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Methodist college leaders gather in D.C. Joey Butler, Aug 29, 2011
UMNS PHOTO BY JOEY BUTLER
Presidents of both U.S. and international Methodist institutions of higher learning processed into the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for their first joint conference.
By Joey Butler United Methodist News Service
In a historic first joint conference, presidents of both U.S. and international United Methodist-related and Methodist institutions of higher learning met July 24-28 in Washington, D.C., to discuss how each could continue to nurture principled leaders for the future.
The 2011 meeting of the International Association of Methodist-Related Schools, Colleges & Universities (IAMSCU) and the National Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities of The United Methodist Church (NASCUMC) focused on pressing global challenges, and the role that Christianity-based higher education can play in preparing its students to meet those challenges. Twenty-five different countries were represented by faculty of Methodist schools worldwide.
“There has been talk of a joint meeting ever since I became involved with IAMSCU 10 years ago,” said Ted Brown, president of IAMSCU and of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. “The most attractive place for many of the international presidents was to come to Washington, and we see a lot of conversation between members of the two groups.”
The conference was based around four broad topics: preparing principled leaders, sustainability and the environment, poverty and health and social justice. Each topic was the focus of a keynote speech and a panel discussion. In addition, members attended a White House briefing by the U.S. Department of Education.
“Higher education in the United Methodist tradition is addressing priorities that interest the general church. Hence, the program’s emphasis on the global nature of the church,” said Gerald Lord, associate general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Division of Higher Education.
During opening convocation at Washington National Cathedral, James T. Laney, former U.S. ambassador to Korea and president emeritus of Emory University in Atlanta, said that church-related colleges “are not just in the education business. We’re custodians of the soul.”
That theme was reiterated in each panel discussion, as attendees were reminded that a theologically based education was about more than providing knowledge, but encouraging students to see themselves as stewards of community who should use what they’ve learned to give back to the community and the world.
During a keynote speech on sustainability, social justice and fighting poverty, Diana Chapman Walsh, president emeritus of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, said that John Wesley’s vision is “coming back in vogue.”
Wesley was not only a firm believer in the value of education, he believed it should be available for all.
“When John Wesley founded Kingswood school, it wasn’t just for the children of coal miners; it was in the hope that those students would aspire to Oxford,” said Julius Scott, president emeritus of Paine College in Augusta, Ga., in a panel on developing leaders.
Importance of giving back
Several representatives of African schools expressed frustration at their young people leaving the area to study, often never to return. They said instilling that sense of giving back to the community would help retain their leaders.
United Nations Special Representative for Darfur Ibrahim Gambari, who delivered an address on world health challenges, described growing up in Nigeria, where an entire community would contribute to send one person to university.
“They knew that when he came back, he wouldn’t just be lifting himself or his immediate family out of poverty, but contributing to the community that helped him,” he said.
Mr. Gambari suggested that the factors pushing the students to leave—be it political climate or job market—be analyzed. The Rev. Evariste Kimba Kyakutala, president of Kabongo Methodist University in the Democratic Republic of Congo, asked for “more investment where there is extreme need.”
Mr. Kyakutala said more scholarships and perhaps even an exchange program for U.S. professors would be beneficial. “Then the students wouldn’t say they all want to go to the United States to school. They could say, ‘I’ll stay here and get good training and then serve the church.’”
Mr. Kyakutala was singled out during the conference as an example of how the church forms leaders. He attended Africa University on a scholarship, and has now risen to the level of university president.
“What I got from Africa University made me what I am today,” he said. “I am grateful for that and ready to serve others and train them to expand their gift. And they will train others. The same scholarship I got is still bearing fruit somewhere.”
Bishop James Swanson of the Holston Annual Conference said he considers Methodist-affiliated schools “one of the most precious gifts of the Methodist movement.”
“These schools will not only produce clergy, but lay leaders, and the schools can implant the values that we Methodists hold near and dear to our hearts like justice, equality and opportunities for people who are downtrodden. We believe not only in the warm heart, but the trained mind.”
Bishop Swanson shared a story from a recent visit to Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan, where a school official told him how important a Methodist education could be in the development of Japan’s leaders.
The official told Bishop Swanson, “I’m not even Methodist; I’m Buddhist.”