U-C: What I See

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Visit to Whitworth College

Whitworth College, in Spokane, is one of more than sixty colleges and universities that identify themselves as “Presbyterian Related.” Those colleges represent a wide variety of definitions of “Presbyterian relatedness.” Some were founded as Presbyterian institutions, but have long ago given up any real attachment to that part of their identity. A few are highly Presbyterian in their identity, with required chapel attendance, strict codes of conduct for their students and a required Christian belief and practice for their faculty. Most are somewhere along the spectrum that exists between those two extremes. I’ve now visited close to thirty of them, and I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen.

Whitworth is one of a handful that I’ve visited where there is a clear commitment to affirming their identity as a Presbyterian and Christian institution of higher education. I visited with faculty and administrators on a cold Saturday night in early November, and then had the opportunity to meet with some of their students over breakfast at eight a.m. the next morning. (That’s right, more than a dozen students were willing to get up at 7:30 on a Sunday morning to meet with the “moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it?)

Here’s what impresses me. Without asking all of our Presbyterian-related colleges to be the same, I do believe that there is an important place for those schools that nurture an atmosphere that will overtly support students as they wrestle with questions of faith and who God calls them to be in the world. At Whitworth, this is not about telling the students what they must believe. However, the students are encouraged to connect the exploration of what they believe about God with the material that they are studying. Further, the students are affirmed when they go out into the community and the broader world to experiment with ways to live out their commitments as people of faith.

If the students I met were any indication, this kind of education is nurturing a body of students who will change the world. In fact, I saw it just a few hours later on that Sunday morning, when I visited Westminster House, a program founded more than fifteen years ago by Whitworth graduates who made a commitment to live their beliefs by volunteering to live in community together in a rough neighborhood on the edge of Spokane. (Check out Evan Silverstein’s story about this program with the Presbyterian News Service at http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/2005/05692.htm.)

I’ve written before that I believe one of the primary places to cultivate the renewal of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is with our Presbyterian Colleges and Universities. My visit to Whitworth did a lot to confirm that belief. Check out these links:

Whitworth College www.whitworth.edu

The Presbyterian Association of Colleges and Universities: www.apcu.net


and our denominations work with Presbyterian Collegiate Ministries at: http://www.pcusa.org/collegiate/index.htm.

It is absolutely possible to get a rigorous academic education in an atmosphere that encourages the exploration of one's faith. If that's what you're looking for, this is one of a number of Presbyterian Schools you should check out.