Exploring the State of Allegheny College’s Methodist Affiliation
Allegheny College has been affiliated with the Methodist church in Western Pennsylvania since 1833, and the two institutions shared close ties for much of that history. Methodist clergy sat on the Board of Trustees, and many clergy earned degrees and/or continuing education credits at Allegheny. In recent years, the country has undergone significant social change, which included religious division around issues of sexuality. Over this time, the college moved in a more progressive direction than the surrounding region, leading many in the college and the Western Pennsylvania United Methodist conference to feel distant and even suspicious of one another.
In 2019, the United Methodist Church (UMC) passed legislation called The Traditional Plan that imposed strict mandatory penalties on openly gay clergy and on those who performed same-sex marriages. In response, Allegheny faculty and students petitioned the Board of Trustees to disaffiliate from the UMC, feeling that the church’s policies violate the college’s Statement of Community. The UMC General Conference in 2020 had planned to consider various resolutions of the tension within the church, but the global pandemic led to multiple postponements of this global meeting, now scheduled for 2024. Meanwhile, Allegheny trustees suspended the college’s affiliation with the church, not accepting any church funds until the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons is resolved.
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, and publishing the papers from the symposium in an edited volume. Modeled after a Symposium on Church-College Relations hosted by the college in 1991, the symposium will bring together a variety of perspectives from the Allegheny community and the Western PA Conference to provide critical reflection on the relationship between the two institutions at this moment in time.
The symposium is not a referendum on affiliation but seeks to present balanced perspectives from both communities reflecting on the historic relationship, factors leading to this transitional moment, and thoughts on what a future relationship might look like. Proposals may come from faculty, students, administrators, staff, and alumni of the college, and from clergy and laity of the conference, including people who are affiliated with both institutions. Grant funds will provide compensation to those selected to write papers and travel assistance to those outside the Meadville area.
The symposium opens Friday evening, March 17, with two keynote speakers, and continues on Saturday, March 18, with paper presentations, another keynote address, and responses by Allegheny College President Ron Cole and Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Conference. A detailed schedule and registration information will be posted in January.