What is the Oak Centre?

The Oak Centre for Studies in Faith and Culture is part reality, part vision, and part of a growing community of conversation around issues of fundamental importance to the sustainability of contemporary culture in all its complexity. We link the terms faith and culture in the manner that the roots of a plant are linked to the fruit it produces. We embrace this organic analogy as the best way to visualize the intricate relationship between core beliefs, culture, and the societies these seminal influences generate over time. This analogy is embedded in the name we have chosen for our centre. Our approach is deeply rooted in 2000 years of Christian belief and practice. These beliefs and practices are in turn fed by Hebrew, ancient Near Eastern, and Classical sources that reach back a further two millennia. We seek to evaluate and invest this rich heritage through the curation and sharing of these resources by a variety of means in the context of a very troubled and divided world.

Our vision for The Oak Centre owes a considerable debt to George Grant, the eminent Canadian philosopher who spent a significant part of his career at McMaster University grappling with fundamental issues related to the meaning and purpose of the University in a secular age. We are also indebted to a number of critical thinkers who have probed the malaise of modernity, and have charted paths back to key sources that point the way to a better future. A selected list of these sources will be included in our resource section.

The Oak Centre development office is located in Suite 1600 at 21 King St. West, L8P 4W7 in Hamilton, and provides us with an ideal place to grow The Oak Centre, expand our support community, and develop our services. This space will be available by appointment for research and study purposes.

Our roots are local; our vision is global.

Core Aspirations

We aspire to contribute positively to collegial conversations about faith and culture, within the university and beyond, and through these conversations contribute to the cultural and intellectual enrichment of students, faculty and community members. Our goal is not to promote any single point of view or score debating points. Rather, we seek to understand a variety of different viewpoints by encouraging dialogue across all the various Christian traditions, including the diversities of secular thought in the university and the public square. This level of enriched conversation requires sustained effort, and we believe it will benefit from having a place where we can learn and listen together.

An environment for enriched conversations

Concept and Rationale

Given our aspirations, we see the need to develop a physical and virtual space that can provide easy access to a specialized collection of books and resources that reflect the long history of Christian thinking in theology, philosophy, science, the arts, and history, as well as the best current work in these areas. This space will be a resource for the community of ministries on campus, along with students, scholars, local residents and interested people. We have organized our planning around three overlapping requirements:

  1. 1. An organizational platform to support the work
  2. 2. Active curation of a unique collection of scholarship and learning;
  3. 3. Development of a physical space and virtual home for the Oak Centre

The Oak Centre commitments:

  1. Hospitality and service to McMaster University, our neighbours in Westdale Village, and the local churches and ministries that serve them. We hope to offer these communities a space for study, dialogue, shared meals, and the presentation of research and ideas.
  2. Conversation as a natural and vital ingredient in friendship, even where agreement or alignment is not reached. This includes both talking and listening. There is a great need to build and develop our conversational abilities in both university and faith communities for the public good.
  3. Patience as an expression of Christian hope in a fully-lived faith. Most of the things that matter deeply have a history longer than our own and a future with consequences that will outlive us.
  4. Courage to explore, to ask, to challenge, and to forgive. Faith is neither naïve nor fearful. We resist the idea of academic or faith compartments and encourage the exploration of issues and ideas from multiple perspectives.
  5. Core Christian creeds reflecting the long tradition of intellectual, social, community and faith experience that is our common legacy.
MacNeill Baptist Church Westdale
MacNeill Baptist Church Westdale
(Site of the HSFF 2019 Fall Lecture Series)

The Oak Symbol

The Oak is one of the most beloved trees in the world. Through the centuries it has stood as a symbol of strength, moral resilience, and knowledge. A mature oak can thrive for over 300 years and serve to identify a place over many generations. Historically the oak has served as a place of gathering, exchange and respect. In Celtic lore, the oak is considered a cosmic storehouse of wisdom embodied in its towering strength. Due to its size and longevity, the oak is associated with honor, nobility, and wisdom. These elements of symbolism associated with the oak have strong resonance with the vision and purpose of The Oak Centre.

There are also a number of strong local connections that make the oak an apt symbol for the vision of The Oak Centre. Prior to its development in the 1920’s as Canada’s first planned community, Westdale was noted for the many oak trees that grew natively in the area. Oak Knoll Dr., near the McMaster campus, was named after the many oaks that determined the curve of the street when it was first laid out. Nearby, a large oak at the corner of King and Forsythe antedates the development of McMaster, and now marks the southwest footpath entrance to the university called The King’s Way.

We have adopted the imagery of the oak as a way of encapsulating The Oak Centre vision and purpose. We see our task as planting in faith a project that will flourish and grow over time.

Rooted in the wisdom of the centuries

The McMaster Oak
The McMaster Oak at King and Forsythe

The Nature and Purpose of the Oak Centre Collection

The story of The Oak Centre literary collection is a study in happy coincidences combined with deep personal linkages that have brought together the present resources and working group for the establishment of the Centre. The core set of books – the Beverley Collection – is the personal life project of Ted Beverley. In November 2018 Mr. Beverley needed to find a new home for his ever-growing library. Through arrangements with Don McNally at NetAccess Systems, the Beverley Collection was relocated to Hamilton.

Following his move to Hamilton in December 2018, Mr. Beverley began work on cataloguing and indexing the collection, then housed at the development space made available by NetAccess. The collection contains over 10,000 volumes dealing with a broad range of topics on the relationship between faith and science, religion, history and culture. In the link below, Mr. Beverley shares the underlying logic and purpose of his collection in the form of a personal reflection.

The organizing principle of the Beverley collection aligns quite naturally with Christopher Dawson’s concept of the historical development of Christian Culture as the key to a liberal arts education and engagement with secular culture. This concept is captured very well in the Christianity and Culture program developed at the University of St. Michael’s College, at the University of Toronto, where Don McNally taught from 1986 to 1998.

While the Beverley Collection forms a core asset of The Oak Centre, the network of scholars within the wider Oak Centre community offers the opportunity to grow the collection very quickly to over 100,000 volumes. The resulting library would give The Oak Centre the best collection of its kind in Southern Ontario outside of the University of Toronto Libraries. To assist those who would like to access this material, Mr. Beverley has used a powerful suite of tools associated with the software program Note Bene to generate bibliographies and conduct online searches for relevant material to incorporate into the Centre knowledge base.

The Beverley Collection has a number of unique features. The collection includes the complete works of many important and lesser known figures in the development of Western thought, as well as more recent specialized scholarship in selected areas. The complete works of Soren Kierkegaard, Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, Stanley Jaki, N.T. Wright, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Voegelin, and Alister McGrath, to name just a few, form part of the collection. These complete collections offer unique opportunities for an in-depth study experience that is hard to emulate online or in a standard reference library. Comprehensive scholarship on figures as diverse as St. Francis of Assisi and Dostoevsky also form part of the collection, along with extensive, biblical, historical, theological and philosophical works.

Although the current collection is adequately housed for indexing and limited research, it will be a priority for The Oak Centre Steering Committee to find a permanent home for the collections it is assembling. We are looking to establish a place that is inviting and conducive to great conversations and serendipitous research and discovery; one that combines the resources of a major research library with the intimacy of a faculty club lounge, and the collegiality of a college pub. We seek to create an inviting place for people of all persuasions who are searching for answers to questions that some of the best minds have grappled with over the centuries.

A sample of the Beverley Collection
A sample of the Beverley Collection
(Featuring the complete works of Voegelin & Bonhoeffer)

Envisioned Oak Centre study area
The current Oak Centre reading room

Envisioned Oak Centre study area
Envisioned Oak Centre reading room

Envisioned Oak Centre study area
Envisioned Oak Centre study area

Envisioned Oak Centre study area
Envisioned Oak Centre study area

Oak Centre Steering Committee

In the Spring of 2019 a steering committee was formed to carry forward planning for the development of The Oak Centre. This committee consists of the following individuals.

Dr. Donald McNally

Don is a graduate of McMaster University with an MA and Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Toronto. Don chaired the Curriculum Committee as part of the establishment of Redeemer University College in 1982. He established a program in science and religion at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, where he taught from 1986 to 1998. He was also co-founder of the Pascal Centre for Advanced Studies in Faith and Science at Redeemer University College (1988-1992). During this period he founded NetAccess Systems Inc., one of Canada’s first independent Internet Service Providers. Don was co-director of the Templeton Foundation Science and Religion Course Program Summer Workshop at Victoria College, University of Toronto, between 1996 and 1999, and in 2005 he helped establish the CSCA Hamilton local chapter, which continues to be one of the group’s most active chapters. Don has served on the board of directors for Theatre Aquarius (2007-2011) and is currently a board member of the Innovation Factory at McMaster Innovation Park. See bio

Dr. Donald McNally
Dr. Justin Cooper

Dr. Justin Cooper

Dr Justin Cooper has served in Christian higher education for the past 40 years. His passion for dialogue and engagement with the wider academic community is based on his belief in the relevance of a Christian worldview for the public square. He spent 30 years at Redeemer University College as a political science professor, vice-president academic and then as president for 16 years, with local involvement in the Chamber of Commerce and the Hamilton Community Foundation. He now serves as the executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada, an association of 35 universities, colleges and seminaries, including the university-based seminaries, Acadia, McMaster and Regent, and will complete his service in August 2020 after ten years. CHEC

Milton Friesen

Milton Friesen (M.A. Culture and Ethics, Trinity Western University) is currently General Manager at CitilQ a project of the Blyth Group. Milton has spent more than 12 years working on think tank, public policy, and research projects related to city planning. His particular focus has been on advancing civil society organizational measurement and design. He is skilled in expanding key institutional and leadership networks to support a better understanding of how cities function. He has served as a municipal councillor and is completing a Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo School of Planning, focused on new ways to measure the social fabric of neighbourhoods. Milton serves on the steering committee of the Thriving Cities Project at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture (University of Virginia), and he is a member of the Computational Social Sciences Society of the Americas as well as the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Milton Friesen
Ted Beverly

Ted Beverley

Curator and custodian of the collection

Ted Beverley graduated in 1982 from the University of Toronto with a BAH in philosophy and religious studies in Christianity and Judaism. From 1982 to 1984 he worked on a Master of Divinity from the University of Toronto's Knox Presbyterian Seminary. He completed the Masters of Divinity in 2003 at Tyndale University College Seminary in Toronto. Between 2010 and 2012, he worked part time on a Post-Graduate Master of Theology degree from Tyndale College University Seminary. Over this period, Mr. Beverley was an active member of the CSCA and was involved in local chapter meetings at the University of Toronto. An avid reader and book lover, Mr. Beverley has been systematically building his collection since 1965 with an aim to illuminate the connections in Western thought and culture between philosophy, theology, science, history and the arts (especially literature and film). He is particularly pleased to find an avenue to pursue his passion for learning through the establishment of The Oak Centre.

A Three Stage Development Strategy

We are proceeding with a three-stage development strategy for the formal launch and operation of The Oak Centre.

  1. Stage 1 Building the Network

    The vision for The Oak Centre emerged through personal connections associated with the development of the Hamilton Science and Faith Forum, a local chapter of the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation CSCA Hamilton. The Hamilton chapter sponsors a regular series of Fall and Spring lectures as well as a webinar series on topics related to faith and science. Support for the local chapter program helps to grow a network of interested people and serves both the CSCA and The Oak Centre objectives.

    The Oak Centre Steering Committee is in the process of establishing an advisory board to develop the vision and scope of work for The Oak Centre. Plans are also underway to join the Consortium of Christian Study Centers.

  2. Stage 2 Building the Initial Physical & Virtual Space

    We are currently looking to develop a prototype of The Oak Centre concept to be located near the McMaster University campus. We are also exploring the opportunity to develop a virtual meeting place through the use of technology such as Virbrela Conceptual designs have been developed for a space that will enhance the aspirations and vision of the centre

  3. Stage 3 Formal Incorporation and Full Development of Space

    Steps are now underway to incorporate The Oak Center as a not-for-profit organization with its own charitable donation status. Following the formal organizational of the Centre, development plans will be put in place to establish a physical space near McMaster University. This space would include the capacity to house a collection of over 30,000 volumes, along with areas to accommodate students and scholars, and offer additional programming and meeting opportunities.

For Further Reference and Discussion

The Reason for Being: Notes on the Beverley Collection [Link to Article]

Christianity & Culture: Core Collection [link to article]

If you would like to learn more about this important venture, or join a Conversation Group, please fill out the form below. Thanks.

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