By Holly McCray
Bible study is a cup of cool water to thirsty Robert Henry. He will drink deeply and request refills.
The man whom Oklahoma City University, a United Methodist school, will inaugurate on April 6 as its president is also a keen student. He yearns to always learn more and reports a lifelong special interest in religion and theology.
"I’m comfortable in my faith but wanting more time for study," Henry said. "I’d like to take Hebrew. I really want to spend time in the parables, but I can’t get out of the Torah!"
While dean of OCU’s School of Law, Henry audited the Old Testament course in the School of Religion. And spurred by certain legal cases in Oklahoma, the former judge has spent 20 years studying the 10 Commandments.
The student is a teacher, too. Sunday-school leadership expands his extensive resume—which includes state legislator, federal judge, patron of the fine arts, and even participant in a Polar Bear Plunge.
He will present a teaching session at the 2011 Annual Conference of Oklahoma United Methodists.
Henry has relished opportunities to teach at OKC-St. Luke’s, where he attends church, and at Church of the Servant. He recalled spending 11 hours one Saturday preparing to teach a Sunday class at a Baptist church.
"I think the reason we study the Bible is because it’s worth studying," Henry declared. "It’s not just some seven-point plan you can check off and say I’m there. These things take thought. Look at all the Bible commentaries there are."
Thus Henry’s leadership of OCU aligns well with his personal pursuits. Throughout its history, Methodism has valued education highly. OCU was founded by the Church more than a century ago; today’s connection between the school and Oklahoma United Methodists is the gold standard for similar relationships within the denomination.
"What I say about Methodists: By their works, you shall know them. I think Oklahoma Methodists can be very proud of this institution," Henry said.
He admires interfaith work and sees in OCU the denomination’s historic commitment to that. He is nearing the one-year mark as its president.
"This school opened its doors to welcome people of all faiths—not all denominations but all faiths," Henry emphasized.
"A great mission of the Church is to provide to people of all faiths a great liberal arts education, to be a citizen and free person."
President Robert Henry takes hands-on interest in the OCU Community Garden. He directed the garden’s expansion, hauling compost and helping with planting. Theme for his inauguration in April is "Make Our Garden Grow."
He continued, "We’ve achieved a remarkable place; what we offer is fabulous. We’ve got to increase endowments. I hope congregations —and particularly people who have directly benefitted—will help us with donors."
"My son’s in school here. I know how good this place is," Henry said. "Josh chose OCU, and he has blossomed." Jan and Robert Henry also have a daughter.
Eloquent about the Bible and other learning pursuits, Robert Henry is more reserved about his own faith story. His is not a Damascus-road experience.
"I just tried to be a good kid. I had nine years of perfect Sunday school attendance," he shared. "To me, you are supposed to live a life."
He recapped Jesus’ statement to followers of John the Baptist: Spend the day with me and then go tell John what you saw.
A Sunday-school participant once told Henry, "I love it when you teach. You always talk about social justice."
Henry’s response: "I don’t know any other kind of justice."
"Methodists are doing the things that need to be done. I feel great with Methodists because that’s where I live," he said.