On Thursday (March 10), faculty, staff, and students at Hannibal-LaGrange University gathered together to pray for a miracle amid financial woes threatening the school’s existence. The Baptist school in Hannibal, Missouri, also livestreamed seven hours of the “solemn assembly” event for others to join in what the school billed as a “time of prayer, fasting, petition, and repentance.”
Transitional President Rodney Harrison, who led the prayer event along with Claude King (co-author of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God), admitted during the service that the school is in a “very precarious situation” and facing “imminent disaster.” In fact, he said they are trying to figure out what steps to take “to get to the end of the semester.”
Although Harrison did not offer many details about how much debt the school has or what led to this “season of fiscal exigency,” he did drop some hints during multiple remarks sprinkled in between hours of quiet or small-group prayers. He said the school had requested a larger line of credit from the bank this week, and he said the Missouri Baptist Convention this week told HLGU it could not provide the funds. Harrison mentioned $4 million but didn’t clarify if that is the total debt or just what is due now.
So, he urged people to pray for “divine intervention for such a time as this.” He added that only God can save them as “our assurance will not come from the Missouri Baptist Convention” or the bank.
“We have not always been forthright about the condition. We’ve been afraid to tell you ‘here’s the situation we’re in,’” Harrison admitted during the prayer gathering. “Today is the day of reckoning.”
Harrison noted that he informed the faculty of “the realities of our dire financial situation” on Wednesday, and then held a similar talk with students. He compared the shock of faculty learning about the financial reality to when he received a cancer diagnosis several years ago.
While HLGU’s call for the solemn assembly had only generically mentioned “current financial and institutional challenges,” MBC Executive Director John Yeats had put out comments about the financial “emergency.” Those remarks posted online Tuesday by the MBC’s publication, however, were quickly taken down as those comments had been published before faculty and students had even been informed.
HLGU told Word&Way just as the gathering Thursday was starting that the school hadn’t released any information publicly yet about its financial situation. But the school didn’t explain the severity of the situation or how it occurred.
Harrison offered some criticism of HLGU leaders for the situation.
“We have not been always faithful stewards of the resources that God has given to this university,” he said during the event Thursday.
But Harrison quickly pivoted to urge those present not to give in to the “temptation to be angry” about “mistakes and the sin of the past.” Instead, he called it a time to forgive and learn. And he called on those present to repent of their own failures for not giving more or praying more in the past.
Harrison said that in light of the financial crisis, the school is making some curriculum changes and working on a balanced budget for the next year. He also said the board of trustees would meet Friday to consider the next steps.
The financial woes have caught the attention of the school’s accrediting body. According to the Higher Learning Commission, HLGU received an “interim report” on “financial indicators” on Feb. 15. This came after a decision in November by the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council to concur with “the Financial Panel’s findings” about HLGU.
Another school affiliated with the MBC is also facing significant challenges. Yeats has played a key role in the controversy at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, where actions he and other MBC leaders undertook were part of why the school’s accreditation is now on probation by the HLC.
Yeats briefly spoke at HLGU’s prayer event Thursday, but he did so off-screen from the livestream and without using the microphone.