A Requiem for Lon Morris College

2/14/2013

I have closely monitored the unfolding of events at Lon Morris College.  It has been painful and I am not a dispassionate observer.  I graduated from LMC in 2000 and my mother was, up until the end, a professor there. I also work in the communications office for the Texas Annual Conference, often sharing press releases and short blurbs of information as they become available. I’ve been covered by waves of emotion that often left me feeling green. The hues of green changed, bouncing between sickness at the situation as outsiders speculated and pointed fingers, and school pride at alumni and friends giving thousands of dollars to support staff who were unpaid. I held out hope to the very end.

I arrived at the January 26th memorial service to the melody of a multi-generational ensemble, composed of alumni chorale members warming up before the ceremony – slated to be both a celebration and a eulogy. The room was soon packed with over 300 alumni and their families. I recognized several former classmates including some couples who had met at the school, fell in love, and are now married with families of their own. 

The service was a somber occasion, marked by distinguished alumni Rev. Ted Campbell’s sermon on Isaiah 51: 1-3. “We come here today not so much to bury as to celebrate the College, but this is not an easy task for any of us,” he began. Campbell asserted the intent of the mission behind founding schools like Lon Morris was building rich, inter-generational Christian culture. “They have functioned as centers of Christian and denominational cultures, and as centers for humanistic learning… Folks knew what they were doing in establishing denominational schools.” Campbell rhetorically asked: “if not by Lon Morris College, then how will we transmit a rich, Christian and Methodist culture to future generations?”

He laid out a treatise on how some large mega churches and other entities are failing to transmit culture beyond a single generation. He posited the necessary role of institutions filling that gap moving forward, and noted how “the traditional model of person-to-person education and formation is being severely challenged.” 

Many teared up at the close of the service as we sang, likely for the last time together, a chorus of our school song. A reception followed the service in the banquet hall at FUMC Jacksonville - adorned with memorabilia including old shirts and year books. Dozens took a trip to see the campus one last time, now in disrepair. They visited the bookstore to buy a keepsake – the proceeds going to help support the staff still waiting on their final paychecks.

For me Lon Morris represents rich history, vibrant tradition, strong community, and fervent faith. A popular narrative today says the steady decline of such institutions and ideals is inevitable as we throw away our past for the hollow promise of something better. But, I’m not ready to let go of my heritage. I fear that we are losing much more than we realize and soon we won’t be able to reclaim it.

For now, at least, these live on – but not in the classrooms where we learned so many lessons. Not in the now empty benches in the center of our once beloved campus where we spent time reflecting and socializing. Not in the wings of the theatre building in which we spent so many hours practicing and applauding the talents of others. And not in the pews of the now deconsecrated chapel, where we studied and tested our faith. These things will live on in us as the memories and stories of days gone by. They will live on in our witness, and in our children’s values. We are the legacy that remains, and we must not fail to share the life-lessons we gained from the generosity of time and gifts from all those who invested in that little school, mid-the-pine-hills.

Read Rev. Ted Campbell’s full sermon