Bethany Seminary Trustees Consider ‘Core Testimonies’ of the Brethren

“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″

(April 8, 2008) — The Bethany Theological Seminary Board of Trustees gathered at the Richmond, Ind., campus for a semi-annual meeting on March 28-30. The two-plus days of meetings included spirited discussion and deliberation about many significant items related to the seminary’s mission and program, including discussion of the “core testimonies” of the Church of the Brethren.

Faculty and administration joined the board for an evening meal followed by a time of creative visioning about the seminary’s mission. Board chair Ted Flory described the conversation as a discussion about, “How we might refocus that mission around Church of the Brethren core testimonies in order to meet the needs of the denomination and wider church, and the world, for the 21st century.” President Ruthann Johansen added, “What the Church of the Brethren core testimonies have to offer to the world as well as to the church in this time is an important element of our discernment.” No decisions were made other than a consensus to continue the conversations and build on the creative energies that were ignited during the meeting.

The board approved 16 candidates for graduation on May 3, pending successful completion of their studies. The board also received a report from academic dean Stephen Breck Reid that 51 percent of seminary students in the US are women, and during the 2007-08 academic year, 57 percent of Bethany students are women. A new course titled “Women in Ministry” will added to the curriculum in the 2008-09 academic year, taught by Tara Hornbacker, associate professor of Ministry Formation.

Academic year budgets for 2008-09 were approved for Bethany operations, the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, and the Brethren Journal Association. The Bethany operations budget is $2,406,280, an approximate $186,500 increase.

The Academic Affairs committee reported that several documents are in progress to address the recommendations of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (HLC), related to the seminary’s 2006 re-accreditation. An initial assessment plan will be submitted to ATS in April, a recruitment plan to HLC by Oct. 1, and a comprehensive assessment plan for review by the HLC by 2010-11.

The board heard a progress report on preservation of three book collections owned by the seminary: the Abraham Cassel Collection, the Huston Bible Collection, and the John Eberly Hymnal Collection. The preservation project is funded by a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation. The collections include the theological library of 19th century Brethren leader Abraham Cassel, as well as many rare volumes on radical Pietism and early sectarian works. Custom-made protective covers are being created for each book, and the collections are stored in the climate-controlled archival section of Earlham College’s Lilly Library. Titles will be included in the Internet search engine WorldCat, as well as on a web page maintained by the Brethren Journal Association.

In other reports, the board heard an update on a new orientation structure for Connections, the distributed education track for the Master of Divinity degree; a report on the Bethany Ambassador program in which, to date, 100 people have agreed to serve as Bethany Ambassadors in their congregations; and an update on the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence programs of the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, which are funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc. Financial support from the endowment will end in 2009, and plans are being developed to obtain continuing funds. Steve Clapp of Christian Community is working with the academy to survey Church of the Brethren pastors about the impact of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence programs. Their responses will inform the shape and direction of future continuing education initiatives.

The board also gave significant time to a discussion regarding the partnership between Bethany and the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center (SVMC) with offices at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College. Donna Rhodes, executive director of SVMC, shared a history of the center. The discussion focused on procedural and programmatic issues, and explored ways to clarify and strengthen the partnership.

In personnel matters, the board approved the promotion of Daniel W. Ulrich to professor of New Testament Studies. Ulrich is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and a graduate of Bridgewater (Va.) College and Bethany. He earned his doctorate in biblical studies from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and holds a professional development certificate in Distance Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He began teaching at Bethany in 1994 as an adjunct instructor, joined the faculty in 1996 as assistant professor of New Testament Studies, and also served as associate dean and director of Distributed Education from 2002-06.

The board learned of three teaching and administrative appointments for the 2008-09 academic year (see personnel notices below) and recognized the service of Christine Larson, Delora Roop, and Jonathan Shively. Larson leaves her position as reference librarian for Earlham College, Earlham School of Religion, and Bethany Seminary, at the end of this academic year. Roop retires this summer as coordinator of the Office of Institutional Advancement and receptionist for the seminary, after 25 years of service. Shively leaves his position as director of the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership to begin as executive director Congregational Life Ministries with the Church of the Brethren General Board on July 1.

The board retained its current officers for 2008-09: Ted Flory of Bridgewater, Va, serves as chair; Ray Donadio of Greenville, Ohio, as vice chair; Frances Beam of Concord, N.C., as secretary; Carol Scheppard of Mount Crawford, Va., as chair of the Academic Affairs Committee; Elaine Gibbel of Lititz, Pa., as chair of the Institutional Advancement Committee; and Jim Dodson of Lexington, Ky., as chair of the Student and Business Affairs Committee.

Many board members participated in the Inaugural Forum that immediately followed the meeting, which celebrated the call of Ruthann Knechel Johansen as seminary president and the role of the seminary as a resource for the church and the world. Video webcasts from the forum are at

–Marcia Shetler is director of Public Relations for Bethany Theological Seminary.


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