Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18)
As another academic year begins for YHC, so much has been done to make this semester possible. Students have been recruited and enrolled. Scholarships and funding have been found. People have been hired. Buildings have been tended to, cleaned, and supplied. Faculty members have written lectures. Staff members have made plans. Coaches have scheduled games. The college’s restaurant has stocked food. The library has been catalogued and updated. Accreditations have been obtained. With these tasks done, the first four-year college in Young Harris, GA for nearly a century opens for academic business, today.
Yet, despite the significance of this day, all this work necessary to mark the first day of classes for our newly-minted four-year collegiate institution would never have come about, would never have been seen as necessary, if an earlier work had not been accomplished long before we set foot on this beautiful campus.
Nearly three hundred years ago, two young brothers—John and Charles Wesley—and their university friends gathered together regularly for prayer, bible study, and mutual support at Oxford University in Oxford, England. This self-described “Holy Club” recognized at its inception the indelible connection between intellectual pursuit and spiritual discipline. For them, one could never be adequately realized without the other. The outgrowth of this “Holy Club” was the Methodist movement that became the forerunner to the United Methodist Church.
Throughout that movement’s ministry, it leadership never lost sight of the connection identified at its inception: that the pursuit of personal perfection was an integrated intellectual and spiritual endeavor. Early on, the leadership in this movement appreciated that for everyone to have the same opportunity to pursue perfection all would need equal access to the benefits of education. In other words, while the movement could teach personal disciplines for spiritual maturation, without an adequate intellectual foundation such pursuits were diminished if not entirely feckless. And, many in their communities had little if no access to education. Almost immediately, the leadership of the Methodist movement identified a connection between (1) personal holiness as a spiritual development and (2) a call to social justice for those denied access to the educational system.
It is no accident, then, that while the earliest Methodists were gathering for prayer and discipleship they were simultaneously founding schools like Kingswood and the Foundary in England and Cokesbury College in the United States. Our own college was founded in 1886 as a place to educate those who had no access to adequate education, continuing what had by then become a regular tradition of linking spiritual growth with academic opportunities and both with social transformation of a community, its institutions, and its people.
As we mark this new day for our college, I remind us of our heritage as a means to properly bring into focus our future. We are a people birthed from this tradition, and we must remember always to connect our academic inquiry with spiritual conversations, both inexorably linked to social transformation and issues of justice. Or, as our college’s slogan iterates this faithful vision for who we have been and who we must remain, we seek to Educate, Inspire, Empower.
The Office of Religious Life hopes fully to underwrite this vision through our shared work and ministry over the coming year. It is my prayer that our work and ministry offer an intellectual faith and a spirited intelligence that empowers us to engage our college, our community, and our world in active, transformative justice and wholeness for everyone.
The prophets of the faith summarized it similarly when they prayed:
Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
May their prayer, their vision, become ours.