By Rev. Dr. Michael McCord, executive director, UMCommission
I am not sure there are words that can fully describe all that we have been through over the past two years. The whole world has suffered unimaginable loss and seemingly never-ending uncertainty, and our campuses are no less fraught with anxiety, depression, sadness, and isolation. And yet, there is emerging from this experience a new way of being together that has captured my imagination.
I lived in Nashville after a historic flood and I served as a Red Cross volunteer after 9/11. In these tragic moments, people rise out of tragedy, unite, and make the world a better place by realizing that we are better and stronger together. For those of you who have been part of such massive waves of support and hope, you know that they soon wane, and the grind of our segmented society returns to us like an old sweatshirt.
Over the past year, the Commission has expanded our reach by engaging in ministry with campuses across the country (seven annual conferences and growing). We have one guiding phrase for this shared work of ministry: “Do all we can, for as many as we can, for as long as we can.” The bleakness of the COVID winter stilled the busyness of life in a way that we became more attuned to the reality that we are healthier, we are more fruitful, our mission is more robust, and we are just better when we are together.
In working with the Wesleys and colleges across the country, we discovered a most curious emergence within a number of these ministries. As you can imagine, students returned this year with a deep hunger to be back together, physically. Like all of us, they were longing for meaningful relationships, hugs, discipleship, encouragement, and all the trappings of a college experience. At the same time, we noticed there seemed to be less interest in our traditional, larger gatherings and a greater interest in smaller, more intimate forms of togetherness. Students appear to be yearning for small group discipleship and community that gives meaning to their lives. The demand has been so great that some ministries have moved to monthly large-group worship services to provide more space for small groups to meet.
This new form of togetherness that has emerged from our long and perilous journey through this pandemic has inspired me greatly. What if being together becomes a collection of smaller movements of believers, of students, sharing life in a way that cares more about transformation than the production of our gatherings? Could this response to a tragedy be more lasting? Could it help us overcome the divisions that have so profoundly harmed us? May it be so.
As you experience the content of this special issue of The Advocate, may you see these stories as our shared stories of togetherness. See, we could not have been present on these campuses without the generosity of the churches and individuals who support Annual Conference apportionments and special gifts to our ministry. Thank you. Your gift is making the world a better place and empowering the lives of college students.
Rev. Dr. Michael McCord is the executive director for the United Methodist Commission on Higher Education (UMCommission). The UMCommission funds and supports the higher education ministries of the North and South Georgia Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church. Together, these Wesley Foundations and UM-related Colleges and Universities serve more than 10,000 college students in Georgia and a growing number nationally.
Colleges & Universities