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Oldest Methodist college in U.S. marks 175 years

 


Oldest Methodist college in U.S. marks 175 years

March 8, 2005

By Holly Clark*

ASHLAND, Va. (UMNS)—Nearly two centuries ago, Randolph-Macon College was born from a need the United Methodist Church had for educated ministers to spread their new faith in the new republic.

Today, in its 175th year, the church-related college continues to answer that need, as well as celebrate its Methodist roots and longstanding commitment to a liberal arts and sciences education. 

Randolph-Macon College, the oldest Methodist school in the United States, marked its milestone during a Feb. 26 celebratory worship service at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, on the campus. Nearly 50 of the college’s alumni who pursued careers in the ministry participated. 

“The college needed an event such as this,” said Ira Andrews, a religious studies professor and 1959 Randolph-Macon graduate. “The clergy alumni were thrilled that the event took place and to be asked back to the alma mater to participate.  It sent a powerful message to all that Randolph-Macon College is a church-related college and the United Methodist Church is a college-related church.”

Bishop Charlene Kammerer, newly appointed leader of the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference, addressed the more than 150 attendees during the weekend’s grand occasion.
 
“For 175 years, Randolph-Macon College has been building a tradition of quality in liberal arts education,” said Kammerer, who serves on Randolph-Macon’s board of trustees. “Since its founding by Methodists in 1830, the college has been attracting and educating outstanding students of all faiths.”

The Methodist Episcopal Church’s General Conference voted in 1825 to consider founding a liberal arts college. Two years later, three Methodist pastors stopped for lunch in a field near Boydtown, Va., and agreed that the spot would be ideal for a school. In 1830, the Virginia General Assembly approved incorporating the college as Randolph-Macon, named after John Randolph and Nathaniel Macon, political leaders of the day.

Today, it is one of 123 United Methodist-related colleges and universities across the country.

“Randolph-Macon College proudly holds the distinction of being the longest United Methodist college in operation in the world,” Kammerer said. “You all have had a profound role in not only preserving the past, but continuing to open doors for the generations to come.” 

Four Randolph-Macon students, all A. Purnell Bailey Pre-ministerial scholarship recipients, concluded the celebration. The Bailey program offers scholarships that include admission to Randolph-Macon as well as free tuition and room and board to five students annually who are committed to pursing divinity degrees after graduation. 

“While the current college slogan is ‘Believe in the Moment of Connection,’ there is no more vital connection than that of our rich heritage with the United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Franklin Gillis Jr., the school’s ministerial vocation coordinator. “In order to be true to the purposes for which this college was founded, renewed efforts are being made to reclaim and strengthen that heritage.”

“Through the A. Purnell Bailey Pre-Ministerial Program for Ordained Ministry, pastors and churches are invited to identify and encourage high school students to consider and respond to God’s call,” he said. “Students selected to become Bailey scholars are involved in a variety of experiences to nurture their call and commitment to ministry.”

Jennifer Fletcher, a college freshman and Purnell Bailey scholar, is one of Randolph-Macon’s 1,063 students. She said she is proud to have the opportunity to pursue ministry and get a liberal arts education at the school.

“Grasping both knowledge and piety is vital in our Christian walk,” she said. “Piety is wonderful, but knowledge is important because the more we know about our Savior, the more we can appreciate his majesty.  We cannot identify with those we witness to if we do not have knowledge.  We need knowledge to answer their questions, to explain our faith in ways that more people can relate to.  Piety cannot always be understood, but when it’s coupled with knowledge it is something that more people can relate to.”

As the celebration concluded, Kammerer challenged the audience to continue its commitment to educating scholars and fostering the relationship between Randolph-Macon and the United Methodist Church.

David Hindman, class of ’72 and campus minister at The College of William & Mary, said the celebration was a moving experience. “I hope and pray it is the first step in a new chapter in the relationship between the church and R-MC,” he said. “I am hopeful and excited about what the future may hold for this precious partnership.”

*Clark is media and communications specialist at Randolph-Macon College.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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