Having shut its doors for lack of resources in 1831, Allegheny College entered a patronage agreement with the Pittsburgh Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1833. The church provided the young college with funding, a broader base of leadership, and regional connections that enabled it to reopen and begin to thrive. Over time, church control diminished, but the two institutions maintained close ties for much of its 190-year history. Methodist clergy served as Allegheny presidents until 1942 and held seats on the Board of Trustees. Many clergy earned degrees and/or continuing education credits at Allegheny, forming a community with connections to both the church and the college.
Today, however, Allegheny College has only loose ties to the current Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church and has experienced increased tension with conservative church policies. In 2019 Allegheny faculty and students petitioned the college Board of Trustees to end formal affiliation. While prompted by the church’s passage of the Traditional Plan that strengthened prohibitions against “the practice of homosexuality,” many also feel that affiliation with a single religious organization is incompatible with the college’s Statement of Community.
With a grant for “Reframing the Institutional Saga,” provided by the Council of Independent Colleges and the Lilly Endowment Inc., the college will explore the current state of its Methodist affiliation by hosting a symposium on March 17-18, 2023, then publishing the symposium papers in an edited volume. Modeled after a Symposium on Church-College Relations hosted by the college in 1991, the symposium brings together a variety of perspectives from the Allegheny community and the Western Pennsylvania Conference to provide critical reflection on the relationship between the two institutions at this moment in time.
The symposium opens Friday evening, March 17, and runs through Saturday evening, March 18. Three keynote speakers will reflect on the general state of church-college relations, while papers written by scholars from Allegheny and the Western Pennsylvania Conference will address aspects of the specific relationship between the two institutions. The symposium closes with a dessert reception and remarks by Allegheny College President Ron Cole and Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Conference.