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Trustees Spring 2011 Report

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Bethany Seminary’s board of trustees met March 25-27, 2011, for their semi-annual meeting at the Bethany campus in Richmond, Indiana. In addition to hearing reports from all areas of the Seminary and passing several action items, the board took time to reflect on Bethany’s role in the twenty-first-century church.

General Business

The general session opened with personal reflections from board members Rhonda Pittman Gingrich and Lynn Myers on Bethany’s role as an academic institution, its relationship to the Church of the Brethren, and the possible tension between educating individuals and serving the church. Based on an informal regional survey, Myers reported that congregations and districts covet connections with Bethany. Open dialogue among board members followed.

President Ruthann Knechel Johansen stated, “The purpose of this conversation is to listen through our history, to contemporary conditions and questions that may divide us in the church, and to one another as we weigh our roles as educators. What is our role as board members charged with governance responsibilities and as servants of God and the church?” Carol Scheppard, board chair, also noted, “Bethany Seminary is committed to being a place that welcomes a broad range of theological perspectives, provides a forum for the respectful exchange of those perspectives, and encourages such healthy dialogue in the wider church.”

The board granted tenure to Steven Schweitzer, academic dean, and promoted Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm to the rank of professor with expressions of deep appreciation for the teaching and scholarly contributions of both. New and continuing leadership for the board was approved: Carol Scheppard, chair; Lynn Myers, vice chair; Marty Farahat, secretary; Lisa Hazen, chair of the Academic Affairs Committee; Elaine Gibbel, chair of the Institutional Advancement Committee; and Rex Miller, chair of the Student and Business Affairs Committee. The board also received and accepted the resignation of trustee Raymond Donadio and appointed Katherine J. Melhorn, a pediatrician from Wichita, Kansas, to complete his term.

The Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership reported on the launch of Seminario Biblico Anabautista Hispano (SeBAH-CoB) in partnership with the Mennonite Education Agency. In light of the Church of the Brethren paper calling for our denomination to be more fully intercultural, the development and success of SeBAH is of significance to and is supported by the Bethany board. This ministerial training program in the Spanish language shows promise with twenty participants having attended the Atlantic Northeast District orientation and seven having attended in the Pacific Southwest District.

Pending completion of requirements, Bethany’s 2011 graduating class of twenty was approved, the largest class since Bethany’s relocation to Richmond in 1994. The proposed budget for 2011-2012 was also approved. Other recommendations receiving approval involved board policies, Presidential Forum funding, authorization regarding financial accounts, and consultation for the Advancement Department.

Academic Affairs

The board heard that a comprehensive curriculum review and program review of the MDIV and MA degrees began this year in keeping with the Seminary strategic plan. The launch of the MA Connections program in fall 2010, enabling students to earn a master of arts degree through distance education, has helped the MA program grow to twenty-three students. Additionally, The Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership reported a current enrollment of seventy in the Training in Ministry (TRIM) program.

Student and Business Affairs

The board expressed appreciation for Bethany’s good fiscal management and financial stability in a time of great economic uncertainty. Current reports indicated that Bethany is in good standing to meet its 2011 budget by the close of the fiscal year on June 30. Positive changes in the market have favorably impacted Bethany’s investments.

Admissions reported that twenty-four new students enrolled for one or both semesters of the 2010-11 academic year and that Exploring Your Call is being revived in June 2011. This program brings high school youth to Bethany for ten days to explore their faith and vocation through courses, congregational involvement, community service projects, and spiritual enrichment.

As part of the denomination’s special response process this year, Bethany students participated in several campus hearings and were active in district hearings. Participation in congregational life also includes worship services at regional churches that are being planned and led by students. As the number of Connections distance students grows, a student development plan is being prepared to more intentionally include them in the life of the Seminary.

Institutional Advancement

Among the reports on charitable giving, the board heard that total giving to Bethany in calendar 2010 was the highest in five years, and fiscal 2011 giving remains strong, both due in part to estate gifts. Updates were also given on the status of Seminary publications, the redesign of the website, and staff contacts with individuals and churches throughout the denomination.

Advancement staff reviewed the progress being made in the Reimagining Ministries campaign. Since board approval one year ago of the four-year, $5.9 million campaign, the advancement staff have focused on securing lead gifts and recruiting campaign leadership. A public launch is planned for Sunday, July 3, at Annual Conference, following the initial meeting of the National Leadership Committee on July 2. The board was publicly thanked for their financial commitments during this lead phase.

“This campaign gives Bethany the opportunity to partner with congregations and a wider constituency in three key emphasis areas,” said Lowell Flory, executive director of institutional advancement. “We are off to a solid start with good support from the many lead donors we've contacted thus far.”

Special Presentations

Marcia Shetler, previous director of communications and public relations, was recognized for her fifteen years of service to Bethany Seminary. Shetler resigned in February 2011 to accept the call to be executive director of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, an international organization that encourages and supports Christian stewardship through resources, events, and networking.

Two board members were recognized upon the conclusion of their terms. Michele Firebaugh, chair of the Investment Committee, served Bethany as a trustee for ten years, and Jim Dodson, chair of the Student and Business Affairs committee, served for thirteen years.

Trustees, faculty, and staff gathered Saturday evening to hear a presentation from Professor Scott Holland on his most recent involvement with The Decade to Overcome Violence. As this international ecumenical program concludes, a new document has been drafted to aid the transition into further peace witness: “An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace.” A member of the drafting committee, Holland will be present when the document is accepted and studied at the final DOV conference in Kingston, Jamaica, in May 2011. President Ruthann Knechel Johansen will be the official representative for the Church of the Brethren at the conference.

The conception and development of The Decade to Overcome Violence at the turn of the century was led by Donald Miller, Bethany faculty emeritus and then-General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren, and German Mennonite theologian Fernando Enns. Through the key roles Miller and Holland have continued to play, Bethany Seminary has been in the center of this work and witness for the past decade.

John Smith
(MDiv Connections)

classMy wife Barbara and I first visited Bethany in June 2009. After spending two days meeting with faculty and staff I returned home even more uncertain. Did I really want to devote the time this program required? Was I willing to learn computer skills that didn't even exist when I finished college in 1972? Was I willing to make the eight-hour drive that would occasionally be necessary? Was this really what God was calling me to do at this time in my life? From the very beginning, I came as I am, but went not as I came. Little did I know how this Bethany tag line would time and time again ring true for my educational experience.