Institute for Orthodox Christian Thought and Culture at Eastern University
Dr. Gary Jenkins, a member of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA, has been teaching history at Eastern University in the greater Philadelphia area, for 20 years.
Lately, he's been feeling called to do something even bigger. After much prayer and consultation with hierarchs and clergy throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, he has proposed the creation of an Institute for Orthodox Christian Thought and Culture at Eastern University.
Eastern is a fully accredited, Christian university with 35 majors and about 1,500 undergraduate students on its beautiful campus in suburban Philadelphia.
The proposed Institute would offer a minor for Orthodox students and serve as a hub for their spiritual, academic, and professional development.
"Orthodox Christian students will flourish at Eastern University, especially were we to launch this Institute," Dr. Jenkins said. "The minor in Orthodox thought and culture, along with a vibrant Orthodox community of learners, joined with the liberal arts education of an established Christian university, will provide students with the habits and virtues of mind and heart needed for leadership in whatever vocation they choose."
By nesting within an established university, the Institute can focus exclusively on providing a robust and holistic Orthodox formation for its students, even as the students avail themselves of the full resources of the larger university and complete their degrees in a wide variety of fields.
Relationship to the Church
Although it would be a program of Eastern University, a private school with an interdenominational Christian student body, the Institute is in the process of forming a Pan-Orthodox advisory board, including hierarchs, clergy, and laity.
Initial responses from within the Orthodox Church have been very positive.
"St. Basil the Great had a vision of a community that has at its center the Eucharist. The community included Christian schools, Christian hospitals, all of which got their strength and power from the Eucharist," Rt. Rev. Bishop Thomas (Joseph), Ed.D., of the Antiochian Archdiocese said. "It is with this in mind that I strongly suggest that you take a serious look at the Institute for Orthodox Thought and Culture at Eastern University. This project has my support and my prayers."
Dr. Jenkins is particularly optimistic about the Institute's future because of the large network of active parishes in the Mid-Atlantic region from across all Orthodox jurisdictions.
"Studies show that most college students stay close to home," Dr. Jenkins said. "Within only 100 miles of Eastern University's campus there are 286 Orthodox parishes. Priests and parents at many of these parishes have already told us that they would be very interested in sending students to an Orthodox program of this nature and location. We've even heard from parishes in Alaska, Texas, and Maine!"
Where Things Stand Today
Discussions with senior leadership at Eastern University are progressing well. The university is seriously interested in creating the Institute but wants to confirm its viability and develop a careful plan before making a formal decision.
"Right now, we are seeking to clearly discern Orthodox student interest and financial support for this potential Institute at EU," Dr. Robert Duffett, president of Eastern University, said. "Our first goal is to raise the funds needed to hire a professional higher ed consultant, who will conduct a thorough feasibility study and help us make informed decisions. Once the study is complete, we will evaluate the results and decide if and how to proceed. Our hope is that the study will position us to move forward with a plan that leads to long-term success for all involved."
Even in these early stages, it seems that the Orthodox community is interested in seeing Dr. Jenkins' idea become a reality. More than 260 people have filled out an online survey on the Institute's website, with the vast majority reporting that their parish is likely to send students. Respondents represent 128 different Orthodox parishes: Antiochian, Greek, OCA, Carpatho-Russian, Ukrainian, ROCOR, Bulgarian, and Serbian. Individuals from a few Oriental Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches have also expressed interest, as well as inquirers and sympathetic Christians from a variety of Protestant backgrounds.
The most important next step, according to Dr. Jenkins, is to raise about $35,000 to fund the feasibility study.
"A visionary donor has already stepped forward with a $10,000 lead gift," Dr. Jenkins said. "Now, we as an Orthodox community need to step up to the plate. This is an incredible opportunity, a real blessing from God, that could catapult Orthodox higher education forward a generation, practically overnight. But it won't happen unless we act."
The proposed institute has real potential for long-term success if EU and the Orthodox community work together, according to both Dr. Jenkins and President Duffett.
"We look at this as a true partnership," President Duffett said, "and an opportunity to build each other up in Christ. If the consultant's study shows that this venture is viable, Orthodox Christians can expect a center at EU that speaks to their real concerns, where Orthodox Christians are doing the teaching and advising, with the input and advice of Orthodox hierarchs and clergy. At the same time, for EU to house this proposed institute, we need the clear financial support of Orthodox donors. We can't do it without your help."
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