Receiving the Frances Asbury Award

“At the beginning of my ministry,” says the Rev. Dr. John E. Harnish, “I never intended to be connected with colleges, seminaries and campus ministry, but looking back over 50 years, I realize what an important part it has played in my life.”  Education has played a large part in the work of the Methodist Church around the world as well.  Methodism had its birth when John Wesley was a student at Oxford and his “Holy Club” was mockingly called “Methodists” because they were so methodical in their disciplined life.  When Frances Asbury came to the American colonies as the first Methodist Bishop, he said he believed there should a school beside every church.  Wherever Methodists have gone in the world they have established schools and colleges as well as churches.

Annually, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the church’s program of higher education and campus ministry with the “Frances Asbury Award”.  This year the Michigan recipient was Front Edge author Rev. Dr. John E. Harnish.

Dr. Harnish says, “It started in my early years in ministry when my District Superintendent made it possible for me as a young buck preacher to serve on the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.”  That led to his connection with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry where he eventually serving for seven years as the Associate General Secretary.

Two events during his time with the General Board book-end United Methodism’s commitment to education–the grand opening of Africa University and the 250th Anniversary of Kingswood College. His first international trip on behalf of the board took him to the new university in Zimbabwe and on a trip to England he shared in the anniversary of Kingswood, John Wesley’s first school. Today there are 107 United Methodist colleges, universities and seminaries in the USA and over 1000 Methodist-related institutions across the globe.

Dr. Harnish is a graduate of Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary and received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  He has served on the Boards of Trustees for the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia, Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Adrian College in Michigan. As the pastor of Ann Arbor First United Methodist Church, he worked with the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan and when he pastored First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, MI, the church was linked with four seminaries–Garrett-Evangelical, Duke, Costa Rica and Estonia.

Dr. Harnish says, “I am grateful for the Frances Asbury Award and I give thanks for the opportunities to be involved in this facet of the global work of United Methodism.”

Charles Wesley wrote a hymn for Kingswood College which includes the line: “Unite the pair so long dis-joined–knowledge and vital piety.  “Over the centuries,” Harnish says, “that has been the commitment of Methodism, and looking back, I am glad I’ve been able to share in it.”