Note: The following welcome address made by Dr. Darby Ray of the Religious Studies Department, to a group of United Methodist youth on campus, expresses the College's emphasis on Wesleyan values.
Good morning. On behalf of the President, faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Millsaps College, I bring you warm and enthusiastic greetings. We are so thrilled to have you on our campus on this drop-dead beautiful day, and we wish you a fruitful and spirit-filled time here.
I've learned over the years that some people don't know that Millsaps College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. But here at the College, we certainly know it, and we are proud of it.
Now, as you probably know, you don't have to be Methodist to work here or go to school here. We welcome people of all faiths and no faith into our community. That openness is one of the things which, in my opinion, makes this such a wonderful place to be. Millsaps College doesn't want to hide from the world, be angry with the world, or assume we're better than the world. Rather, we want to engage the world around us in a spirit of adventure, respect, and service. We want to open ourselves to the wonder and wisdom of the universe through the ages. And so in our classrooms and study abroad programs we venture forth boldly, seeking ever greater understanding and appreciation of the wondrous complexity and never-ending variety of God's wondrous creation. In fact, the reason I am here today instead of our President, Frances Lucas, is because she is returning from a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, where Millsaps has a second campus aimed at extending our students' learning of those who are different from them in experience, economic status, and religious tradition.
But just because we extend a hand of welcome to non-Methodists and venture forth into unfamiliar worlds of art, literature, philosophy, and religion doesn't mean we reject our Wesleyan roots. Quite the opposite. Several years ago our Millsaps faculty participated in a year-long seminar to learn about the United Methodist Church and to reflect on how we could be in faithful relationship to it. Participants in the workshop were Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim. We even had one atheist in the mix just for fun. Together, we read the hymns, sermons, and essays of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. And despite our diversity of backgrounds, every single one of us came away with a deep, deep appreciation for the Church to which Millsaps College is committed.
Three things from that seminar linger in my mind even after several years. These are three commitments of Wesleyan theology that I believe define the current character and commitments of Millsaps College and make it possible for us as a College to embrace with sincerity and passion our relationship to the Church.
First and foremost for us as an institution of higher learning is the commitment to intellectual growth and academic freedom. John Wesley was resolute and explicit in his recognition of the importance of the life of the mind. Never did he suggest that we ought to shut our minds down or turn off our questions in order to be people of faith. On the contrary, he saw the intellect as a fabulous gift from God and a crucial means for knowing and drawing close to the Divine. At Millsaps College, our main mission in life is to equip our students to develop the life of the mind-to become careful, well-informed, imaginative, and responsible thinkers. And our academic program achieves this mission superbly!
A second Wesleyan commitment that we value highly at Millsaps is the commitment to connecting the life of the mind with the habits of the heart. All the smarts in the world don't matter a stitch if they aren't guided by a merciful and contrite heart. The brain may be able to develop nano- technologies, a worldwide network of financial markets, and a slew of sophisticated medicines, but without guidance from a heart enlivened by grace and on fire for justice, a heart cultivated by experiences of vital piety, then the life of the mind is aimless and often destructive. At Millsaps College we work hard to connect the life of the mind with life-giving habits of the heart.
Finally, we at Millsaps embrace the Wesleyan commitment to serve the least, the lost, and the last. We guide our students not toward some kind of neutral mastery of ideas or facts but toward lives of long-term meaning and service. The life of the mind, if cultivated in tandem with life-giving habits of the heart, will issue in concrete practices of compassion and justice-seeking, and at Millsaps we are wholeheartedly committed to this kind of cultivation.
With these three commitments -- commitments to nurturing academic excellence, life-giving habits of the heart, and lives of long-term meaning and service to others -- we at Millsaps join hands with the United Methodist Church and look forward to many, many more years of friendship.
Welcome to our community. Have a wonderful time.