March 5, 2024

Heritage on a Hillside

Honoring Nyack College/Alliance University’s time-tested pledge to equip the called

by Peter Burgo

Over 140 years ago, God ignited an overwhelming love for people of every race and tongue in the heart of Alliance founder A. B. Simpson, who pastored a large, affluent church in Manhattan. In response, Simpson urged his congregants to welcome the immigrants pouring into the city. Many in the church rejected his vision. One Sunday in 1881, Simpson declared from the pulpit, “I am not interested in being a respectable Christian.” He resigned from the pastorate and in 1882 began informal training classes to equip like-minded believers to take the whole gospel to the whole world. 

In realizing the magnitude of the task God had called him into, Simpson posed a question that would set a trajectory for equipping those who would hear and heed the call: “Is there not room for a missionary training college in every great church in this land, where young men may prepare at home for foreign work, and study the history of missions, the methods of mission work, and the languages in which they expect to preach the gospel?” He later refined his intent for “the opening of a Missionary Training School for Christian evangelists, where godly and consecrated young men and women can be prepared to go forth as laborers into the neglected fields.” 

The Missionary Training Institute formally organized and officially launched in the heart of Times Square in 1883 as the first Bible college in North America. Fifteen years later, it moved its campus 30 miles up the Hudson River to South Nyack, New York. The institute was later renamed Nyack Missionary College (1956), then Nyack College (1972), and, after having returned to its Lower Manhattan roots, became Alliance University in 2022. 

A Diverse, Unyielding Legacy

Throughout its relocations and name changes, the institution remained faithful to its founder’s vision and will forever be remembered as having repainted the spiritual landscape in many of the world’s hardest places. In its 14-decade heritage, it has equipped 35,000 graduates who have faithfully served Christ in 90 countries—a legacy that will continue to broaden His Kingdom until His return. 

But the school’s influence and impact were not limited solely to its ends-of-the-earth mission. 

In her dissertation, The Ties That Bind—An Historical Study of the Relationship of The Colleges of the C&MA to the Parent Denomination, Diane Zimmerman writes: 

There can be no doubt that Simpson’s primary educational purpose was to train and send missionaries; that was, after all, the very reason for offering the first classes and founding a Missionary Training Institute. But the Institute was founded for at least two other purposes, namely, to prepare workers for home service as lay workers to serve as Sunday school teachers and pastoral assistants, and to provide spiritual enrichment for students who had no intention of entering a full-time Christian vocation. Nor was the founding of the Institute the extent of Simpson’s educational vision. He also founded on Nyack’s campus a liberal arts junior college, which he planned to expand into a four-year program, as an outgrowth of a secondary school; and he planned a three-year seminary program. 

Zimmerman later cites George Pardington, the Alliance missionary statesman for whom Nyack College’s Pardington Hall was named, as stating in the 1900–1901 C&MA Annual Report that while the Missionary Training Institute was preeminently a missionary training school, there was room for any “who desired simply a better knowledge of the Bible and a more intimate understanding of the needs of the various mission fields. . . . It was not expected by the school that all its students would go either to the foreign field or enter Christian work at home.” 

The 1905–1906 C&MA Manual further stated that the ultimate purpose of all students, regardless of vocational intent, was to gain a “deeper spiritual life, a more thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and a better acquaintance with the condition and needs of mission lands.” 

Although the institution remained devoted to equipping workers for vocational ministry domestically and abroad, preparation of committed believers for the marketplace left an indelible influence on the social and spiritual landscapes of diverse workforce environments—and will continue to do so for generations to come. 

Affirming the school’s commitment to diversity within its student body and among those it would ultimately serve, U.S. News & World Report in 2016 ranked Nyack College as “one of the 10 most diverse colleges in the northern region of the United States.” A few years later, in its assessment of The 50 Top Ethnically Diverse Colleges in America, Best College Reviews wrote, 

Nyack College sees it as their mission to be “intentionally diverse” and have the desire to bring people from all ethnicities together to study, learn, and make the world a better place. The belief in intercultural education has led Nyack to become the most ethnically diverse Christian College in the history of American higher education. Celebrating this feat as an important part of their effectiveness and identity, Nyack remains committed to the task of enhancing this diversity in every decision, from curriculum, to hiring, to pricing. This noble mission is being fulfilled on a daily basis throughout Nyack’s flourishing student body. 

A Heart-Wrenching Decision

Over the past decade, Nyack College/Alliance University, like dozens of other private Christian universities, had suffered a series of financial setbacks and economic complications—including the 2017 decision by the City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY) to offer free tuition to New York state residents, as well as those widely felt issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, in June 2023, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Alliance University’s accrediting body, determined that the university could no longer sustain ongoing compliance with the commission’s financial health requirement. Alliance University’s Board of Trustees was forced to make the difficult decision to cease all academic offerings effective September 1, 2023. 

An Outpouring of Tribute

When the decision was announced on June 30, social media sites lit up with expressions of grief, recollections of fond memories, and words of tribute to an institution that not only remained true to its founding vision but also invested deeply in the spiritual pathways of those who graced its campuses. 

As an alumnus myself, I credit Nyack College with my spiritual formation at a critical crossroads of my life journey in the mid-1980s. Having been a helpless, hopeless drug addict less than a year earlier, I was introduced to the delivering, transforming power of Jesus by a pastor in my western Pennsylvania hometown. Realizing my dire need for a fresh start, this pastor invited me to join his family in their move to Nyack, where he had accepted a faculty role at Alliance Theological Seminary. I reluctantly (but by no means regretfully) accepted the invitation. 

When we arrived in Nyack, we were greeted by Gene and Cleo Evans, veteran Alliance missionaries to Vietnam, who invited us to stay with them until we secured our housing. Over the next several days, we sat mesmerized as they conveyed story after story of God’s miraculous protection and provision. It was this experience—and many similar stories from dear Alliance servants and saints; chapel speakers in Pardington Hall; professors committed to academic excellence, personal integrity, and spiritual growth; and students from all over the world with amazing accounts of how God brought them to the Hillside—that solidified my faith and charted my spiritual trajectory. 

Over the next several years, I continued my studies, became involved in an Alliance church plant, and got a summer job driving around in an old, beat-up, green pickup truck with a guy named Tom, maintaining the various properties owned by the C&MA National Office (then referred to as “Headquarters”). I was eventually offered a mailroom clerk position inside the Headquarters building and, in 1989, relocated to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the C&MA established its new National Office. I eventually earned a degree in communications from the University of Colorado and somehow ended up, by God’s clear penchant for against-all-odds scenarios, as the editor of this beloved magazine—a role I have cherished since 2007 and now tearfully release as God has invited me into a new position within the Alliance family. Yet I will forever boast the most unlikely role of “first formerly cocaine-addicted editor of the Alliance magazine” (well . . . at least to my knowledge). For this I owe a great debt to the Nyack Hillside and its longstanding legacy of equipping the called—and to my dear friend, Terry Wardle, the Western PA pastor who practically dragged me there, kicking and screaming. Terry’s perseverance through that tug-of-war was a true trajectory changer. 

An Emerging Partnership

Intrinsically linked to Nyack/Alliance University’s educational legacy was the C&MA seminary. Originally launched in 1960 as the Jaffray School of Missions, a graduate program of Nyack Missionary College, the school offered interdisciplinary studies in theology and the social sciences. In 1974, the program was redesigned to prepare students for North American and international ministries. The school’s name was subsequently changed to the Alliance School of Theology and Missions, and later, in 1979, to Alliance Theological Seminary. 

When Alliance University and Alliance Theological Seminary announced the decision to close their campus doors, Alliance leadership renewed its commitment to preserve and advance Alliance seminary education and, ideally, maintain its ministry training presence in New York City. To that end, the C&MA Board Executive Committee formed a transition team to explore options for a future C&MA seminary model. After prayerful consideration, the team narrowed its focus to a potential partnership with Asbury Theological Seminary. The C&MA and Asbury have a long-standing, fruitful relationship and share many essential theological beliefs. Even Nyack/Alliance University’s school motto, The Whole Bible to the Whole World, is remarkably aligned with Asbury’s vision of The Whole Bible for the Whole World. Asbury also has a passion to extend seminary education to NYC, where The Alliance has deep roots and enduring relationships.

In recent months, Asbury signed contracts with three former Alliance Theological Seminary professors with the intent of launching a joint effort to establish and maintain a vibrant seminary presence in the heart of a city often described as “a melting pot of culture, diversity, and opportunity.” Please pray with us for the necessary state approvals that will allow for the opportunity of a fruitful partnership to preserve and propel our Alliance theological and spiritual distinctives toward the fulfillment of our All of Jesus for All the World vision. 

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