By Vicki Brown, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Stronger, deeper partnerships between the 119 United Methodist-related schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools and the general agencies of The United Methodist Church could benefit the denomination, students attending UM-related institutions, and the world, agreed those attending a Feb. 2-3 meeting of the National Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities of The United Methodist Church .
David Rowe, president of Centenary College of Louisiana, urged members of NASCUMC to consider what they bring to the conversation, reminding them that reconnecting the general church and local churches with colleges and universities must involve give and take from both sides. “Think about how we can invest in helping the church,” said Rowe, who is NASCUMC’s chair of Program Planning.
Jim Winkler, the former general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society and now president of the National Council of Churches, told the presidents of UM-related institutions that partnerships could include providing students with internship and study opportunities. And GBCS could benefit from faculty research in areas such as healthcare policy.
One of the major activities of GBCS is grassroots organizing. That organizing work could benefit from closer connections with college students, who are at a time in their lives when they believe they can change the world, Winkler and GBCS staff said.
NASCUMC has focused for two years on renewing and strengthening the connections between church-related higher education institutions and agencies of the church, searching for partnerships that will further the work of both. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry organized the meeting with GBCS staff this year. Last year, NASCUMC met with staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.
"We Methodists have always understood a holistic ministry goes beyond the four walls of the local church, and so today here we are faithful to our heritage and our mission," Winkler said in the keynote address at the meeting in Washington, D.C.
Winkler spoke of giving the commencement address at Southwestern University and telling the students that they had been shaped in a Wesleyan institution of higher learning that marries personal and social holiness.
"Our Social Principles say that we seek an end to war, economic inequality, racism and sexism, and environmental degradation. I told them I wanted them to be a part of the great struggle for social justice exemplified by Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dorothy Day," Winkler said. “I told them I wanted them to go forth and shake the gates of hell, the systems of power and domination that seek to control ordinary people.”
The years ahead will be difficult for our churches, our schools, colleges, and universities, and for the world, with global warming, disease, environmental degradation, religious conflict, the rise of fundamentalism in the world's major religions, the growing gap between the rich and poor, the doctrine of presumptive or preemptive ward, and the spread of nuclear weapons, Winkler said.
"I still believe we have made progress, and we who follow Christ are a principle reason for that. But if our children and grandchildren have a decent future, it will be because we changed the very direction of the United States to one committed to cooperation, justice, and peace," Winkler said, calling on UM-related higher education to join in that effort.
Colleen Perry Keith, the president of NASCUMC and of Spartanburg Methodist College, said she believes the meetings with other general agencies of the UMC and the heads of UM higher education institutions are making a difference.
"I think we will start to see more student internships with general agencies. It's raising awareness of what's possible. I think a lot of our presidents were unaware of what the agencies did,” Keith said, adding that she expects educators to start calling on GBCS as a resource for training and information.
After Winkler's address, the presidents divided into groups led by other GBCS staff to discuss possible partnerships. The groups discussed partnerships including bringing a group of schools together to work on a particular issue or to host seminar programs offered by GBCS.
Other proposals included one college trying to host a larger group of colleges, Wesley Foundations, local churches, and annual conference staff so that GBCS could conduct seminars and training for a larger group. Ted Brown, president of Martin Methodist College, suggested one college hosting a large group of interested people would make the travel and time more worthwhile for GBCS staff.
Lawrence Czarda, president of Greensboro College, said the group that discussed the United Nations was especially interested in seeking internships for students and also trying to link faculty with particular knowledge with general agency staff who might need research or other expertise.
Larry Earvin, president of Huston-Tillotson University, said the grassroots organizing discussion was mostly made up of presidents of colleges with 70 percent to 90 percent of their students Pell grant eligible. He said that is an indication those colleges have a mission of serving low income students. Earvin said the group was most interested in working with GBCS on improving service learning.
Gerald Lord, GBHEM's associate general secretary of the Division of Higher Education, said he sees clearly that the missions of GBHEM, GBCS, and NASCUMC overlap and that they should be working more closely together.
“Our campuses can be agents of social change," Lord said, agreeing with Winkler that the direction of the United States must change if future generations are to have a chance.