the graduates, the students, you who have gone out (into the world). Liberty is built on a great leader, that leader is Jesus Christ, and the human leader was Jerry Falwell, I just happened to be along.”

Towns explained that going out into the world begins with mirroring the Old Testament actions of Ezra, who “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do it.”

“Make sure you ground yourself in the Word of God, make sure you’re in God’s Word and that God’s Word is controlling you and flowing through you, and God will do it,” Towns said. “I don’t know what God has called you to do, but whatever He has called you to do, just do it.

Determine now to change your world. If you can change YOUR world, you change THE world.”