A new program at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., aims to strengthen the school’s bonds with the church while encouraging students to consider careers in ministry.

Named for George and Ann Cornelson, longtime supporters of the college, the Cornelson Center augments the college’s efforts to guide students toward ministry and prepare them for such a career.

When Jeri Parris Perkins came to the college last year as dean of Religious Life, she assumed responsibility for the fledging center, listening to and learning from others about what direction it should take.

“The aim for the Cornelson Center was to spend significant time with George and Ann Cornelson and ascertain more about their vision as the first donors,” Perkins said.

She also spent time with college leaders, faculty and student religious organizations. 

“I invited the whole campus to discern with me given this grand opportunity that we have to serve the larger church through the Cornelson Center and also enhance and deepen the religious life on campus,” she said. “It’s been a joy to hear some of the concerns both on campus that the Cornelson center might address and those beyond into the community, into the Synod and then on to the denomination and just the church of Jesus Christ.”

A formal inauguration of the center is being planned for April 12-13, and while details are still being ironed out, Perkins has some idea of how she’d like that event to take shape.

“We’re inviting presbytery execs from the Synod to be a part of this, to help illustrate that this really is a center that its primary vision is to serve the church both locally and nationally and globally,” she said.

Perkins hopes that that event will also have some lectures or other continuing education events.

And while that event won’t be until the spring, the center will embark on a partnership next month. Along with Fourth Presbyterian Church in Greenville, it will present a series on faith in literature as part of the church’s endowed lectures.

“A number of professors and folks from the religion and English departments and I are going to do a church school program from February 27-April 3 on various aspects of using literature in faith development,” Perkins said. “The last lecture will be on various kinds of literature and will sort of pull everything together, specifically to be used in ministry and education in the church parish.”

Education both on and off campus is a priority of the center. In another initiative planned for this semester, the center is partnering with Presbyterian College’s library to offer religion and religious life students a subscription to a software package called “I Preach.” The software will serve as a tool for learning exegesis and bringing the scriptures to bear, Perkins said.

The center might also take on a third project this year: partnering with the five presbyteries in South Carolina to enhance the state’s lay school for theology. The focus would be on providing enrichment opportunities for laity and preparation for those who want to serve as commissioned lay pastors.

The Cornelson Center is exploring other ideas, such as strengthening campus ministry and preparation for campus ministry across the PC(USA) and sponsoring internships specific to parish ministry.

Right now, the center is housed in the campus ministry offices, but Perkins hopes to eventually see the center take on its own space on campus.

“In some ways I kind of feel like I am the walking Cornelson Center because a lot of this still exists in my head or in various folders that keep progressing a little further every few weeks,” says Perkins.  “But we will hope to build a physical place or to renovate a building on campus to actually house it.”

While the center is gearing up for a busy launch, Perkins is still proceeding carefully and talking to people to make sure this resource is being used in the best possible way. She’s spoken to the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities as well as people at all levels of the denomination to make sure the center isn’t duplicating efforts already in place.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel or create anything that’s redundant,” she said. “In a day where resources are limited, we don’t want to double up.”

She’s also still listening for needs the center might be able to fill and invites anyone with a suggestion to e-mail her so other possibilities can be explored.

Toni Montgomery is a free-lance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she also serves as church secretary for First Presbyterian Church.