The Bethany board of trustees met March 23-25 on the Bethany campus for their semiannual meeting.
Following the recent announcement of Ruthann Knechel Johansen's intention to retire from the presidency of the Seminary, business began with approval of the Presidential Search Committee and statements from Johansen.
Trustee Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, Minneapolis, Minnesota, was selected to chair the Search Committee with Ted Flory, a former board member and chair from Bridgewater, Virginia, selected as vice chair. The additional members of the committee are trustees David McFadden, John D. Miller, and Nathan Polzin; at-large representative Judy Mills Reimer; faculty representative Tara Hornbacker; and student representative Dylan Haro.
Johansen reflected on the presidency going forward: "At a time of transition, it is helpful to reflect on the cloud of witnesses in whose vision heritage we stand, hundreds and thousands of women and men who went to mission fields, pastored congregations, taught school, worked in hospitals. Like us, this cloud of witnesses from across a century faced challenges, questions, and suspicions. None submitted ultimately to resignation or despair but instead sank their roots more deeply into their faith in Jesus Christ and into careful analysis, understanding, and commitment to lead the school they served to clearer vision and purpose. Our task as board, administration, faculty, and students today is the same."
Johansen also presented four challenges that can be turned into opportunities:
• Assessing the opportunities and effects of technology on education
• Engaging the questions surrounding the changing face of Christianity
• Learning to live with awareness and sensitivity in a multifaith society
• Extending the witness of Brethren core testimonies through Bethany's educational resources
The board also named desired characteristics of potential nominees to consider during the presidential search process.
Appreciation was expressed to current board chair Carol Scheppard at the conclusion of her ten-year tenure, which also included serving as chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. Two other trustees were also recognized for ten years of service: Connie Rutt, who previously chaired the Advancement Committee, and Lisa Hazen, chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. Ron Beachley, an ex-officio member representing the district executives, was commended for his service at the close of his term.
New and continuing board leadership was approved: Lynn Myers, new board chair; David Witkovsky, new board vice chair; Martha Farahat, secretary; Jonathan Frye, new chair of the Academic Affairs Committee; Elaine Gibbel, chair of the Advancement Committee; and Phil Stone Jr., chair of the Student and Business Affairs Committee. David W. Miller, Hanover, Pennsylvania, was approved as a new trustee, filling an unexpired term. Both David Miller and Miller Davis were approved as representatives to the board of the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center.
The board approved the following:
• The proposed budget of $2,382,060 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year
• Tara Hornbacker’s promotion to full professor of Ministry Formation
• A review of Bethany’s compensation philosophy for faculty and staff
• The list of sixteen potential graduates for 2012
Lowell Flory, executive director for institutional advancement and gift planning, reported that both overall giving and annual fund giving for calendar year 2011 were within the average of several previous years. Congregational giving is less overall, but some churches are resuming or increasing their giving after the economic hardships of the past few years.
Flory reviewed the goals of the three-year Reimagining Ministries campaign: evangelism and new forms of ministry, conflict transformation, and greater public access to Bethany's resources. Giving to the campaign is currently slightly ahead of target with 52 percent of the $5.9 million goal secured. Numerous donor contacts have been made through a series of campaign meetings, and the effectiveness of various strategies are being evaluated.
Communications staff described continuing methods of promoting Bethany and communicating with constituents. Board members saw an example of the new ad series, which will be used in three national publications and two online media outlets. Tracking through technology is being used for all formats. Bethany's ability to work with webcasting continues to be strong, and the board was encouraged to think broadly about how to make use of technology.
Steve Schweitzer, academic dean, highlighted the progress of the comprehensive curricular review to be completed by fall 2013, part of the Seminary's five-year strategic plan. In the review process, faculty needs in the areas of conflict transformation and reconciliation studies, evangelism, and Brethren studies are being discussed. Schweitzer also noted that while the Seminary will remain accredited with the Association of Theological Schools, Bethany's administration continues to evaluate whether maintaining accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission is in Bethany's best interests.
Reports were heard from Schweitzer and Russell Haitch, associate professor of Christian education and director of the Institute for Ministry with Youth and Young Adults, on their fall 2011 sabbaticals. Schweitzer's experimental model of taking selected weeks throughout the semester was successful and has garnered the favorable attention of ATS. Haitch reported progress in writing, research, and expanding connections in the field of youth ministry.
The board heard from the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, which is developing a new covenant for a continued partnership between Bethany and the Mission and Ministry Board. The Seminario Biblico Anabautista Hispano (SeBAH) Spanish language ministerial training program is planning to launch a third cohort in Puerto Rico in early fall. As the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program concludes with its final cohorts, a proposal for future programming in continuing education is being developed.
The Brethren Journal Association reported that Brethren Life & Thought is now on a regular semiannual publication schedule and is exclusively available on ATLA, the premiere index for articles and writings in religious fields. It is hoped that peer-reviewed articles and a new blog will increase interest in the journal.
Student and Business Affairs
Student debt is an ongoing concern for Seminary staff. Since 2004, increases in borrowing and payments made have been significant. Institutional income from tuition and fees is down this year, while annual fund income is increasing due to campaign efforts. It was noted that if stability in the stock market continues, 2012-13 will be the final year of Bethany's three-year rolling average amount for its investment draw that dates from the economic downturn, which points to future improvements in cash flow. In addition, Bethany has acquired two residential properties through the dissolving of the Brethren Housing Organization, and potential uses for the properties are being considered.
The board was treated to an effective visual demonstration of the Seminary's accounting process by Brenda Reish, executive director of student and business services and treasurer. In learning how funds are designated and used, the board generated discussion on how financial decisions are made.
The Admissions Office reported that applications in 2012 had already reached one-third of the average calendar-year number and that Bethany's conversations with prospects indicate a possible increase in residential students. The importance of nurturing young people in the faith was noted. The Student Development Office has begun a three-year cycle of visiting distance-learning Connections students, proving to be very positive and effective in helping staff understand how these students experience seminary. Exploration of ways to include these students in seminary life continues.
Amy Gall Ritchie, director of student development, was recognized for completing the requirements for a doctorate in ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary and expressed gratitude for her sabbatical in fall 2011.
In recognition of her promotion to full professor of preaching and worship in 2011, Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm gave a public lecture Saturday evening, March 24. Entitled "The Reign of God in the Preaching of Jesus: Glimpses and Soundings of the World to Come," her presentation explored how Jesus's words and actions illuminated God's presence during his time and how our attention to these words and to our senses can reveal God's presence in our world today.