Submitted by
Bernard “Chris” Dorsey, President
January 2, 2019

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Higher Education and Leadership Ministries works with wider church and higher education partners to develop and nurture Christian leaders who are transforming church, society and world.

Higher Education and Leadership Ministries continues to promote Disciples higher education institutions and provide cutting edge leadership development programming throughout the church. This is accomplished most effectively by working closely with Disciples colleges, universities, theological institutions, congregations, regions, and general ministries of the church.

Colleges and Universities

HELM has continued to work closely with the leadership of Disciples Colleges and Universities to strengthen the relationship between Disciples schools and the church. Here are a few highlights:

  • Over the past two years, nearly all of the Disciples colleges and universities have experienced dramatic increases in undergraduate applications. Several schools have also seen significant increases in enrollment.
  • HELM has held info sessions at churches, regional assemblies, and racial ethnic constituency gatherings, to share information with high school students and with their parents.
  • HELM staff has promoted other Disciples ministry programs for young adults by working with Disciples chaplains and campus ministers. This has led to Disciples college students participating in the NBA XPLOR program, DOM Global Mission Intern Program, and DHM Disciples Peace Fellows.
  • During 2018, HELM worked closely with Tougaloo College to bring the school into full covenantal affiliation with the church. The final step in the process will be a vote by the Administrative Committee at the February 2019 meeting.

Theological Education

  • HELM hosted the Council of Theological education in April and featured presentations on student enrollment data across ATS north American schools and Disciples schools in particular. The leaders of the schools committed to engaging in intentional conversations around increasing enrollment of Disciples students at Disciples theological education institutions.
  • A number of our Disciples theological institutions is experiencing a transition of leadership. Gary Peluso Verdend stepped down from his role as president of Phillips Theological Seminary to return to teaching and to lead up other initiatives at the seminary, Matt Bolton ended his tenure as president of Christian Theological Seminary, and Mark Miller McLemore retired from his position as Dean of the Disciples Divinity House of Vanderbilt Divinity School.
  • Lexington Theological Seminary received a $1,000,000 thriving in ministry grant from the Lilly Fund and will continue the cutting edge work they are doing in helping build mentoring relationships between experienced clergy and emerging clergy.

Leadership Programs

  • HELM’s Leadership Fellows program welcomed 8 new students into the program and held the annual Leadership Fellows program for 28 new and returning fellows in New York City. Union Theological Seminary hosted the retreat and President Serene Jones was a featured plenary speaker.
  • The third year Leadership Fellows who are focusing on the theme of global awareness, were able to participate in a delegation to Morocco, thanks to support from Global Ministries
  • Four fellows became the first group of students to graduate having been through all four years of the new format of the program.
  • Next year’s leadership fellows retreat will take place in California and the global awareness international trip will be to Colombia, where students will learn about how our partners have been involved with the peace process there.
  • Along with the Office of the General Minister and President, HELM convened a group of leaders to discuss the role of the seminarians conference in the life of the church. Plans are underway to develop and new strategy for how to nurture and form emerging clergy leaders.

Grants and Scholarships

  • HELM distributed over $100,000 in scholarships and grants to over 45 undergraduate and graduate students.

With respect to its stated priorities of financial equilibrium, program and staff efficiency, engagement with higher education, and board development and participation; HELM reports the following highlights:


In the past four years, HELM has continued to plan for and experience balanced budgets. These surpluses are enabling HELM to pay down loan debts that were incurred during the financial crises of 2008/2009.  HELM’s financial equilibrium continues to enable a shifting of more funding to program activities and increasing support for participants in HELM’s programs. This Disciples Education and Leadership Fund, which has been started with the investment of a $126,000 bequest into a fund with the Christian Church Foundation, continues to grow. HELM is also on target to reduce it’s effective draw from investments by ½ of a percentage point in the coming year.


HELM’s board of directors has been strong throughout the years. In 2017, the board voted to reduce the size of the board from 16 to 12 at large members. The board also voted to change the ex officio campus ministry position to a board elected position. At the end of 2018, three longtime board members ended their terms of service, having completed the maximum allowed number of terms. HELM is thankful for the faithful service of Bill Bailey, Yvonne Gilmore, and Beau Underwood. HELM elected three new board members, along with new officers. The new board members are Joan-Bell Haynes, Colton Lott, and Michelle Scott-Huffman. The new officers are Lonora Graves – Chair; Santiago Pinon – Vice Chair; and Pamela Sparks – Secretary. The Spring 2019 board meeting will be held in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area.

The board continues to be deeply engaged and involved in supporting and leading HELM.


HELM continues to discern how best to meet the needs of the church, with respect to the established mission of its ministry.

With gratefulness to God and enthusiasm for continued commitment to ministry, HELM hereby submits this report to the General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Yours in Christ,


Bernard “Chris” Dorsey







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WHEREAS, in the history of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) formal education has been a top priority going back to the early days of the Stone-Campbell movement, with over 200 colleges, universities and theological institutions having been founded throughout that history, demonstrating a strong Disciples commitment to higher education; and

WHEREAS, Southern Christian Institute of Edwards, MS, was founded in 1882 by the Home Missionary Society of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as a private boarding school for black students during the Jim Crow era, and trained several generations of African American educators, clergy and other leaders, before merging with Tougaloo College in 1954 and continuing its central mission of education, while also playing a critical role in advancing the cause of freedom and justice during the Civil Rights Movement; and

WHEREAS, Tougaloo College has continued to appreciate its affiliation with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with leadership changes at the College and in the life of the Church, Tougaloo never signed the 1977 Covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but continued its relationship with the Church and recently at its October 19, 2018 Board of Trustees Meeting voted to affirm its commitment to the current Covenant between Colleges and Universities and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and officially requested to join in full affiliation with the other fourteen affiliated colleges and universities of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and

WHEREAS, the Board of Directors of Higher Education and Leadership Ministries, The Council of Colleges and Universities, and the Administrative Committee of the General Board, have all subsequently voted to affirm Tougaloo’s affiliation in covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ);

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that in this historic moment, the General Assembly celebrates the history and heritage of Tougaloo College as a Disciples institution of higher education continuing in the tradition began by the Southern Christian Institute and fully living into its current mission of preparing its students to be lifelong learners who are committed to leadership and service in a global society; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly deepens its commitment to promoting and supporting higher education across the church, with special attention being given to the fifteen colleges and universities in covenantal relationship and our seven theological institutions; and

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that all members, congregations, ministries, organizations, and institutions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada will continue to pray for and encourage our institutions of higher education and will continue encouraging students to seek educational opportunities at all of the various Disciples related educational institutions.

Higher Education and Leadership Ministries




The General Board recommends that the General Assembly ADOPT GA-1932. (Discussion Time: 12 minutes)








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Submitted by
Kelly Thompson, President
Culver Stockton College
Chair, Council of Colleges and Universities

 Members of the Council: The presidents of the fourteen colleges and universities in Covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are members of the Council that meets annually in conjunction with the Council of Independent Colleges. The president of Higher Education and Leadership Ministries also serves as an ex-officio member of the Council.

Mission Statement: The Colleges and Universities of the Christian Church advocate for the 14 colleges and universities in covenant with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to all our constituents by working together on common goals that provide students with an exceptional liberal arts education, that integrate both reason and faith, and that lead to a humane and fulfilling personal and public life.

In 2015 Chris Dorsey, President of Higher Education and Leadership ministries, worked with Guy Waldrup, then director of the Council, and Ken Garren, chair of the Council to develop a transition plan that would restore the close working relationship between HELM and the Council of Colleges and Universities. The plan was accepted by the Council and Guy Waldrop retired from his role as director in July of 2015. Since that time, HELM has resumed much of the responsibility previously carried out by the director.

The collective work of the Council and HELM has been focused on four key areas:

  • Interpretation & Communication
    • HELM has integrated the website for Disciples Colleges and Universities into the HELM website and greatly enhanced its look and functionality.
    • The quarterly newsletter for the Disciples colleges and universities, has been redesigned
    • HELM has worked with the Council to produce a full-color brochure that highlights all 14 of the Disciples Colleges and Universities
  • Recruiting and Admissions
    • The Council continues to seek ways to work more closely with HELM and with other expression of the church to present Disciples students with opportunities for a high quality Christian liberal arts education.
    • In the near future HELM will work more closely with regions and camps to better represent Disciples schools to young people considering college.
  • Funding
    • The Council and HELM continue to work closely together to promote the Disciples Mission Fund and the Thanksgiving offering that benefit higher education.
    • The Council and HELM are committed to working together to raise funds that will go toward scholarship to Disciples students who attend Disciples colleges and universities.
  • Chaplains & Church Relations
    • In the summer of 2017, HELM will convene a group of Disciples chaplains and ecumenical campus ministry staff for a consultation on ministry in higher education.

In April of 2017 HELM will host a Higher Education Summit for leaders of the various schools. The primary goals of the gathering would be:

  • Better understand what it means to be a Disciples related school
  • Discuss ways Disciples schools can better engage with their proximate regions in ways that are mutually beneficial
  • Identify opportunities for strategically working with the national church and the various general ministries in ways that may be mutually beneficial

Attending the summit will be presidents, chief academic officers, development officers, chaplains, and church relations staff from the colleges and universities.

There is considerable excitement around the renewed commitment to Disciples higher education!


The General Assembly receives the report from the

Council of Colleges and Universities.