More than 2000 General Conference attendees gathered in the Portland Ballroom on Monday night for Higher Education Night 2016, a celebration of United Methodist-related educational institutions that are shaping the faith, vocations and commitments of students at more than 1,000 learning institutions around the world.
Sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education (GBHEM), Higher Education Night began after the close of Monday’s plenary session following the agency’s report. General Conference 2012 charged GBHEM with strengthening leadership development through three new initiatives: The Central Conference Theological Education Fund, the Seminary Indebtedness Task Force, and the Young Clergy Initiative. During its plenary presentation, the agency reported on the progress of those efforts, the partnerships developed around them, and some of its accomplishments from this quadrennium. Dr. Kim Cape, general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, spoke, reminding delegates that, “Education is an act of love.”
At the end of the plenary session, the Africa University choir sang and led guests to the Portland Ballroom, where they were greeted by the sounds of the Lydia Patterson Institute Mariachi band. Exhibitors lined the concourse outside the ballroom and shared information about GBHEM’s higher education efforts throughout the global United Methodist connection, including the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities (IAMSCU), and the National Association of Schools and Colleges of The United Methodist Church (NASCUMC).
Inside the ballroom, guests enjoyed hors-d’oeuvres and were treated to interactive exhibits detailing the agency’s 150-year history in higher education. An elegant floating ribbon sculpture, which represented the United Methodist cross and flame, drew attendees to the center of the ballroom where they were invited to write prayers for the future of UM higher education on a prayer ribbon. Choirs from United Methodist-related schools and universities performed from three stages throughout the evening: Martin Methodist College, Central Methodist University, Wiley College, Randolph-Macon Academy, Shenandoah University, SMU-Perkins School of Theology, Boston University, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Lydia Patterson Institute and Africa University.
Several presidents from UM-related institutions were in attendance, including Roderick Smothers, president of Philander Smith College. “Higher Education Night was absolutely amazing,” he said. “All in one room, all in the name of higher education, it’s truly phenomenal. As a president of a United-Methodist affiliated institution, it means the world to me.”
Rosalind Fuse-Hall, president of Bennett College, spoke of the event’s unifying effect, “We had all the choirs from our various campuses singing in harmony, which brings us all together.”
Ted Brown, president of Martin Methodist College, agreed, noting the positive relationship building experience for delegates and students. “We had delegates in the room, and the delegates are so excited about what is happening on our college and university campuses and at our theological schools.”
Students found joy in both the opportunity to praise through song and be in fellowship with one another. “Higher Education Night was a lot of fun,” said Wesley Gately, a student at Washburn University. “There was great music, great food, and I was able to sit and talk with other college students.”
Africa University student and choir member Elvine Nkhata said, “We have this gospel that we share with the people to give them hope, to give them life, and to tell them that God is doing something.”
Alex Moore, a choir student from Shenandoah University, said, “Being here at General Conference and being able to sing…I feel blessed.”
Not lost on the students was the life- and world-changing effects of a United-Methodist education. Nelson Furtado, seminary student at Candler School of Theology said, “The higher education that I received from the Methodist church has helped me to grow into ministry and helped me to grow as a person.”
Derrick Scott, III, director of the Campus to City Wesley Foundation captured the spirit of Higher Education Night when he said, “It is vital to have strong higher education across the connection, in every annual conference for the sake of the next generation and the leadership of our church.”
A brief video recap of Higher Education Night can be found here: https://youtu.be/ZX8DQF0iHGQ.