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May 6, 2000 GC-025

New covenant strengthens church-school connection

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — Leaders of the United Methodist church and its schools have strengthened their commitment to provide quality education and supportive faith communities as they prepare people for lives of service.

A new agreement, titled "An Education Covenant of Partnership," was signed on May 5 by Bishop William Oden, president of the Council of Bishops, the Rev. Roger Ireson, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, Tenn., and Peter Mitchell, president of the National Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities of the United Methodist Church.

The signing occurred at a Higher Education Night banquet held in conjunction with the United Methodist 2000 General Conference. Delegates at the banquet were asked to affirm the document. No official action was requested from General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, which is meeting through May 12.

The covenant emerged as the result of conversations with bishops, college presidents, campus ministers and conference boards of higher education and ministry during the past eight years, Ireson said. The leaders endorsed the document as a way of affirming the denomination's 250-year tradition of church-related education and committing to a partnership of mutual service and support.

Too often, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry feels as though it is on a bridge, Ireson said. Academia and the church have much to offer each other, but "we are saddened that no one will walk across the bridge into the other person's world," he said.

The covenant signifies the joining of lives so that "those who are in education will walk across the bridge into the world of the church and stretch out their hands in covenant and that those who are on the other side of the bridge will walk across it," Ireson said. "And together learning and religion will be joined and we . . .will prepare a new generation of Christian leaders for this world."

The partnership covenant calls for the church and its schools to:

Create an inclusive atmosphere that supports the faith journeys of students, faculty and staff.

Uphold academic freedom without restricting the integrity of each church-related institution.

Stress through teaching and example the worth and dignity of each person by providing voluntary community service and a concern for international relations.

Prepare students, regardless of social status, ethnic identity or gender, for lives of "intellectual vigor," moral integrity and spiritual fulfillment, and for leadership in a new century.

Provide mutually agreed upon support and service.

Affirm the relations between the church and its educational institutions openly and with pride for their mutual history and shared potential for the future.

Keynote speaker Thomas J. Moyer, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, discussed the value of education in culture today and the issues facing it.

Other speakers included Oden, Mitchell and the Rev. William H. Willimon, dean of the chapel at Duke University, who provided reflections of a United Methodist-related college graduate. The Rust College Choir of Holly Springs, Miss., provided musical entertainment.

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-- Linda Green

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