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In final convocation address, Dockery urges faith and hope for Union community

David S. Dockery speaks during the Aug. 23 convocation service. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
David S. Dockery speaks during the Aug. 23 convocation service. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.Aug. 23, 2013 – Faith in God’s faithfulness and hope in God’s providence have sustained Union University for 190 years and will do so in the future, Union President David S. Dockery said Aug. 23.

“We move forward with confidence because of the hope that God has given to us,” Dockery said. “Not a wish, but a genuine hope, grounded in the promises of God and his great faithfulness to us, evidenced by signs of his divine providence that we’ve seen over and over and over again throughout our history.”

Dockery addressed the university during its annual fall convocation in G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel. The address was Dockery’s 18th and final fall convocation message as president, as he will transition into the role of university chancellor by next summer.

As part of the convocation service, the university officially installed John Netland as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences – the largest school on the Union campus.

“John Netland is a scholar, thoughtful leader, ambassador for the liberal arts, team player and a person deeply respected by his peers,” Dockery said. “He’s the right person for that pivotal role in this community.”

Over the past 17 years, Dockery has used his convocation addresses to communicate his vision for Union University. In his final message, entitled, “From Faith to Faith: Revisiting the Great Cloud of Witnesses,” he traced Union’s history -- beginning with its roots as Jackson Male Academy in 1823 only a year after the city of Jackson, Tenn., was founded.

During the 1840s, that academy became West Tennessee College, and about the same time Baptists in Middle Tennessee established Union University in Murfreesboro. Those two institutions coexisted for about 30 years before they merged in the 1870s into a new school in Jackson called Southwest Baptist University. In 1907, the institution was renamed Union University.

“We have this wonderful, pieced-together puzzle that forms our heritage that has been one steady stream since 1907,” Dockery said. “But all of those things were a part of weaving into this quilt that made us who we are – this cloud of witnesses that has shaped us along the way.”

Dockery cited specific individuals who were foundational in Union’s history, including such figures as R.B.C. Howell, Joseph Eaton, J.R. Graves, J.M. Pendleton and G.M. Savage, the “grand old man of Union University.” He referenced visiting Union faculty members in the 1890s, such as J.M. Frost, B.H. Carroll and A.T. Robertson, who demonstrated Union’s strong relationship with the Baptist world.

“We come from great stock,” Dockery said. “We have the privilege each and every day to stand on their shoulders. We drink from wells we did not dig and eat from gardens we did not plant.”

Throughout Union’s history, from its early beginnings to its major move in 1975 from downtown Jackson to its current campus, the school has been characterized by faith in God’s faithfulness and hope in divine providence, Dockery said. The Lord guided Union through dark times, including a devastating fire in 1912 that destroyed two campus buildings, and proved himself faithful from the university’s earliest days.

In many ways, the Union community is similar to the people of God throughout history, Dockery said -- Old Testament prophets, New Testament apostles, early church bishops, medieval theologians and educators, reformers, revivalists and people of faith on pilgrimages.

While Hebrews 11 is a chapter that lists several faithful figures throughout biblical history, Dockery said a close examination reveals people who were fumbling, faltering, flawed men and women, “just like you and just like me. People who placed their trust and hope in a faithful God, and God has somehow worked through them to use them to accomplish his purposes.”

People like Noah and Abraham and Sarah may have sought to obey God, but they didn’t always have the answers and didn’t always understand what they were told, Dockery explained. They didn’t know where they were to go, when God would act or how he would deliver them. But they believed and trusted in God nonetheless.

Those examples are fitting for the Union community, Dockery said, in a day when uncertainty often looms for Christian institutions, when cultural and economic challenges abound and when difficult days may lie ahead. He cited examples around the world of Christians being persecuted for their faith and said that such could be the future for some Union students as well.

But he challenged the Union community to remain faithful and hopeful even when the future is unsure.

“Our confidence is not in ourselves, but in a great and providential God,” Dockery said. “God is the one who has orchestrated our past, and he is the one who will carry us forward in the future.”

Audio of Dockery’s address is available at www.uu.edu/audio/detail.cfm?ID=717.

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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