The early settlers who anticipated the need for a college in the growing community of Hastings proposed the establishment of a Christian liberal arts college. These men and women, many of whom were Presbyterian, envisioned a college dedicated to the liberal arts and the Christian faith while providing high academic standards. Their initial proposal, enthusiastically approved by the community, was presented to the Kearney Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in August 1873. Nine years later, on September 13, 1882, Hastings College greeted its first class of 44 students on the second story of the old Post Office building on the northeast corner of First Street and Hastings Avenue, where classes were held for two years until construction of McCormick Hall, the first building on the campus, was completed.
Today, we continue to take our Presbyterian Church relationship very seriously, even though that relationship is decidedly less evangelical than it was 125 years ago. The goals of the college founders have been incorporated into the Hastings College mission, which calls for "dedication to the highest standards of academic endeavor within the broad perspective of the liberal arts and the Christian faith."
The two most visible, and traditional, ways in which this is accomplished is weekly Chapel service and the graduation requirement of at least one religion course.
While student attendance at weekly Chapel services has not been required since the 1960's, no campus event is allowed to be scheduled during that time to allow all members of the campus community the chance to attend.
The service itself, while based on the Reformed tradition of the Presbyterian Church, explores different aspects of worship and denominations. Students who serve on the Chapel committee also help plan the services, creating an interactive educational experience for them.
Rev. Dr. David McCarthy has served as chaplain to the college since 2001.
As a Presbyterian minister, McCarthy has strengthened the ties of the college with the Presbytery of Central Nebraska, the Synod of Lakes and Prairies and the national offices of the General Assembly.
Hastings College also has a strong Religion and Philosophy Department, which, in addition to a major and a minor in Philosophy, offers majors in Religion and in Religion with a Christian Ministry Emphasis, and minors in Religion and in Christian Ministry. The only formal religious experience explicitly required of our students is an academic one, which exists as part of the Liberal Arts (general education) Program.
Hastings College's relationship with its founding church also continues to be strong. The pastor of First Presbyterian in Hastings, Rev. Dr. Bill Nottage-Tacey, is a member of the board of trustees and 1972 graduate of Hastings College.
Baptisms at the church involve the traditional gifts of a Bible or a candle. Babies also receive a Hastings College bib or t-shirt. Ties with the local congregation were made even stronger in January 2005 when Rev. John Curtiss '96 was named associate pastor.
As the only Presbyterian college in Nebraska, Hastings College is grateful for the type of support it receives from pastors and congregations such as First Presbyterian Hastings. Similar support from other pastors and congregations helps bring students from Colorado and Wyoming, which do not have Presbyterian colleges.