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Faith and knowledge

Davis & Elkins College is a private, liberal arts, residential, church-affiliated institution. For this week’s “Reflecting Along the Journey” column I want to focus on the question, “What does being a church-affiliated college mean in 2021?” The following words are penned by my guest columnist this week, Rev. Laura Brekke Wagoner, the Benfield-Vick Chaplain at Davis & Elkins College:

“In a virtual gathering of Presbyterian chaplains, we began talking about what it means to be working at Church-affiliated schools. There’s a difference of experience to my wonderful colleagues serving at public institutions — a gap that comes from an institution’s explicit commitment to a faith tradition. As we discussed the joys and challenges of chaplaincy, we circled constantly around one question: what does it mean to be Presbyterian-affiliated in the 21st Century?

“In the Presbyterian Church (USA) we have a foundational belief in ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, meaning the church reformed, always reforming. This is an essential belief of the reformation, and as Presbyterians we affirm that this reformation is done according to the Word of God and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“When we think about what it means to be a PC(USA) affiliated college in a world where increasingly more colleges are distancing or severing their historical church ties, I think it’s important to look back at this foundation of Presbyterian belief. We are a people in constant reformation. We seek wisdom and reform our ideas, our research, our actions. We affirm that God is the author of all wisdom (Proverbs 2:6), and we are reformed through our search for that wisdom.

“Maintaining our Presbyterian affiliation in the 21st Century means a commitment to the whole person — to a holistic reformation for our students and ourselves. We care for our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing as an act of reformation — reforming ourselves to be the best we can be to engage in the work of the world.

“When we work to dismantle racism, we engage in reformation. When empower women to lead, we engage in reformation. When we use scientific inquiry to expand the edges of human knowledge, we engage in reformation. This reformation of the self and of our society is led by the Holy Spirit — we are led to build a more equitable and just world by God’s power and witness. Isn’t that the heart of higher education?

“When I’m asked why I believe in the power of colleges maintaining their church-affiliation, it’s this power and witness that motivates me. We are a people always reforming. We are a people who seek wisdom and put it into action. We are an institution with the privilege and responsibility to form future generations of leaders, and I believe that through wisdom from God, the grace of Christ, and with the power of the Spirit, we can light a fire of reformation in our students that will transform society to be more like the Beloved Community. That is the holy work that infuses all that I do as a college chaplain and is in the DNA of Davis & Elkins College and its historic and on-going relationship with the PC(USA).”

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