MC’s annual February Meetings now called ‘The Cummings Conversations’

MC’s annual February Meetings now called ‘The Cummings Conversations’ 

April 22, 2019 

February Meetings have been held annually at Maryville College since 1877 to offer the campus and local community an opportunity to come together to consider questions of faith and living in a complex world.

More than 140 years later – and as the College celebrates its bicentennial year – the purpose remains the same, but the name has changed.

The series will now be known as “The Margaret M. Cummings Conversations on Faith, Learning and Service,” or “The Cummings Conversations” for short. The name honors Cummings, who taught Bible and religious education at Maryville College for 29 years.

The new name was unveiled on March 24, during the 2019 Meetings. Dr. Todne Thomas, a sociocultural anthropologist and assistant professor of African American Religions at Harvard Divinity School, was this year’s guest speaker, and the theme for this year was “The Tie That Binds.”

Past speakers have included Dr. Laura Hartman, author and professor; Katherine Paterson, author of numerous books, including Bridge to Terabithia; Jeanne Bishop, criminal defense attorney, activist and author; Canon David Porter, director of reconciliation for the Archbishop of Canterbury; Randal Jelks, professor, clergyman and writer; Derek Webb, Christian singer/songwriter; and Rev. Al Staggs, minister, actor and comedian.

“The Meetings have taken different shapes at different times, including week-long revival services, visits from distinguished authors, lectures from academic leaders and guided conversations within the College,” said the Rev. Dr. Anne McKee, campus minister. “But the name didn’t tell you much of that – it denoted a time – February, which wasn’t always accurate, and not much more about the content. Thus, in this bicentennial year, it is a great honor to give February Meetings a new name.”

Margaret McClure Cummings was born in 1903 and first came to Maryville College in 1935 with her husband, John, and their three children, when John was called to be the director of personnel and a teacher of Bible at the College. After John’s untimely death just over a year later, Margaret went to seminary in New York to prepare herself for collegiate teaching.

In 1940, she joined the Maryville College faculty as instructor in Bible and religious education, and she continued to teach at the College for 29 years. Since Bible was a required course, every student in those years was reached by “Ma Cummings,” as she was affectionately known. In 1968, she led the first international study trip for Maryville College’s new Interim Term, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, to the Middle East. In addition to her college teaching and raising three children (all of whom are Maryville College alumni – Jim Cummings ’56, Janet Cummings Martin '51 and Peggy Cummings Campbell ’50), she was very active at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville, ordained in 1953 as its first woman elder, and teaching an adult Sunday School class and Women’s Bible Studies for many years. She died in 2004, at the age of 101, leaving a legacy of faith, service and life-long learning.

“It is fitting that her name will live among us, doing what she loved – sparking conversation, inquiry and faithful action – through The Cummings Conversations for years to come,” McKee said.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2019 semester is 1,148.