Whitworth re-examines its place in the Presbyterian Church (USA)

by Rebekah Bresee

Changes are being made to how Whitworth will be affiliated with the Presbyterian church.

Whitworth University has been a Presbyterian school for 122 years and has been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) since the PC (USA) was formed in 1983.

The PC (USA) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination. Over the past couple of years, some Presbyterian congregations affiliated with the PC (USA) have been leaving the denomination due to disagreements and conflicts with its reformed traditions.

The Alaskan Northwest synod, a Presbyterian governmental structure that connects Whitworth to the PC (USA), is in “reduced function.” This means the synod is dissolving and will no longer exist by the summer of 2013.

“We want it to be clear that our covenant partnership is changing because the function and structure of the synod with which we have our partnership is radically going away,” said Terry McGonigal, the dean of spiritual life.

The Presbyterian governmental structure is made up of four levels.

Each Presbyterian church is a congregation. A presbytery is a formation of many congregations in an area. Presbyteries are organized within a geographical region to form a synod. The synods report to the General Assembly, the highest governing body of the PC (USA).

A task force has been formed to decide what path the university should take. Their main concern is in addressing the interests of the students as well as the faculty and staff.

“The task force wants to hear from students,” said Mindy Smith, a campus pastor and a member of the task force.

They are looking at alternative connections within the PC (USA) as well as other organizations with which Whitworth may affiliate with, such as the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Right now, the task force is in the process of gathering information from other organizations, as well as from Whitworth students.

Molly Hough is the student representative on the task force.

“My job is to be the student voice. If students have comments or questions about what’s going on, I am the go-to person,” Hough said.

McGonigal, Hough and Smith held a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13 for students affiliated with Presbyterian churches.

In the meeting, the task force members explained how Whitworth students will be affected by what is occurring within the denomination and provided a time for students to ask questions and give feedback.

“Terminology is really difficult. One challenge we’re faced with is how to get students to care and understand what is being said,” Hough said.

Students at the meeting voiced concern over the future of financial aid and scholarships that are linked to the PC (USA) and PC (USA) affiliated churches.

How Whitworth allocates financial aid is not going to change. Yet nothing can be guaranteed as far as outside scholarships.

“We do not have total control over that situation because some Presbyterian scholarships and financial aid flow into students’ accounts from outside sources,” McGonigal said.

Smith said she would suggest that students communicate with their churches about the changes that may be coming.

“If you have a church that’s providing financial support, you should inform them of the changes going on at Whitworth. Students have a responsibility to that relationship with their home church,” Smith said.

A survey was sent out to the faculty and staff about what their views and concerns about the direction Whitworth should take. The task force received 400 responses. Most of the responses indicated that employees were mostly concerned with Whitworth remaining clear and firmly committed to its Christian mission.

“Even with a diverse faculty and staff there was unity. They want Whitworth to stay focused on its mission,” Smith said.

The faculty expressed that the mission of Whitworth should remain faithful to the gospel, engage in tough issues that are occurring in society and be involved in what is going on across the globe.

“The university is trying to be consistent with its Christian Presbyterian heritage and also relate to changing realities to provide students with a welcoming atmosphere,” McGonigal said.

Once the task force has finished its information-gathering stage it will bring the information to the Board of Trustees.

“The role of the task force is to present information to the Board of the Trustees. The Board will make the final decision,” Hough said.

At a board meeting in January, a sense of trajectory will be established and worked on throughout the spring. By April a final decision will most likely be made.

“We hope Whitworth will stay the same while the church changes,” Smith said.

The task force will work through the spring and summer to inform students what changes are being made and why. The goal of the task force is to find a trajectory that puts Whitworth in the best position for the future.

“We are looking to deepen the university’s relationship with the church and provide more opportunities for students to have experiences in the church,” McGonigal said.

Contact Rebekah Bresee at rbresee16@my.whitworth.edu.

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