The Bethany Seminary Board of Trustees met October 26-28 on the Seminary’s Richmond, Indiana, campusfor their biannual meeting. Board chair Lynn Myers, whose term began July 1, 2012, presided. Four new trustees were seated: Paul Brubaker, Ephrata, Pennsylvania, representing clergy; Christina Bucher, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, at large; Celia Cook-Huffman, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, representing the Brethren colleges; and David W. Miller, Glenville, Pennsylvania, representing clergy.
Two motions related to instruction were brought to the board for action. As part of a two-year comprehensive curriculum review, the faculty have identified the need for more coursework in history and have chosen to offer more concentrated study in Brethren theological heritage. These evaluations are in keeping with the Seminary’s strategic plan priorities to prepare graduates for a variety of ministry settings in a multifaith society and to encourage dialog among diverse theological perspectives. The strategic plan also calls for developing curriculum around the missional church, evangelism, and conflict transformation. To meet these goals, the board gave approval to expand the Brethren studies position to full-time and to create a half-time position in reconciliation studies, both to begin on or before July 1, 2013. Both positions will be supported by the current Reimagining Ministries campaign.
The second such motion approved by the board was development of a faculty associates program. Persons selected for the program would serve Bethany and the church by preaching, leading educational sessions, potentially teaching graduate courses, and/or increasing awareness of Bethany’s educational services across the denomination. This program would meet goals of both the strategic plan and the Reimagining Ministries campaign.
With the Institute for Ministry with Youth and Young Adults now in its thirteenth year, a recommendation to create a task force for evaluating the program was brought to, and approved by, the board. The task force will address the future of the coordinator of outreach programs position, the relationship between the Bethany board and the Institute’s advisory board, and ways to promote and expand the work of the Institute.
The board also heard a review of the current compensation policy and approved a task team to develop a revised policy. Other items receiving approval were the review of the Board Policy Manual, tuition and fees, a housing allowance for clergy faculty, and maintaining the current endowment draw policy with the stipulation that a timeline for board review be set.
Reports were given on Bethany’s conversation with other denominational institutions regarding partnership ventures. To encourage ministerial leadership within the church and the personal exploration of calls to ministry, the Manassas, Virginia, congregation has proposed the creation of teaching parishes. Post-college interns would be employed full-time and housed by a congregation for eighteen months, being mentored by the congregation, taking seminary-level courses, and engaging in personal reflection and spiritual discernment. This structure is modeled after the Vocation CARE program from the Fund for Theological Education, which offers support for such ventures.
Other conversations have begun between Bethany and the Brethren colleges. In addition to more Academy classes now offered on college campuses, the possibility of establishing a five-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program has been discussed with two of the colleges. The ever-expanding world of online education has also led to exploratory talks about coordinating distance learning among all the campuses. While offering common courses online to students at all schools could increase educational options, enrollment, and cost-effectiveness, moving toward a strategic plan for this initiative would require much research and collaboration on the desirability, goals, expenses, and logistics of the program.
The Presidential Search Committee reported progress in conversations with nominees and interview scheduling. The position has been advertised to relevant ecumenical institutions.
Staff are completing an updated institutional student profile, identifying demographics of the student body and the nature of the residential and distance-learning degree tracks. The tracks now have nearly identical requirements as technology and program flexibility have led to a majority of students enrolling in the Connections programs. While the quality and viability of a Bethany education relies on residential enrollment, efforts continue to strengthen personal relationships and generate common experience among the dispersed student body.
Lowell Flory, executive director of institutional advancement, reported that total giving to Bethany during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, was $1,506,963, slightly above the average of the last five years. Annual giving was $818,840, the highest since 2006. Staff are pleased that the Reimagining Ministries campaign is slightly above target at just over $4 million approximately halfway through the campaign period. Encouraging alumni and friends of Bethany to attend campaign meetings around the country is an ongoing effort.
Steve Schweitzer, academic dean, shared that the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting agency for theological schools, has revised its degree program standards. Major implications include the need to prepare for separate assessment processes for ATS and the Higher Learning Commission, a regional agency that accredits post-secondary educational institutions; these processes have historically occurred simultaneously. ATS-accredited schools are also now required to post statements of educational effectiveness on their websites, showing positive indicators of student learning. Bethany has completed this requirement.
The curriculum review is on schedule to be completed by the spring 2013 board meeting and implemented in fall 2013. The faculty anticipate that the new curriculum will allow greater flexibility in teaching and learning and provide students with opportunities to both broaden and deepen their educational experience.
Brenda Reish, executive director of student and business services, reported on several physical plant issues. Since Bethany’s acquisition of Mullen House across the street from the Bethany Center, plans for offices on the lower floor and rental housing on the second floor have proceeded. Zoning approval is in process, and construction bids are being sought. Plans for improving audio/visual capabilities in Nicarry Chapel are also underway.
To commemorate her promotion to full professor of Ministry Formation, Tara Hornbacker gave her professorial address on Saturday evening, October 27. Entitled “Incarnational Education and Improvisational Evangelism,” it explored theatrical improvisation as a method for evangelism that is appropriate for a pluralistic society and coherent with the Anabaptist-Pietist understanding of Incarnational love. Drawing on her theatrical background, Hornbacker led the audience through improvisational exercises, encounters with biblical texts, and fresh expressions of the gospel story.