Erskine College and Seminary President Dr. David Norman focused on the importance of building community in an address entitled “Human Flourishing” delivered to students, professors, staff members and guests at the school’s Formal Opening Convocation Thursday, Sept. 6, in the Due West Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Noting that “what we often call ‘breaking the ice’ in human relationships is almost always worth it,” the president told a story about how a “freak accident”—colliding with a bird while cycling to class during his college days—became an occasion for building community at a large university.
As he entered the university classroom after his encounter with the bird, Norman said, he found the students “all tensely staring at tables notebooks, shoes—anything they could find to avoid eye contact until the professor arrived,” with no sense of community evident.
“Rather than join them in their socially induced misery,” he said, “I waltzed in and proudly announced, ‘Hey guys, I just got hit in the face by a parking lot bird.’”
Laughter broke out, and that broke the ice. More laughter followed when a student pointed out the large splatter on Norman’s shoulder, a gift from the bird. The students enjoyed each other’s company for the rest of the semester.
The president went on to clarify the theme of his address, “Human Flourishing,” in light of 2 Chronicles 7:14, a verse pointed out to him by Shawn Glover, a recent Erskine graduate now serving as an admissions counselor: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”
“Authentic human flourishing cannot take place apart from our acknowledgement of sin and, as we are reminded in the passage of scripture Shawn brought
to my attention, individual and corporate repentance,” Norman said.
“So how do I call a diverse community like Erskine to repentance and prayer so that we can flourish together?” he asked.
Norman said he has been reading A History of Erskine College by Professor Emeritus of History Dr. Lowry Ware. “In reading our history, one thing that is exceedingly obvious is that—and this will be a tremendous understatement—Erskine has very strong historical ties to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.”
So, as a context for his stress on community building this year, Norman invited students, faculty and staff to consider Erskine’s history.
“Even as we seek to build God-honoring community here at Erskine, we must take into account the fact that we are all stepping into a larger community that has existed here at Erskine for generations,” he said.
The president then announced his debate proposition for this year, prefacing it with the following caveat: “The proposition I am about to offer is designed to be controversial. I do not intend to implement any institutional policy associated with it, nor will I entertain any suggestions to do so. The scholarly debate that I hope to incite should be kept purely on the topic of how individual consciences might be informed. Individual consciences should not be bound relative to this proposition by any external authority other than God.” The president’s debate proposition follows.
Whereas the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has contributed valiantly to the present Christian academic community that is Erskine College and Theological Seminary, not only in its founding but also in its generous financial support and near constant attention and prayer these 175 years;
And whereas the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has experienced considerable decline in both its number and its influence these past several decades;
And whereas humility, prayer, and new ways of life will be required for our historic and distinctively Christian academic community to flourish;
And whereas Associate Reformed Presbyterian Churches are committed to warmly welcome any new visitor, regardless of ethnic, cultural, family, or religious background;
Erskine students, faculty, and administrators should be encouraged to initiate new, grace-filled, and informed relationships with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church by frequently attending ARP churches.
The president’s proposition will be debated by members of Erskine’s literary societies later this year.
The Rev. Paul Patrick, chaplain of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, gave the invocation and benediction, and also offered a prayer for the 175th year of the seminary and the 173rd year of the college. Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. N. Bradley Christie introduced the president.
The Erskine Choraleers, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Mark A. Nabholz, presented a choral anthem, and Associate Professor of Music Dr. J. Brooks Kuykendall served as organist.