Morris Chapel on the Stockton Campus

Morris Chapel is often listed as one of the best wedding spots in Northern California. It also is a hint to Pacific's relation to the Methodist Church. This month, representatives from the United Methodists Senate will visit Pacific, meet with students, faculty and staff, and put together a report on their ongoing relationship and Methodist relatedness

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Campus Life

Pacific Explores Its Methodist Roots

United Methodist Officials to Visit Pacific This Month
by Patrick GiblinOct 22, 2012

Pacific's status as a Methodist-related university may come as a surprise to many, since unlike other religious institutions, Pacific does not require students to attend religious services or take religion classes. That, coupled with Pacific's move in 1969 to have an independent, self-perpetuating Board of Regents rather than one elected by the church, has led many to believe that the institution has no religious ties. But Pacific still retains its association, which is why at the end of October, a team of visiting officials from the United Methodists Senate will visit Pacific, meet with students, faculty and staff, and put together a report on their ongoing relationship and Methodist relationship.

Representatives of the United Methodist Senate will hold an open meeting to gather feedback from students from 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 30 in the Don and Karen DeRosa University Center, room 215 on the second floor. A second open session for faculty and staff will be held in the same room that day from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Pacific's Methodist Roots

Pacific's Methodist Founders: Isaac Owen, Edward Bannister and William Taylor

When Methodist ministers Isaac Owen, Edward Bannister and William Taylor founded California Wesleyan College in 1851, they were adding to a long Methodist tradition of establishing institutions of higher education. The church believed that education was a necessity in order to help people live meaningful lives.  

Though the first in California, the college would be one of 1,200 Wesleyan universities established in the United States, including Duke, the University of Southern California and Emory University.

But California Wesleyan quickly changed. Within a month of being chartered it changed its name to University of the Pacific. By 1858, it was granting degrees to both men and women, the first California college to do so. By 1911, African-Americans were earning degrees, decades before most other colleges across the country integrated. The college established the first conservatory of music west of the Mississippi, the first medical school on the West Coast, and one of the first schools of education in the state.

Despite these changes, two things have remained true over the years:

  1. The University is still related to the Methodist Church.
  2. The University still teaches that education and whole-person development are key to creating a good society, and knowledge is a necessity to achieve a well-rounded person with a balance in life.

The belief that knowledge is a necessity to achieve a balanced life - will not come as a surprise. It is demonstrated daily on Pacific's three campuses, whether it's through the mandatory undergraduate Pacific Seminars that explore moral issues in society, community service efforts such as the legal and dental clinics, the annual freshman MOVE program, or through the many internship programs offered to Pacificans.

A Proud Heritage - A Continuing Influence

According to retired Provost Philip Gilbertson, who is currently writing a comprehensive history about the University, the Methodist philosophy permeates Pacific in many ways. These include the notion of "whole person development" as well as the deep respect for academic freedom, the honor paid to the relationship between reason and faith, and Pacific's tradition of commitment to social justice.

"We come to college not to earn a living but to learn how to live a life," said the Rev. Gary Putnam, a former Pacific chaplain, during a recent lecture on Pacific's Methodist roots. "Methodists are concerned with educating leaders, and also developing the heart of the student."

As such, it isn't necessary that all the students, faculty and staff be Methodists, Putnam said, adding that when Pacific was founded, there were no rules established that the chaplain had to be a Methodist. "And many haven't been," he said. The founders believed that religious morals enrich a student's education and develop a more balanced world view, but they always welcomed students of all religions.

So it comes as no surprise that Pacific's current student body is extremely diversified, as Joel Lohr, Pacific's current chaplain, said during the recent University Day lecture. Nearly one-third of the students do not identify a religious preference. Of those who do, the vast majority come from a diversity of Christian and non-Christian religious traditions. Less than three percent identify themselves as Methodist. "Religion ain't what it used to be," Lohr joked during his presentation, adding that many of the students who do not name a religious preference often still believe in God or a "higher power," think there is life after death, or might call themselves "spiritual" rather than "religious."

As a result, discussions of religion at Pacific cover a wide spectrum of beliefs. The Colliver Lecture series - an annual lecture on religion that was established in 1957 to honor religious studies professor George Colliver - demonstrates that. In the past few years alone, the lecture series has hosted experts on Judaism, the writings of Paul in the New Testament, Buddhism in the modern world, paganism, "forgeries in the Bible," and feminism in Islam.

Still, Pacific clearly has links to Methodism. For example, Pacific still offers a Bishop's Scholarship to Methodist students and a United Methodist Scholar-Teacher award to distinguished faculty members. Pacific also traditionally has one Methodist clergy member on its Board of Regents. Plus, it probably isn't a coincidence that Pacific's Stockton campus is located directly across the street from Stockton's largest Methodist church, Larry Meredith, Pacific's retired dean of the chapel, said during the recent University Day events.

Meredith said that Pacific is so rooted in Methodist traditions, that those roots often show themselves even when folks aren't looking. For example, last year, employees who were removing an old cork board in Baun Hall were surprised to discover a hidden stained glass window with the inscription "His Last Tribute to Culture - A Christian Classical Education Will Never Be Regretted by Anyone." Meredith believes the words refer to the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley.

"It referred to his belief that religion is the substance of culture," Meredith said. "Knowledge is not just information but is inspiration."

And therefore, Pacific's community owes much to its founders and continues a tradition of whole student development, something which would make the three founding Methodist ministers - Owen, Bannister and Taylor -happy indeed.