Albright’s Methodist Affiliation
Ongoing conversations, recommendations and future work
Reminder of college and church history
Albright has a long-standing, faith-based tradition, which began more than a century before the United Methodist Church existed. At 163 years old, Albright is the oldest institution of higher learning in Berks County, named for Jacob Albright — a Pennsylvania German evangelical preacher whose initial followers became known as the Evangelical Association. In time, they affiliated with the Evangelical Church, which merged with the United Brethren in 1946 to become the Evangelical United Brethren. The EUB was one of the many groups that merged in 1968 to become the United Methodist Church.
Beginning with the founding of Union Seminary in 1856, the college’s history winds through a series of mergers with collegiate institutes founded in the 19th century by the Evangelical Association and the United Evangelical Church. The name Albright College became official in 1898, and the school’s location in Reading, Pa., was solidified through its last merger with Schuylkill College in 1929.
The United Methodist Book of Disciple had no restrictive language in regard to homosexuality until 1972. From that time on, there has been a faithful and prophetic movement within the church to remove the language and to invite the world communion of United Methodists to be fully inclusive.
At its 2016 General Conference, the UMC Council of Bishops proposed the formation of a Commission on a Way Forward to examine and possibly revise every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality. This task force put forward several paths and recommended the One Church Plan. The 2019 UMC General Conference in St. Louis adopted the Traditional Plan, which is aimed at requiring enforcement of the 1972 Book of Discipline language and forbids LGBTQIA+ members from being married or serving in ordained ministry in United Methodist churches. The rancor and pain that surrounds these discussions is the result of some 40 years of an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” history, a history which has forced countless clergy, whose call and spirit were evident in their service and devotion to their church, to live in hiding and fear.
Update on recent events in the church community
Joint meeting of IAMSCU, NASCUMC, and AUMTS (Albright is a member of NASCUMC). Professor Rob Seesengood, religious studies, and President Jacque Fetrow attended the joint meeting of the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges, and Universities (IAMSCU), the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church (NASCUMC), and the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools (AUMTS), held June 22-28, 2019 in Atlanta. The goals of this meeting were to:
• Consider shifts taking place within United Methodism and how these may impact educational institutions.
• Engage in cross-association discussions related to future initiatives.
• Imagine and build collaborations and promote partnerships among Methodist-related educational institutions worldwide.
At this meeting, it was learned that most schools were aligned with Albright’s position, many were engaging in active dialog and some were working within the church to effect change. The sentiments expressed were consistent with the January 2019 NASCUMC message, which President Fetrow signed on behalf of Albright College On the Called General Conference and the Subject of Human Sexuality.
There was much discussion about the history of Methodism and about John Wesley’s ministry. A keynote address by Jeffrey Kuan, president of Claremont School of Theology, was especially enlightening. The general conclusion of the meeting was that the adoption of the Traditional Plan is wrong and does not reflect the very best evolved expression of the Wesleyan and Methodist ideal.
In Atlanta, NASCUMC members endorsed a formal investigation of new membership categories that could allow pan-Methodist, Methodist-related institutions and some institutions outside the geographical boundaries of the United States as members of the association. Such changes could provide opportunities for NASCUMC to introduce new programming and expand reach to provide an enhanced voice for the association.
Recent decision of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the UMC. Albright College is a part of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the UMC. At its June meeting, the Eastern Conference declared itself, “a One Church Plan Conference in spirit.” This declaration counters the church laws enacted at the February meeting of the General Conference of the UMC enforcing restrictions that forbid LGBTQIA+ members from being married or serving in ordained ministry in United Methodist churches. As Bishop Peggy Johnson states, “This is an aspirational vote and we are still a long way from having a full resolution of this impasse.” Albright has enjoyed a long and happy collaboration with our region and with our bishops. We have found, again and again, including in this situation, their wisdom and character to be worthy of partnership. > More information.
Update on conversations at Albright College
In May, President Fetrow charged the MFC and chaplains to lead conversations on Albright’s affiliation with the UMC and to make a recommendation. Several events to address the impact of the UMC vote took place, led by chaplains and/or members of the MFC:
• Multiple student, faculty and staff dialogues
• Board of Trustees dialog (May 2019)
• Classroom dialogues, including those hosted by Jennifer Koosed, Samira Mehta and Mel Sensenig
• Report to the Faculty on May 8, 2019
Recent recommendation and future work of the Multifaith Council and chaplains
In mid-June, the MFC put forward the following initial recommendations:
• Albright College do all within its power to provide comfort to those afflicted.
• Albright College continue to affirm its current statements concerning diversity and inclusion.
• Albright College remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church, implementing an agenda named “Stay and Discern,” with an emphasis on rising above the day-to-day fracas of an emerging situation.
• Albright College “lean into” its Methodist affiliation, collectively considering the Report of the Review of Albright College as prepared by the University Senate of the United Methodist Church, April 16-18, 2018.
• Albright College engage in a year-long discernment process, guided by the MFC and the chaplains, resulting in the delivery of an updated set of recommendations to President Fetrow prior to the May 2020 meeting of the Board of Trustees.
The MFC and chaplains have recommended the following ongoing work for the year-long period of engaged discernment, including partnership with CITE-C, President’s Student Advisory Council, Student Government Association, Council on Health and Wellness and other campus constituencies:
• Ongoing student, faculty and staff dialogues; in the fall semester, these would be informal, “over lunch” events; in the spring semester, these would be continued or modified to maximize participation and impact.
• Two Experience Events (one in the November, one in March); the subject of the first would be Albright’s history as a UMC-affiliated institution and, more broadly, the nature of the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry; the second would address the current status of the Traditional Plan and highlight the work of organizations such as UMC Next (umcnext.com) and others; current plans include tapping members of the Board of Trustees and local and regional clergy leadership, with the hope of representing the many voices in the debate.
• Ongoing dialogues concerning general (UMC-Albright history, the meaning of affiliation) and specific (diversity and inclusion) issues facing the Albright community.
• Outreach through UMC youth groups, highlighting Albright’s welcome to them as fully participating students (which may serve as a model for admission-focused efforts to other religious institutions).
• Preparation of a revised set of recommendations to be presented at the April faculty meeting, May Board of Trustees meeting and other appropriate venues.
• In all of this, provide updates and seek guidance that may result in revising the tasks assigned to or activities sponsored by the Multifaith Council and the chaplains, and foster engagement with and by other campus groups.