MC USA wants to get all schools on same page

Proposal would standardize relationships with denomination

Oct 11, 2017 by and

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A task force is proposing a more cooperative and consistent relationship between Mennonite Church USA and its institutions of higher education.

“We’re envisioning a relationship based more on collaboration than control,” said Dick Thomas, retired superintendent of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite School, who is moderating the task force, in a telephone interview.

“There’s been a call for a while that there should be a statement of arrangements that is the same so that all the schools have a more equal relationship with the church.”

Hesston College President Joseph Manickam and his wife, Wanda, take a ride in the Hesston College Beetle during the college’s homecoming parade Sept. 20. — Larry Bartel/Hesston College

Hesston College President Joseph Manickam and his wife, Wanda, take a ride in the Hesston College Beetle during the college’s homecoming parade Sept. 20. — Larry Bartel/Hesston College

The task force — composed of representatives from Mennonite Education Agency, MC USA and its affiliated colleges, universities and seminaries — is proposing the creation of a Mennonite Higher Education Association for “mutual support and collaboration.”

It is also proposing one “statement of arrangements” for all the schools. Currently, each college, university and seminary has a distinct relationship with the denomination. These unique agreements “have become increasingly dissatisfactory,” according to an Oct. 5 news release from MEA and MC USA.

Many of the differences have roots in the denominations that preceded MC USA. The Mennonite Church held more control over its schools than the General Conference Mennonite Church did.

The new proposal is closer to the former GCMC model.

“MEA is to resource, promote and connect but not to be involved in the operation of the schools,” Thomas said.

The proposal comes from the Higher Education Future Church-School Relations Committee, which began meeting regularly in June.

“Diverse perspectives on some questions were evident in the task force’s work,” said Bluffton (Ohio) University President James M. Harder in a news release. “Yet it has been clear that all who participated have been united in the goal of creating new opportunities for Mennonite colleges, universities and seminaries to relate more directly — and hopefully more effectively and more collaboratively — with each other in the future.”

After getting responses from all the school boards, the task force plans to have an updated proposal ready by April.

To ensure identity

“The primary purpose of this proposed structure is to ensure the ongoing Anabaptist/Mennonite identity and mission of the schools,” the proposal states.

In the statement of arrangements, each school would affirm the Bible “is the foundational authority for guiding their educational mission.” The 1995 MC USA Confession of Faith and the Mennonite World Conference “Shared Convictions” are cited as “valuable for framing teaching and learning” and “guides for educational formation.”

Thomas said some would have preferred citing only the MWC statement because the Confession of Faith “has become so politicized.”

The statement of arrangements requires a majority of each school board to come from MC USA congregations.

In a news release, Carlos Romero, executive director of MEA, said the committee sought to balance “the schools’ desire to be Anabaptist-Mennonite educational institutions with the freedom to be able to respond to the shifting realities of higher education.”

He also said the perspective of the schools is changing “from being schools for Mennonites to being Mennonite schools for all.”

The proposal would affect the denomination’s three colleges, two universities and two seminaries.

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