Reflections as a New Academic Year Begins

It has been a busy but exceptional start to our new year. Faculty retreat went well, and I very much appreciate the work of Provost Patrick Allen and Karen Buchanan in focusing on the work of faculty. Some of us administrators missed being there, but it enabled the faculty to focus on what they do in ways that are limited when the audience is broader.

The beginning of the year is always very hectic (I assume for you as well). I speak in many venues and try to make sure that those who work inside the institution as well as those who see us from the outside understand our mission, vision and calling. We are not just another college. We believe that God has called us into ministry at George Fox University; it is our passion to help our students understand and develop their God-given giftedness and play an important role in God’s work in this world. Each student, as former professor Charlotte Macy wrote in the 1950s, is a “sacred trust.” Each person, whether in graduate or undergraduate programs, is trusting that we will guard their hearts, that which is most sacred to them, and guide them down new paths that will challenge and stretch them as they prepare for the future.

On a recent weekend, because of the work of Roger Nam, I was invited to speak to the Korean congregation of Pastor Joshua Kang in Los Angeles. Pastor Kang has written more than 30 books and is truly a servant of God. Every Sunday he preaches at five different services to more than 2,500 people. This past Sunday, I spoke at the 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. services while Pastor Kang did the morning services. It was a great privilege to be able to share Christ’s word to a part of the Korean community in Los Angeles. Just in human terms I learned how difficult it is to preach in two large settings back to back. Those of you who have done this know it takes a great deal of energy. (I cannot image five!)

More important for me was to see the multicultural nature of God’s work. I know it intellectually, but it is an entirely different way of knowing to experience it. Although we did not share the language (the service was entirely in Korean and I had a translator), you could “feel” the presence of God and the power of the worship. We did not share an understanding of words that day but we did share in Christ. It is a great blessing for me to participate in the work of Christ more broadly and it reinforces to me the importance of our efforts at becoming a more culturally diverse community in Christ.

I am not sure exactly what the future holds. Our economy continues to struggle, and although our enrollments did well this year we still face challenges in the years to come. We are engaged in an important dialogue about where we will invest our resources, what programs we will initiate, and what buildings we will build. All are very important conversations. We face a culture that is changing so rapidly we have difficulty determining what our next steps should or will be. Should we embrace this technological form? Is this device the wave of the future? Will digital books overtake our printed word? What would that mean for us? I recently read Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence and found her thoughts on the future of the church very engaging. She suggests that the church (especially in its Judaic and Christian form) has always gone through significant shifts that have caused it to reorganize and rethink its efforts. The good news, she says, is that the church always emerges different but stronger than before.

The form and methods of interaction in the human community will change. What will remain constant is our need to know God and to love our neighbor. In the next 10 years there will be significant change in the way we “do” education at George Fox. What will not change is our commitment to God and to our students.

 

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