Notes from the Higher Education Bureaucracy by David C. Rich

Notes from the Higher Education Bureaucracy

by David C. Rich

It all began with a 3 by 5 card tacked to the Job Placement Bulletin Board at the Boston University School of Theology:

“Position as Protestant Chaplain, Maine Christian Association, University of Maine, Orono. ME. (for one year while the present Chaplain is on a one-year study leave.)”

I was an American Baptist student finishing my senior year at Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts. I thought that it sounded intriguing and, at the least, would provide me with an opportunity to practice my interviewing skills. So I sent a resume. I received a phone call from the Chair of the Maine Christian Association (MCA) Board, inviting me to come to Orono for an interview, which included leading worship and preaching in the Little Theatre on campus, meeting the Board and meeting with students.  And then, four days after Ginny, my wife, and I visited the campus, I received another phone call telling that they wanted me to come for one year. (It eventually was extended to two years when the study leave of the Chaplain was extended for a second year.)

I never dreamed that applying for that position in 1961 would lead to 24 years of ministry in higher education at the local, regional and national levels of the Church.

  • Protestant Campus Minister, University of Maine. In the second year we developed an off-campus Coffee House. (1961-1963)
  • Eastern Regional Director for Campus Christian Life, American Baptist Board of Educational Ministries. (1966-1967). In 1968, American Baptists joined UMHE and I became a part of national UMHE staff along with my American Baptist colleagues, Haydn Ambrose, Dale Turner, Bill Shinto, and Dick Tappan.
  • Northeastern Regional Secretary, United Ministries in Higher Education, Valley Forge, PA. (1968 – 1975)
  • My first trip was to fly to Boulder, CO to meet with Wally Toevs, President of NCMA from 1967- 69 and to begin the discussion of ways to strengthen the relationship.   And then over several months I visited each of the 6 NCMA Regional representatives. We developed a plan that I like to think helped create increased communication and working relationships between NCMA and UMHE over the next few years.
  • In l969 conversations were held between NCMA and UMHE national leadership about strengthening the working relationships between UMHE and NCMA. Out of these conversations came the recommendation that, as a part of my responsibilities with the UMHE National Staff, one quarter of my time I would serve as the Executive Secretary of NCMA. The UMHE office in Valley Forge, with Audrey Lightbody, would coordinate membership and communication services for NCMA.  Someone described my position as a “go-between” and a link between ” labor and management.”  Perhaps.  I also saw it as a way to increase communication and understanding between the two organizations with a common commitment to ministry in higher education.
  • Executive Director for the PA Commission for United Ministries in Higher Education (1975 – 1990) It was a time of supporting on-going ecumenical ministries as well as developing additional models of ministries including ministries with African-American students on state university campuses in more rural PA communities, regional ministries with community colleges with J Springer as well as several models using persons to coordinate the ministry of congregations with state universities in their communities.

In 1990, I stepped down from my involvement with Pennsylvania UMHE Commission in higher education, changed my ordination affiliation from the American Baptist to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and concluded my last years of ministry serving as an interim Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Carlisle (1990 -1991) and as the Director of the Retirement Planning program of the Board of Pensions of the PCUSA (1991 – 1999). I retired in 2000.

Some Reflections

I still carry a strong commitment to Ecumenism – always exploring what we can do together, and to Vocational discernment as lifelong process.

Last Spring (2014), I was in Maine and I talked with Tom Chittick who was a student in the student group at the Maine Christian Association in 1961. Tom said to me: “You know, because of you, I went to seminary and became a Lutheran campus minister and I spent 30 years at three different campuses, and the last one was the Maine Christian Association at the University of Maine!”

A full circle! It has been a good ride. Thanks be to God.

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