Wimberly School of Religion celebrates 30 years


OCU President Robert Henry, left, speaks with Dr. Bill Martin, professor emeritus of the Wimberly School of Religion.

The Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel hosted a faith-filled homecoming on Feb. 16 at Oklahoma City University. Alumni and current students of the Wimberly School of Religion, former and present faculty, and friends gathered to celebrate the school’s 30th anniversary, in conjunction with the Martha Jean Lemon Lectures.

At an evening dinner, David Severe spoke to some 110 guests on how the Wimberly School was born out of crisis.

More than 30 years ago, OCU faced a severe financial dilemma that jeopardized its existence, said Rev. Dr. Severe. It was a time of big decisions, and the Oklahoma Conference United Methodists rallied to raise the necessary funds to save the university. It also was a time for leaders to reflect on the university’s mission and how it could better serve the Church. The Conference asked that the university focus its religion courses into a School of Religion, with the specific purpose of producing persons trained to serve local churches. A generous gift from Owen and Vivian Wimberly enabled this to become reality.

The founding dean was former UM missionary Richard Bush, now deceased, who moved from Oklahoma State University to undertake that lead role. He was joined by initial faculty members Elizabeth Box Price and Bill Martin, along with existing professors Bob Jones and Leo Werneke.

Severe’s speech was a highlight of the Feb. 16 dinner, held in the Watson Lounge and honoring the Lemon family and Wimberly School. Master of Ceremonies Adam Shahan, pastor of Lexington UMC, introduced Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. and OCU President Robert Henry, who delivered greetings. Graduating senior Tessa Stutzman spoke of the many opportunities for spiritual growth and enrichment she has enjoyed through engagement with faculty and students during her four years at OCU.

The day’s festivities began in the weekly university chapel service at 1 p.m. Congregants sang rousing hymns and were blessed by the musicians of the Blackwelder Brass and Chamber Choir. Bishop Hayes preached on "The Power of the Book," opening the Lemon Lectures, which explored the theme of "The Bible and the Church."

In a later afternoon presentation, Amy Oden, dean of Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., delivered the second lecture, speaking on "How the Church Shaped the Bible." Dr. Oden reviewed how early Christians understood the writings that became sacred Scripture. She concluded that the Bible gives life to the Church by providing authority for faith and practice, providing spiritual food, and proclaiming the revelation of God in which all people are invited to participate.

Oden has deep Oklahoma roots. The seminary dean comes from a distinguished family of Oklahoma United Methodists, and she taught at Wimberly School for 10 years.

The final lecture was a time of dialogue with Bishop Hayes and Oden. The audience joined in stories, questions, and musings about the Bible’s role in the life of the Church. Oden applauded the time as a model of "holy conversation," a hallmark of the Wesleyan tradition.

Cary Pirrong, OCU director of Alumni Relations, said his office mailed advance information to about 800 addresses, and he was pleased with attendance. Sharon Betsworth, director of Wimberly School of Religion, echoed his sentiment.

"The 30th anniversary celebration was a great time to reconnect and reminisce. Having Bishop Hayes and our former colleague, Dr. Amy Oden, speak was both rich and inspiring," said Dr. Betsworth.

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