During their semiannual meeting on October 28-30, 2011, the Bethany Theological Seminary board of trustees devoted time for
thoughtful consideration and discussion of Bethany's role in leadership for the Church of the Brethren. The board strongly reaffirmed Bethany's mission and vision to "equip intellectual and spiritual leaders with an Incarnational education for ministering, proclaiming, and living out God's shalom and Christ's peace in the church and world." Consensus formed around the desire for Bethany to serve as a place for the study of and dialogue about theological, cultural, and individual diversity. Additional key themes included how to communicate this call effectively to the church and society through word and deed and the importance of proactively responding to opportunities that arise from challenges.
The board expressed appreciation for Bethany's efforts to embrace intellectual and spiritual hospitality for individuals of various backgrounds and theological viewpoints, both in the classroom and in campus community life. They affirmed Bethany's actions to foster respectful conversation on difficult and controversial questions, seeking the mind of Christ together as directed by Standing Committee. The April 2012 Presidential Forum, "Joy and Suffering in the Body: Turning toward Each Other," was named as an exemplary step toward this goal. Continuing discussion of Bethany's leadership role in the church and in the world will occur both within the Seminary and among board members.
General Business Four new trustees were welcomed to their terms on the board: D. Miller Davis, Westminster, Maryland, representing laity; Gregory Geisert, Keezletown, Virginia, at large; Dave McFadden, North Manchester, Indiana, at large; and Katherine Melhorn, Wichita, Kansas, representing laity.
Guest presenter Mary Jo Flory-Steury, associate general secretary in the Office of Ministry for the Church of the Brethren, spoke with the board and individual committees about the current draft of the Ministerial Leadership paper, to be brought to Annual Conference in 2013. The three emphases of the paper are the calling of persons to ministry in the Church of the Brethren, a more inclusive view of credentialed ministry through a ministry circle structure, and lifelong attention to ministry formation.
Feedback from the full board and committees focused primarily on the process of individual discernment and calling to ministry and the importance of education in the proposed ministry structure. Topics discussed included the nature of discernment cohort groups for those exploring ministry; the difference between commissioned and ordained ministers and their respective educational needs; and a desire to promote graduate study, especially for those seeking specialized careers in ministry. Flory-Steury affirmed Bethany's present and future role in preparing ministry leadership, and the board expressed appreciation for the efforts of those who are drafting the paper.
Board members and staff in each committee submitted updates for their respective sections of the board policy manual; all were approved by the board. Updates to the by-laws were also submitted to be reviewed in executive session.
Academic Affairs Steve Schweitzer, academic dean, reported on how changes enacted by accrediting agencies are affecting the Seminary. Bethany is currently accredited by both the Association of Theological Schools and the Higher Learning Commission, an agency that accredits a broad scope of graduate and undergraduate institutions. Due to increasing differences in standards between the two agencies and evidence that ATS is better able to appropriately evaluate a seminary of Bethany's size and nature, maintaining the Seminary's accreditation with HLC is under review by Bethany's administration. Research will be conducted prior to the next board meeting. Additionally, the Seminary is devoting more energy and resources to self-assessment of its programs, procedures, and structures as required for accreditation.
A complete review of all curriculum is on track to be implemented in fall 2013. The faculty have also approved a formation seminar for first-year MA students beginning in fall 2012 as a parallel to the Ministry Formation track for MDiv students. MA students will be able to choose between writing a thesis or a combination of developing a portfolio and taking exams.
Donna Rhodes, executive director of the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center, an offsite location for Bethany courses, highlighted the recent five-year recertification of the Academy Certified Training System program. She also reported on recent graduate courses and events held and those currently scheduled.
Student and Business Affairs Elizabeth Keller, outgoing director of admissions, was recognized for her achievements during the past four years. She encouraged ongoing efforts to reach out beyond members of the Church of the Brethren and to articulate the quality and affordability of the Seminary's Connections distance-learning program. It was also reported that residential student enrollment is trending downward as more students opt for distance education and a more intentional student development program for these students is being planned. Staff expressed enthusiasm for the personal stories and experiences that students bring to the Bethany community and acknowledged that they are affected by and responsive to the current climate in the denomination.
Bethany closed the 2011 fiscal year with a surplus, for which Brenda Reish, treasurer, and staff received appreciation. Financial reports were also heard for the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, The Brethren Journal Association, Sustaining Pastoral Excellence, and Exploring Your Call. It was reported that Bethany will discontinue with the Perkins loan program and that the increasing amount of debt held by incoming students is a concern of Bethany faculty and staff. The board approved student tuition and fees and housing allowances for qualifying faculty and staff for the coming year.
Institutional Advancement Lowell Flory, executive director for institutional advancement and gift planning, reported that Bethany's total gift income for fiscal year 2011 was higher than in 2010, due to a large estate gift. Although giving to the annual fund was 92.7 percent of goal, this percentage is in keeping with a seven-year average. Congregational giving has continued to decline. The Reimagining Ministries campaign was launched at Annual Conference with the benchmark 47 percent of the total $5.9 million goal having been met. Since then, staff and National Leadership Committee members have been planning and hosting a series of cottage meetings to garner campaign contributions.
The Communications Office has a new director of communications and also now includes the director of electronic communication, both of whom manage the appearance of and content on Bethany's website. It was reported that Bethany's printed materials are being professionally designed to maintain quality and consistency and ads are now being placed in two national magazines.
The Alumni/ae Coordinating Council retreat just prior to the board meeting included reports from and discussion with administrative staff on current and future developments at Bethany and planning for alumni-related programs and events. The council also affirmed the importance of Bethany and its alumni/ae serving as leaders in the denomination today.
Gift Dedication Board members, faculty, and staff joined special guest Ruth Aukerman to dedicate her gift of a handcrafted stained glass window to Bethany. Titled I Will Make You Fishers of Men, the window depicts Christ the fisherman pulling purple fish from the water which are washed white as snow and become fishermen themselves, pulling the net. Sensing that it may be her best work,
Aukerman offered the window to Bethany as a place that trains "fishers of men." The group enjoyed a dialog with Aukerman about the inspiration behind the piece and the making of it.