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First Thoughts: It takes a village and more

 

The Rev. Larry Hollon
The Rev. Larry Hollon

Higher education was not part of my family's experience. It was, for me, a vague possibility. As no one in my extended family had attended college, it was unfamiliar territory.

I showed promise in writing and debating, but the skills known to my family were for manual labor.

When I experienced a call to ministry, a call that was as equally beyond my imagination as attending college, I was at a loss about what that call entailed. Of course, it was obvious that it meant working as a local church pastor, but who knew you needed an education for that.

Even before this, I had been encouraged by schoolteachers and other adults in the community to consider higher education. By the time I was a senior in high school, the idea began to solidify. It does not escape me that today some parents start thinking of college plans for their children from the time they start kindergarten. But in those days, the pressure was not so intense nor the competition so fierce.

Individual laypersons and my pastor made a life-changing difference. They counseled me about how to collect the information about colleges, understand the tuition fees and apply for scholarships and loans.

They pointed me to a church-related college and helped me to review scholarship information and to prepare an application.

Encouragement came in other ways.

I recall that sometime during this journey I got a call from Mrs. Agnes Booker, a member of our local congregation who lived across the street from First United Methodist Church in Stroud, Okla. She asked me to stop by her house. Mrs. Booker was a widow. She was not a person of notable wealth. She explained to me that she got a monthly pension remittance for her deceased husband's work as a volunteer fire fighter in our small town. She wanted to give me this stipend for one month. She handed me 30 dollars and change.

It was the most meaningful encouragement I'd received at that point. To this day, it brings forth gratitude.

I also learned of a church-operated student loan fund. The United Methodist Student Loan Fund provided loans at a very low interest rate. It was unlike any other student aid at that time.

With a mix of crazy part-time jobs, the United Methodist Student Loan and scholarships, I was able to complete college and seminary. We paid off that student loan over several years, never begrudging the obligation.

In my case, it took a village, and more, to raise and educate a child. It took the commitment of people whom I will never know who founded and supported church-related colleges and seminaries; individuals who encouraged, guided and believed in me; and educators who nurtured new thinking and imparted knowledge.

It took a caring community and institutions, and it still does.

Our United Methodist system of higher education continues to offer hope and impart knowledge. It continues to make the dream of higher education real for young people, some of whom are among the first of their families to achieve the goal of higher education.

In this issue, we chronicle the commitment of United Methodists to education. I hope you read it and experience the same gratitude that I feel, and that you continue our church's tradition of commitment to education for all children—especially those for whom the dream seems impossible, but who, with encouragement and assistance, may achieve more than they could ever dream.

The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA+CULTURE blog at www.larryhollon.com.