By James M. Odato
The Pottersville-based Word of Life Fellowship – already with 150 employees, 400 students, several summer camps, 500 Adirondack acres in Essex and Warren counties and an island in Schroon Lake – is getting a bit larger.
The State Education Department has granted the 119-year-old Davis College, a bible school in Johnson City, to open an extension at the Word of Life Institute, according to a letter provided to the Adirondack Explorer.
The July 8 letter states that Davis is permitted to relocate its campus for a year – through July 1, 2020 – to the Word of Life campus. It also states that a next step, such as permanent relocation, requires a separate application and approval.
“While this one-year plan has been proposed as the first step in a possible permanent relocation of Davis College’s main campus to the Word of Life Bible Institute campus, the approval of the one-year plan does not constitute pre- approval of any future proposal from Davis College for such a relocation,” the SED letter says.
The move comes as Davis College, formerly called Practical Bible College, is dealing with operation, financial and academic challenges, according to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school was placed on probation last fall by the accreditation agency and it recently entered into a deal to sell its campus.
Word of Life Executive Vice President John Nelson said the collaboration with Davis College immediately means that Davis’ freshmen and sophomore students will start their college careers in the Adirondacks at the Word of Life Institute. If these Davis enrollees decide to continue as upperclassmen they would continue with Davis, he said.
Whether Word of Life becomes a four-year school and takes over Davis altogether, he said, “remains to be seen.”
“We have had conversations with the accrediting agencies; they are satisfied with the direction things are moving at this time,” Nelson said.
He said Word of Life employs 35 people at its two-year, 49-year-old college which is next to the headquarters of Word of Life. Students who attend often pursue careers as pastors. The college teaches various leadership subjects, including camp counseling and students become camp counselor interns during the summer months for course credit at the fellowship’s family, children’s and adult camps in the Adirondacks.
Students come from 25 states and 10 countries and many of the Word of Life students’ first experience in the Adirondacks happens when they arrive at the school.
Daniel Babcock, co-chairman of Davis, said the school is unprepared to discuss the “shared services” arrangement.
“We are thrilled that we have a plan to go forward with,” he said.
Word of Life has grown into a substantial organization and employer, one of the biggest based in the Adirondacks, with more than $46 million in net assets, according to IRS filings. It operates ministries in 70 countries. Its mission is described as evangelization and discipleship to strengthen and build the Church of Jesus Christ, using camps, conferences, training, church partnerships, bible institutes, youth events, sports, and music and drama teams. The fellowship also has a foundation with $12 million in assets.
Word of Life got its start in 1940 in New York City and moved to the Adirondacks in 1946 when it acquired the former Clark Island in Schroon Lake.