A strong Church-College partnership

2014-03-13
by Bishop Phil Whipple ’95, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA
Bishop WhippleThe United Brethren in Christ denomination is proud of Huntington University. We started the university in 1897, and it has always played an important part in our total ministry. Numerous other colleges have drifted from their church roots, but our church-college partnership remains firm and is cherished.

Through the years, most of our United Brethren pastors have graduated from Huntington University, and many dynamic young men and women with HU degrees fuel our missionary force. Within most of our churches, you will find Huntington graduates as well as parents and grandparents of alums.

It’s always interesting to hear a fresh perspective on yourself. We heard that from Dr. Sherilyn Emberton when she spoke to a group of United Brethren leaders in January. She had researched the history of higher education in the UB church. She pointed out that from the beginning of its history our denomination has valued providing education for its people. Moreover, she said, our college did it right — HU was always open to students of both sexes and to students from all cultures, races and faiths. She appreciated that we didn’t carry historical baggage for which anyone needed to apologize.

She’s right. The United Brethren Church has always believed in Christ-centered higher education. We value the development of a Christian worldview in every field — science, history, the arts, education, medicine, politics, etc. We want our young people taught by Christians who also excel in their disciplines. Huntington University provides all of this.

Naturally, some tension exists in this relationship. As a church, we tend to focus on absolute truth. A liberal arts university, on the other hand, must teach students to investigate the full range of ideas and theories. But throughout our nearly 120-year relationship, we have navigated those waters successfully with only a few bumps along the way.

Both the church and college deserve credit. On the church side, we prefer a hands-off approach, choosing not to meddle in college affairs so that the institution can pursue its own vision. It helps that we’re not a dogmatic, legalistic denomination. One of our core values states, “We stand firm on biblical absolutes, allow freedom where the Bible allows freedom, and seek to maintain unity when disagreements arise.”

At the same time, we’ve been blessed with college presidents who are sensitive to keeping the university consistent with church values. Boundaries will get pushed, but we strive for a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

The Church and Huntington University work together in a variety of ways.

The United Brethren national office lies on the edge of the campus. Back in 2001, the graduate programs relocated to our building, and later the Professionals Programs for adult learners joined them. We greatly enjoy our day-to-day relationship with these folks. They enhance our workplace.

Global Ministries, our missions arm, works with the university in various ways. Short-term teams have visited our fields, and some of our Macau missionaries first traveled to the area as part of an HU team.

As already mentioned, many UB missionaries have emerged from Huntington University, and that will continue. Our connections with mission hospitals can provide opportunities for nursing students. Business majors can be a valuable resource as we equip people on our mission fields to start their own businesses. We also work together in English education and the placement of some staff in restricted countries. HU also offers two scholarships a year to students from our international fields, prioritizing those preparing for missions.

As a church, of course, we have a special interest in pastoral ministry. For most of its history, Huntington University has trained many — perhaps most — of our senior pastors at both the undergraduate and master’s levels. That has been important. Huntington will continue to come alongside the denomination to train future UB pastors. In addition, our churches increasingly create staff positions in specialty areas which HU grads can fill with excellence, including worship, music, children and counseling. The superb youth ministry leadership program continually turns out capable youth ministers.

Huntington University has always played a vital role in training United Brethren men and women to impact our world for Jesus Christ, and that will continue into this 21st century. We confidently entrust our young people to Huntington University.

Phil Whipple has been bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA, since 2009.
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