Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin’s online resources help connect pastors to texts

Photo courtesy
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For pastors and scholars who usually spend hours perusing the library for information, Calvin has three online resources that could reduce research time considerably: The Christian Classics Ethereal Library, the Hymnary and the Preaching and Worship Portal.

The first of these is the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), which is an online resource that allows users to search by keyword through a number of public domain Christian books dating back to the third century.

This project is the oldest and has been around for 23 years. It was started by Harry Plantinga in 1993 when some serious health issues with his children led to a faith crisis.

He found a copy of “The Imitation of Christ” on what then passed for the Internet, and it was very helpful for him. He digitized a public domain edition and made it available to others. He did the same for Augustine’s “Confessions” and then other classic Christian books.

“The CCEL really helps to develop personal study and helps people as they study the Bible,” said Will Groenendyk, lead web developer for another one of Calvin’s resources. “I know when I’m at Bible study, I use it to look up commentaries or other writings about scripture.”

“We hope users find something uplifting,” said web developer Brain Vanderwal.

“There are a number of classics of the Christian faith that have a history of changing lives—books that seem to carry along with them the presence of God. The mission of is to make these classic books widely available and promote their use,” said Plantinga. “What started as a vocation became more of a focus for me.”

The Hymnary, also developed by Calvin, is a resource for the musically inclined, with about 1.5 million hymns and digital sheet music.

“The Hymnary is really useful for worship leaders,” said Groenendyk. “The biggest thing that we’ve just completed for that is a system called FlexScores, which allows anybody to manipulate a digital score like changing the key or changing the font. Or even, if you find sheet music written for piano you can push a button and switch it to trumpet music.”

“The goal is to make it easier for worship leaders to plan their services or even people just researching hymns to find whatever they’re looking for,” added Vanderwal.

These two websites have experienced a large amount of traffic in their time online:

“CCEL and the Hymnary are public and getting millions of hits,” said Groenendyk.

“ reaches millions of users per year,” added Plantinga. “I’ve received thousands of emails from users with everything from thanks to volunteer offers to reports of changed lives. The project has also provided internships for more than 75 students. The response has been way beyond expectation because there really were no expectations. I didn’t plan the project; it just happened. Or rather, God planned it for me.”

The newest addition to these resources, which will not make its debut until sometime in the coming years, is the Preaching and Worship Portal that will give pastors access to preaching resources.

According to Groenendyk, it will make use of an ontology, meaning it will know a variety of facts such as who people like Abraham and Isaac are, and what their relationship with each other is.

It will also know that “John” could refer to a certain book of the Bible or a certain person. This ontology will help make searches more accurate. Second, the search engine will learn individual users’ preferences so that, for instance, if someone tends to like resources from a certain source or author, those types of resources will appear higher up in that person’s search results.

“The idea was that we could organize and index a search engine for all of the research providers,” said Groenendyk. “We hope that pastors everywhere can write better sermons and find better resources more easily. We hope to really improve their workflow so that they really don’t have to dig through 10 or 12 different hard copy books, they can just search on a website.”

Though the websites are up and running, there have been some challenges. “It’s always a challenge starting a brand new website, but we’ve had really good interns that have helped us out, as well as very skilled leadership and direction who provide ideas as to what going to happen in the future,” said Groenendyk.

“Technology is always changing so trying to predict where it’s going to next is always a challenge but I think we’ve kept up with that pretty well,” said Vanderwal.

“It can be difficult to get partners to index their resources because not everybody’s super excited about sharing data with us,” explained Groenendyk. “But honestly, we’ve even had a lot of success with that. It’s a very exciting time right now.”

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