Education for Character

Light & Life Magazine, originally titled The Free Methodist, has reported on Free Methodist educational institutions since the late 1800s. (Photo courtesy of Marston Memorial Historical Society)

by Ruth Parry

Since the beginning of the denomination, Free Methodist leaders have acknowledged the vital importance of education to their mission to promote Christ in the world. Many of the Free Methodist sister schools began as training centers for missionary work or as “seminaries” (Christian schools) for children and adults to receive basic education and Bible training.

B.T. Roberts founded Chili Seminary in New York in 1866 to provide “education for character.” In 1873, Spring Arbor Seminary opened in Michigan. The influence of Wesleyan education spread westward with the foundation of Orleans Seminary in Nebraska in 1884, Seattle Seminary in 1891 and the Training School for Christian Workers in California in 1899. Baptists founded Almira College in 1855, but Free Methodists purchased the Illinois campus in 1892.

The seminaries grew to offer two-year, four-year and graduate programs. Roberts Wesleyan College, Spring Arbor University, Central Christian College of Kansas, Seattle Pacific University, Azusa Pacific University and Greenville College are the present-day offspring of these original seminaries. Despite the diversity in location and the separate timelines of their academic achievements, the colleges and universities associated with the Free Methodist tradition have maintained their commitment to impacting the world through education.

An 1892 article in The Free Methodist foreshadowed the philosophies of these institutions: “Intelligent piety is always the most influential, reliable and permanent. … The mind should not be developed at the sacrifice of moral power.”

Seeing the influence of secular culture through education, Free Methodist institutions’ founders sought to offer venues for education backed by the “moral power” that only faith in Christ could render.

To this day, the missions and values of Free Methodist colleges and universities emphasize character, service, scholarship and — as stated in Spring Arbor University’s “Core Values” — “effective, redemptive participation in society and culture.”

Ruth Parry is the writing program coordinator and an English graduate assistant at Central Christian College of Kansas.

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