Canadian MBs mourn Bethany College’s closing

Jun 8, 2015 by and

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HEPBURN, Sask. — Bethany College’s 88th graduation April 26 was bittersweet with remembrance of the school’s impact on Mennonite Breth­­ren young people. The college’s board decided in December the institution will close this summer.

A trend of declining enrollment hit a critical point last spring. This year there were 64 on-campus students and eight fourth-year interns.

“We gather to mourn a loss that cannot be ignored,” said academic dean Gil Dueck, but with “firm conviction in the God who creates new beginnings out of what appear to be dead ends.”

“You Are Our Letter, Written on Our Hearts” (2 Cor. 3:2) was the theme of the event and graduation address by Bruce Guenther, president of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada. He surveyed the impact of the college in the broader Bible school movement of the last century, when Mennonites started 60 of the 110 Bible-training institutions in Canada.

The founders of these schools believed that “the future of the church depended on how successfully they would transmit their religious and cultural heritage to their children,” he said.

Responsive to this “sacred trust,” they started places like Bethany, where students’ impulse for mission sometimes ran ahead of their instructors’. In 1932, a Monday night student prayer meeting became the force that launched the Western Children’s Mission. In 1935, a student body uprising demanded instruction in English to better engage the culture around them.

Ironic timing

Guenther noted the irony that Beth­any should close at a time of economic prosperity but biblical illiteracy and desperate need for well-trained leaders in an increasingly hostile culture. He called the church to “envision new, creative avenues for being faithful to what is collectively our sacred trust.”

“Even though Bethany will go dormant for good, or for a season,” said board chair Trevor Rempel, “God still has work to do in young people’s lives.”

The gym echoed with the cries and chatter of young children, a reminder of the next generation who will also need theological and spiritual nurture and training as they grow into maturity.

“There is still a need for something broader [in terms of discipleship training] than what a local church can do,” said board chair Trevor Rempel.

Decisions on the sale of assets are being deferred until December.

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