The Cooperative Christian Ministry recently recognized Elizabeth Hardin, vice chancellor for business affairs, with the 2016 Loy Witherspoon Distinguished Service Award. She serves as a board member and campus advisor for the ministry, which is known as Niner United at UNC Charlotte.
The award is named for the late Loy Witherspoon, who founded Cooperative Christian Ministry in 1964 after being recruited by Bonnie Cone to serve as the first chair of what was then Charlotte College’s Department of Philosophy and Religion and to serve as the campus minister. Witherspoon died Jan. 15.
Hardin was recognized for her work with Rev. Steve Cheyney, Niner United’s campus minister, to secure a $100,000 grant from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment’s Theological Exploration of Vocation for Campus Ministries Initiative. The grant, awarded in 2014, was one of only 21 across the country. The funds were used to establish the Accelerated Ministry Project, which is designed to help students discern if they are called into ministry – in whatever form that may take.
The Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, bishop pro tempore of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, who presented the award, noted Hardin’s willingness to do anything required to ensure the organization’s success.
“She is an icon of servant ministry. She knows when to step up and when to step back,” Hodges-Copple said. “She will lead, or she will take out the trash.”
The Rev. Jacob Pierce (’10), a former member of Niner United and currently a pastor at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Charlotte, recalled how Hardin loaned him her personal vehicle when he was a freshman so he could drive other students to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Pierce’s car was unavailable because of a traffic accident, and Hardin didn’t want the trip to be canceled. She even put four new tires on her car before turning it over.
“This is just one example of the selfless service that she models for both this campus ministry and the students at this University,” Pierce said.
During her acceptance remarks, Hardin cited two forces, in addition to her religious faith, that drive her desire to serve the students of UNC Charlotte through Niner United.
The first is the power of public education, and specifically higher education, to help close the opportunity gap in the United States, a topic that has interested Hardin since she was a teenager.
“Public education has sustained us over the past 60 years,” she said. “Higher education sets people up on a trajectory that allows them to be self-sustaining and allows them to make a difference in the world.”
The second influence was having the opportunity to get to know Cone and Witherspoon and seeing firsthand their commitment to educating the whole student – both inside and outside the classroom. Witherspoon especially left a lasting impact through the campus ministry.
“It’s about the transformation in every aspect of one’s life that Loy has fostered among thousands of students here,” she said.
Hardin recalled often thinking to herself that she wanted to be just like him and Cone.
According to former Chancellor Jim Woodward, who knew both Cone and Witherspoon, she has achieved her goal.
“Beth is like Bonnie and Loy in that she fully embraces the core mission of UNC Charlotte,” he said. “She is committed to the education of the University’s students through their intellectual, social and personal development, and she carries out her work with brilliance and compassion.”
Hardin’s passion for helping young people extends into the community as well, said Rev. Kevin Brown, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter.
“Beth has a special calling, it seems, to serve youth and young adults, each as a unique individual with their own gifts, struggles, pains and joys,” he said. “She doesn’t offer drive-by advice, but rather Beth gets to know folks and what makes them tick. She takes them seriously, which is especially essential in a culture that tends to ignore them.”
Hardin’s willingness to pause and pay attention isn’t lost on the young people she’s so dedicated to serving. For Niner United member Conor Baker, Hardin’s caring heart brightens any room she walks into.
“She is always keen and attentive to the needs of the students and offers her personal resources in any way that she can,” said Baker, a senior in fire safety engineering technology from Statesboro, Ga. “Beth is truly a blessing to our ministry and I can’t think of anyone else who could do it better than she does.”
Cooperative Christian Ministry is a nondenominational campus ministry in partnership with the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Methodist churches. In addition to UNC Charlotte, it operates at Central Piedmont Community College and Johnson & Wales University. More information is available at campus-ministry.org.