Schools to form a closer relationship

New association aims to strengthen ties with MC USA as one structure is developed for all

Jan 22, 2018 by

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A new association connecting Mennonite Church USA’s institutions of higher education will launch Feb. 1.

The Mennonite Higher Education Association’s goals include strengthening the schools’ relationships with each other and the denomination.

Hesston College students walk between classes on the Hesston, Kan., campus on Jan. 17. Hesston is one of five colleges affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. — Larry Bartel/Hesston College

Hesston College students walk between classes on the Hesston, Kan., campus on Jan. 17. Hesston is one of five colleges affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. — Larry Bartel/Hesston College

Planners cite the need to sustain the schools’ Anabaptist Mennonite identity and mission in a time of rapid change.

“The demographic, economic and cultural changes that are taking place, both in society and in our church, call us to re-examine our relationship with the schools,” said Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency, in a Jan. 11 news release.

“. . . We are working at the creation of something new that will require all the parts to be willing to change. The underlying foundation is still the same: the church and the schools want to maintain strong ties.”

Composed of the schools’ presidents and a representative of MEA, the association will begin as a “beta edition” — a preliminary version.

The Feb. 1 launch will enable James Harder, president of Bluff­ton University, to share his vision for the association with the presidents who are new to their positions before he retires June 30.

The other four MC USA-affiliated colleges and universities have installed new presidents within the past year.

The association will be fully functional by July 1. It has been affirmed by the boards of the six institutions — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Bethel College, Bluffton University, Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College and Hesston College — and by MEA and the MC USA Executive Board.

Richard Thomas of Lancaster, Pa., who moderates the denomination’s Future Church/School Relations Committee, will initially chair the group.

A common structure

The Future Church/School Relations Committee is working on a revised mutual understanding and a common structure to support connections among the schools and sustain their Anabaptist Mennonite values.

A common structure would be new because each school currently has a distinct relationship with the denomination. Some consider the lack of consistency a problem.

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.

A new vision for the relationship between the schools and the church will take into account this history but not be defined by it.

“The structure also provides new opportunities for MEA as it moves from focusing on governance to empowering the schools as well as newly emerging partners, to meet the various needs that educational programs serve for both MC USA and the world,” Thomas said in the news release.

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