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Forum examines faith, ecumenical work and justice

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A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

Student Forum 2006 delegates plant more than 200 trees for the Adrian (Mich.) Parks and Recreation.
June 1, 2006

By Vicki Brown*

ADRIAN, Mich. (UMNS) — Adrian College’s ties to the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement, along with issues such as prejudice on campus, homosexuality and the United Methodist Church, and interfaith work, were among the subjects addressed in workshops at Student Forum 2006.

The Rev. Chris Momany, college chaplain, led a workshop about Adrian College’s ties to the Underground Railroad and rights for women. The school’s first president was abolitionist Asa Mahan. Mahan, as a trustee at Lane Theological Seminary near Cincinnati, supported students who left Lane to take up antislavery work. Later, as president of Oberlin College, he was the driving force behind Oberlin’s early support of human rights, Momany said.

Mahan brought many abolitionists to Adrian, including the Rev. Luther Lee, who was pastor of the church in Seneca Falls, N.Y., where the first women’s rights convention was held.

Kimberly Davis, founder and director of the Underground Railroad Education Program at Adrian, told the students that the town was a center for the Underground Railroad in Michigan, helping to smuggle many fleeing slaves to Canada and freedom.

Faith issues

Some workshops dealt with faith issues, such as “Fish, Fishers, and Fishnets — Being Caught by Faith,” and “Spiritual Practices and College Life,” while others dealt with modern social justice issues, such as “Interfaith Dynamics on Campus and in the World.”

“If we love God and we love our neighbor, we are called into interfaith work,” said the Rev. Jeanne Smith, director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Cincinnati. “Any interfaith dialogue has to start with understanding and respect, not, ?I’ve got the truth, and let me share it with you.’”

Christ moved through the world talking and eating with the people, she said, adding that food is still a great focus for gathering and communicating. She noted that Christ went to people rather than sitting and waiting for them to come to him.

But she warned students that those of other faiths will have some misconceptions about Christianity. She recalled being asked why she was a cannibal.

“When they hear about eating the body and blood of Christ, think about how that sounds. Think about what it would take to walk into a house where people eat the body and blood of someone,” she said.

Crystal Blade, a student at Eastern Washington University, attended a workshop about student-led fund raising that she said “demystified” fund raising for her.


Tommy Seawright, a Texas Tech student, said he was impressed with the civility of the workshop on homosexuality, attended by about 20 people. Although most of those attending the workshop supported ordination of gay ministers and he does not, Seawright said he felt his opinions were heard and no one belittled what he said.

He said the leader of the workshop, Chad Johns, presented information about the United Methodist Church and homosexuality in a “matter-of-fact, neutral manner.”

Students liked workshops with a lot of discussion, such as “Ism My Ism ? Prejudice at Your College and in the World” and “Women of Faith and Power.”


Alissa Cox, Eastern Washington University, said about 15 people attended the prejudice workshop. She said David Moreno, director of the United Methodist Campus Ministry at the University of Texas-Pan American, challenged the students and got them to think about and discuss discrimination.

After discussing justice issues, students put their muscle into it by helping the city of Adrian on May 27. About 200 scattered to sites around the city to perform service work.

One group planted about 200 trees for the Adrian Parks and Recreations, while others picked up trash along Highway 52, and still another group painted at a local charity. Others helped with yard work at a retirement center or worked at a domestic violence shelter.

“Any time there is a retreat like this, you should make time to serve the community,” said Anna Barrett, who was painting at Associated Charities.

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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