By John Pierce

Passing through Trinity, N.C., last week, I barely noticed the sign claiming the small town as the birthplace of Duke University. Then I remembered that the prestigious university was once known as Trinity College.

It started as a small schoolhouse in 1838 and eventually picked up the name Trinity as did the quiet town in Randolph County, N.C. The college grew with strong Methodist support and relocated to Durham when a couple of deep-pocket Methodists, including Washington Duke, became generous benefactors.

My thoughts then turned the Mercer University in Macon, Ga., where I live. It has similar roots — in the now tiny, out-of-the-way community of Penfield, Ga. The town was named for Josiah Penfield a Savannah Baptist who left funds to the Georgia Baptist Convention for educational purpose.

Prominent pastor Jesse Mercer, who had married into some money, gave heavily toward the matching gift that created the school. It would pick up his name as well. The move to Macon came just after the Civil War.

Most colleges and universities have similar stories of humble beginnings — as do most congregations and other organizations. Revisiting these roots — in person or through study — can remind of us some important truths.

For one: few good things start on a grand scale, but rather as a grand vision that not everyone can see.

And two: how someone or something starts out is less important than how he, she or it grows.

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