Annual Conference Learns About Education, Ecumenism

Long before the creation of The United Methodist Church in 1968, and even before the establishment of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784, John Wesley – founder of the Methodist movement – was already working for the equal treatment of all God’s children, particularly when it came to education. Wesley regarded education as essential to faith formation, as we continually seek a greater understanding of God’s truth in our lives. He also saw education as providing those in poverty with the tools necessary to improve their situation and gain access to greater economic opportunities.

As Methodism spread to the United States, early Church leaders encouraged the creation of Methodist schools, literary institutions, and colleges. By the 1860s, the Methodist Episcopal Church had established or was affiliated with over 200 such educational institutions – some of which even granted degrees to women and African Americans. In addition, the Church created scholarships and loans to provide financial support to students.

Today, The United Methodist Church continues this legacy by supporting a network of 119 United Methodist-related schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries in the United States, and even more around the world. Here in The West Ohio Conference, we are the proud home to two United Methodist seminaries – the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and United Theological Seminary.

The Methodist Theological School in Ohio – or MTSO for short – was founded in 1958 and is located in Delaware, Ohio. MTSO offers six degree programs, the latest being a Master of Arts in Social Justice. They also provide classes for laity, including the Course of Study for licensed local pastors. MTSO’s diverse student body includes 15 different faith traditions.

United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, was founded in 1871 as Union Biblical Seminary, part of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. This body later became the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1968 to form The United Methodist Church. United offers five degree programs with options for online courses and week-long intensives to give students more flexibility.

In addition to the two seminaries located in West Ohio, three United Methodist-related colleges also call Ohio home: Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, and Ohio Northern University in Ada. Each institution offers numerous degree programs, excellent faculty and staff members, and a wide array of extracurricular activities. The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry provides undergraduate and graduate scholarships and grants for United Methodist students.

While any United Methodist student may apply for general scholarships, The United Methodist Church’s Black College Fund supports the Church’s historically Black colleges and universities. Established in 1972, the Black College Fund empowers 11 colleges and universities to continue to serve students at the highest level. The Black College Fund helps these colleges provide faculty development, maintain and improve infrastructure, and give funding to students who need scholarships and financial aid. These 11 schools continue John Wesley’s legacy of ensuring that all students can receive a quality education, regardless of race, class, gender, or ethnicity.

Just as education has been vital to The United Methodist Church in the U.S., so too has it been critical to the development and growth of the Church in Africa. Where a United Methodist Church is planted in Africa, a school is never far behind. In the early 1980s, several African Bishops advocated for the creation of a university for all of Africa. The 1988 General Conference of The United Methodist Church unanimously approved the founding of Africa University in Zimbabwe, as well as a commitment to provide financial support. In 1992, Africa University was given its official charter as the first private university in Zimbabwe. The university provides more than 50 graduate and undergraduate programs to students from 26 different countries. Since its founding, Africa University has trained more than 7,000 leaders, including Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Episcopal Area – the first United Methodist bishop to graduate from Africa University.

While John Wesley placed a great deal of importance on the institutions that educate us, he also realized the vital role that books and published works can have on everyday people. He insisted that books belong in every home, not just the homes of the upper classes. As Methodism spread to the United States, and circuit riders became the means of providing pastoral leadership, books and pamphlets were needed to leave in homes and parishes until the circuit rider could come again. The Methodist Book Concern was founded in 1789 for just such a purpose; more than two hundred years later, this same agency is now known as the United Methodist Publishing House. Responsible for publishing United Methodist books and resources for clergy and laity, UMPH includes Abingdon Press, Ministry Matters, the Common English Bible, and perhaps its most well-known arm, Cokesbury.

Christian education is also a crucial component here at Lakeside-Chautauqua. Many of us think of Lakeside as a beautiful vacation spot, a place to reconnect with family and friends, or simply as the location of our yearly Conference-wide meeting. But Lakeside-Chautauqua has much more to offer, including scholarships for clergy renewal retreats, the Preachers of the Week summer series, Faith for Living hour, Vespers by the Lake, youth and children’s programming, as well as other special events.

Just as United Methodists from all corners of The West Ohio Conference are united here at Lakeside-Chautauqua this week, so we as United Methodists seek to unite with our brothers and sisters from Christian denominations worldwide. Our United Methodist Book of Discipline says, “Christian unity is founded on the theological understanding that through faith in Jesus Christ we are made members-in-common of the one body of Christ. Christian unity is not an option; it is a gift to be received and expressed.”

One way that The West Ohio Conference expresses Christian unity is through the Ohio Council of Churches, which is a partnership of 17 Christian denominations throughout the State of Ohio. The mission of the Ohio Council of Churches is to make visible the unity of Christ's church, provide a Christian voice on public issues, and engage in worship, education and service. The OCC provides opportunities for building relationships, networking and partnering in common work and ministry, and acting as a voice in public policy at the Ohio General Assembly. While celebrating 100 years of cooperative ministry in 2019, the Ohio Council of Churches also welcomed a new executive director, the Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 20-21, Jesus says, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” We in The United Methodist Church may not agree on everything, but there can be no doubt of the importance education and ecumenism hold in the history of the Methodist tradition. And so, let us not grow weary of doing good, for at just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up.