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: What Does It Mean to Be an Engaged Institutional Neighbor?: A Self-Study of an Undergraduate Program in Ministry and Community Engagement

Cassie J. E. H. Trent az

There is a classic question among church revitalization circles: If you disappeared from your community, would your neighbors notice? What would be lost if you were no longer there? Recently, I heard this question and my mind turned to an image from forestry. In his book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohllcbcn (2015) told the story of taking a walk and stumbling upon the stump of an ancient tree that had fallen hundreds of years earlier and yet the root system of the neighboring trees continued to pump sugars and water into the stump, helping it to live. Wohllcbcn reflected that sometimes forest communities take this action for those whom they recognize as having been crucial for their community—anchors, seed-bearers, life-givers.

As an educator, recalling this image prompted a scries of questions for me: Do universities serve this role for their communities? Arc they such significant members that the rest of the community knows they have been fed by them, knows they arc and have been cared for by them, and so, when forces come to threaten their lives, the rest of the community says “not on our watch”? What kind of institution might a community recognize in this way? In an era when higher education is experiencing particular challenges and risks, when a number of institutions are eliminating programs or closing their doors, is this question one we need to ask? A lot is at stake for our colleges and universities as well as our neighborhoods.

This chapter was written in consultation and partnership with Jess Bielman, Associate Director of Innovation, Greater Northwest Area United Methodist Church.

Accordingly, in this chapter I utilize place-based community engagement principles, combined with self-study research methods, to trace the development of the Ministry and Community Engagement Program at

Warner Pacific University (WP). I begin by locating and placing WP both theologically and gcoculturally. Next, I sketch place-based community engagement at the university and trace the evolution of one particular undergraduate program through four rounds of discoveries and adjustments. Lastly, I outline our key learnings and their potential implications for Christian higher education with a concluding gesture at an answer to that question—what does it mean to be an engaged institutional neighbor?

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