JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 2, 2005 – A spirit of community and belonging that permeates the campus will enhance the university experience and help to meet one of the greatest needs in people’s lives, Union University President David S. Dockery said Sept. 2.
“People today – and many here at Union – are searching for a sense of purpose, significance, security and belonging,” Dockery said. “I happen to think the Christian message addresses all of these matters, but today belonging may be the most important for people in our culture.”
Dockery addressed the university community during the annual fall convocation and encouraged faculty, staff and students alike to do their part in “building authentic community, of creating a shared sense of belonging at Union University.”
In addition to Dockery’s address, the university officially installed Tim Smith as dean of the School of Nursing. Smith joined the Union faculty in January. The entire university also joined in a special time of prayer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Because of the influences of secularism, pluralism and relativism, today’s culture is grasping for a sense of purpose and identity, Dockery said. Academic institutions especially are prone to fall into the trap of individualism, as the concept of the “lone ranger” teacher and learner has developed in higher education over the past 200 years. An increasing trend of specialization in academic pursuits is partially responsible for the spirit of isolation.
This tendency to privatize life leads to a compartmentalization of “many worlds” or “pockets of experience,” Dockery suggested.
“Life commitments tend to become not matters shared publicly in and among community, but merely matters of personal preference or opinion,” Dockery said. “We are left only with autonomous individualism, where the individual alone is autonomous in terms of destiny and accountability. In the end we answer to no one but ourselves. Our interests, our choices, are ours alone.”
In a Christ-centered, Spirit-enabled community that Dockery envisions for the Union campus, the academic disciplines are interconnected, “because all knowledge, all truth, ultimately has its source in God,” he said. And the purpose of such a vibrant, authentic community is to bring glory to Jesus Christ.
“This means more than merely employing Christians to serve in our institution, as important as that is,” Dockery said. “It is more than having practicing Christians who bring a sense of genuine piety to their task. It means learning together to think and live in accordance with the Christian intellectual tradition and the ideals of the New Testament itself.”
From Romans 12:3-21, Dockery pointed to 12 building blocks that are necessary to build a “community of tradition, belonging and renewed minds at Union University.”
Such building blocks include:
“Snobbery and arrogance can destroy authentic community as quickly as anything,” Dockery said. “When we recognize that all we are, all that we have, all that has been accomplished at Union University is a gift from God’s divine favor, it will help promote true humility among all of us.”
-- Christ-like love. This is a love that is sincere and without hypocrisy. It reaches out to others despite their failures.
-- Opposing evil. While openness and acceptance are desirable, boundaries and discernment are also necessary.
-- Devotion to one another and honoring one another.
“The kind of community we envision is zealous for what is true and fervent in desiring good for one another,” Dockery said. “This kind of zeal, this kind of enthusiasm recognizes that love of others is in fact a way of serving the Lord.”
-- Patience, faithfulness and generosity.
As the university embarks on its “Union 2010” long-range plan, some projects may be delayed unexpectedly, Dockery said. The Union community needs “a shared hope for our future that frames the way we live, which will enable us to persevere when tough times come.”
In addition, in order to achieve the goals of “Union 2010,” members of the Union community need to be generous with their finances, Dockery said.
Dockery encouraged students, faculty and staff to help everyone feel welcome, regardless of their similarities or differences.
-- Blessing other and living at peace with all.
This includes refraining from gossip, speaking well of others and overcoming evil with good.
Success in establishing a stronger community spirit will deepen the university’s corporate identity, enable student life efforts, attract quality students and faculty members, enhance student retention and strengthen the overall academic program, Dockery said.
“I am convinced that if we can improve our shared sense of belonging, including the tradition and trust that shapes community, every aspect of our mission could be advanced in a dramatic way,” he said.