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SEARCY, Ark. — For 31 years, Mike Cope had not been asked to speak at his alma mater. The new president of Harding University has changed that.

Mike Williams, whose recent inaugural address focused on building bridges, wasted no time in inviting Cope, a 1978 Harding graduate and director of ministry outreach at Pepperdine University in Malibu, to California, to return to campus to speak.

Mike Cope

Williams, a 1985 Harding graduate, became the university’s sixth president after serving seven years as president of Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala. Harding, Faulkner and Pepperdine are all associated with the Churches of Christ.

Cope thinks Harding is taking steps in the right direction to mend old relationships.

“I’ll talk about my experience,” Cope said. The Christian Chronicle. “President Williams’ invitation to return to my alma mater to speak was healing in itself. I hope there will be many more efforts to reach out to alumni who have felt left out.

Cope served as a minister for the Churches of Christ for over 27 years.

He preached for the College Church of Christ in Searcy from 1984 to 1991 and for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas from 1991 to 2009.

Harding Chairman Mike Williams speaks at his inauguration ceremony.

Harding Chairman Mike Williams speaks at his inauguration ceremony.

Williams said Cope was transformational during his time in the Harding community and is a central figure among alumni.

“So yeah, it’s about saying, ‘This is one of us going home,'” the new president said.

With new administration comes a new mission, and Williams used his inauguration to herald a new era of unity.

The inaugural program told Harding’s long story, from its first chairman to former chairman Bruce McLarty. Previously, a “legacy relay” from the original Harding College campus in Morrilton, Ark., to Searcy provided an active symbol of Harding’s pioneers passing the torch to the next generation.

Although much has been made of Harding’s progress, Williams is unafraid of the university’s need to restore alumni relations.

“We want them to feel comfortable saying, ‘This is where I went to school, and I want people from my church to go here. I want my grandkids to go here,” Williams said. “I don’t know anyone I don’t want to go back to.”

With a reputation as one of the more conservative universities associated with the Churches of Christ, Harding experienced divisions among those who took different or more progressive views, including among Harding alumni. But the new president doesn’t want Harding to be a divisive place.

“The things we agree on are far more important than the things we disagree on,” Williams told the the Chronicleechoing a theme he first introduced when Robert C. Walker, Chairman of Harding’s Board of Directors, announced his appointment in October 2021.

Students at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., enjoy taking a selfie with the Christian university's new president, Mike Williams.

Students at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, take a selfie with the Christian university’s new president, Mike Williams.

Williams added that the broadening of the coalition extends to the wider Harding family.

“Whether you went to school here in the 1940s or graduated last year, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, whether you grew up in China or Little Rock, you’re part of this family. “, did he declare. . “And we come together to reflect on an institution that has made a big difference in our lives. And then we want to do whatever we can to help the next generation go through what we went through.

Jonathan Storment

Jonathan Storment

Jonathan Storment, a 2003 Harding alumnus and preaching minister for Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, also spoke at the dedication. Additionally, Storment has been invited to be a keynote speaker at Harding’s 99th annual Bible conference beginning Sept. 25.

“I think colleges, especially Christian colleges, in a post-Christian America face many challenges ahead,” Storment said. “But when I first came back after spending time with Mike Williams, I came home and said to my daughter – my 14-year-old daughter – ‘I think Harding is going to be a place where you can send your kids,” because I trust the leadership of Dr Williams.

Other speakers at the inauguration included Walker, Executive Vice President Jean-Noel Thompson, Bible teacher Jason Darden, Williams’ wife Lisa, and other teachers and students.

For Williams, a signal of unity is one that must be sent every day.

“There’s an alumni base of Harding,” Williams said. “So who’s welcome?” We welcome all our alumni to enlist. Are there things we will stand on? Yes. But we want all of our alumni to be deeply connected to their alma mater.

Filed Under: Christian Colleges Faulkner University Harding University Mike Cope Mike Williams National News Partners Pepperdine University Top Stories Unit

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