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This article is an opinion piece about the purpose and goals of the Community Engagement Council. The Council has been created to consider thoughtful engagement with Andrews University’s surrounding communities.
Remember this: come the start of the 2017-2018 school year, Andrews University will formally launch a new phase of its relationship with our local community. This will mark an important turning point in our 116-year “residence and presence” in Berrien Springs and Berrien County.
But, why? Why should we engage? Why should we want to change the way we relate to our local community?
We engage because this is who we are. This is who we should be. We ought to be the living springs of Berrien County. Our university is named after John Nevins Andrews, whose statue sits as a prominent reminder that we are missionary, that “we go forth.” That’s who we are. That’s what we do. Whatever our vocation, whatever our academic bent, we are missionary. That means, we serve. Humbly and generously. We aim to “Change the World.” This is our audacious mission.
But, for too long we have overlooked our friends right here at home in Berrien County. Too many of our neighbors see us as isolated and aloof from their lives, their problems and their possibilities. In our quest to become international, we lost our local bearings and grounding. We must return home not just for the sake of our community, but for our own authenticity. With the same focus and zeal that we have expended over the years for places and peoples far and wide, we must now show that indeed true love begins right here, right now, at home. Community engagement turns our faith from potential to kinetic, from the spiritual to the material. It situates our faith in real places and real people.
This is not to say we have not done anything locally. That would not be true at all. A lot has been done and is going full steam ahead with individuals, groups and institutions within our local community. But we can go deeper, we can serve better with stronger relationships and greater impact at home in our local residence.
To ensure focus, intentionality and accountability our new administration, headed by President Andrea Luxton and Provost Christon Arthur, initiated the formation of the Community Engagement Council at the start of this current school year. This Council has as its watchwords: connect, engage and empower. It is comprised of Andrews students, staff and faculty, as well as a broad representation of community members. There are currently nine active subcommittees each led by a university co-chair and a community co-chair. These subcommittees include Civic and Government; Diversity, Equity and Culture; Education; Entrepreneurship; Health and Wellness; and Interfaith and Service Day. So, it is our intention to connect, engage and empower with all sectors of life in our local community in sustainable and measurable ways.
We aim to be good and responsible neighbors, not just offer declarations from Sabbath pulpits or in university strategic plans, or by mechanical recitation of our university motto, or by rote memorization of “True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.” For, in the end, those are just words. We must make these words, our words, living breathing flesh. Come September 2017, we are all about to get real and go local. We must all serve with the urgency of our next breath.
Associate Professor of Chemistry Desmond H. Murray is Co-Chair of the Community Engagement Council and serves along with Community Co-Chair Audrey Lester, a longtime St. Joseph resident and community activist.