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A Higher Calling
   by Bob Shade

“Each student is required to attend reading of the Scriptures and prayer in the seminary chapel every morning and evening, and to attend public worship twice on the Sabbath, at such place as parents or guardians may designate in writing.”

– Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Union Seminary, 1856

This requirement, from the First Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Union Seminary, dated 1856, may seem hopelessly outmoded to today’s Albright students, especially since many of them have expressed no religious affiliation or preference. It’s also why they may be surprised to learn that even as late as 1969 Albright required weekly attendance at worship.

A Changing Role for the Church

Albright has always had ties to the church.

In 1856, Union Seminary, the parent institution of Albright College, was established by the Evangelical Association, the religious organization founded on the teachings of Jacob Albright, for the formal education of its members.

It’s interesting to note that while Union Seminary1 was closely connected to the Evangelical Association, it was not a theological school as such. Rather, it was similar to the liberal arts junior college of today. Even so, Albright College was originally authorized by the state to confer the bachelor of divinity degree.

In fact, Teel Hall was built and dedicated as the Evangelical School of Theology, which some Albright students referred to as “The Angel Factory.” While legally part of Albright College, the School of Theology had its own president, dean and teaching staff, as well as a theological library.

Along with other students, “virtually all pre-theological students of the Evangelical Church came to Albright, and were subsidized by their home conferences for doing so,” said the Rev. William Marlow ’49, professor emeritus of religion.

By 1968, the Evangelical Association had evolved into the United Methodist Church. While Albright still considers itself a church-related college, the specifics of the relationship changed. “Special aid for pre-theological students ended, as did direct financial aid to the College from the general church,” said Marlow, who served as Albright’s chaplain from 1959 until 1968, when he joined the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies.

Albright’s compulsory worship requirement, common among such institutions of the day, was enforced for more than a century. But just as American colleges have evolved, so has the role of religion on campus. And many of the changes in the church coincided with a number of significant changes in American society as a whole.

“There was a strong desire for many people to experience the majestic mystery, the supernatural, the sacred, everything spirit based – but not in church.”

– The Rev. Bill Marlow ’49

The ’50s and ’60s – Time of Great Change

Across the nation, the 1950s saw a higher percentage of church membership and participation than in any other decade in American history. This trend was true at Albright as well.

“It was ‘the age of faith,’ ‘the revival of religion,’ and a time of reconstructing old and constructing new institutions,” Marlow said. “The Albright campus reflected this post-World War II renewal in lots of ways. Weekend religious retreats, held in the fall and spring, drew more than 100 students each. Ecumenical Protestant worship services were held every Sunday morning, and evening worship services were held before religious holidays, with a large percentage of students and faculty attending.”

1 In 1887, Union Seminary was rechartered as Central Pennsylvania College, which, through a series of mergers with other institutions, eventually became the Albright College we know today.


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