This interview with Jeff Carter, the new president at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., was provided to Newsline by Frank Ramirez, pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. Ramirez interviewed Carter while both were attending the National Older Adult Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C., in early September.
Two things. Jeff Carter, president of Bethany Theological Seminary, is focused on two things. “I want Bethany to be your first thought in theological education,” Carter said, “and I want Bethany to be your first thought as a church resource.”
How do you get from youth pastor playing guitar and singing, “Jesus is the Rock and he rolled my sins away?” to a recognized figure in the ecumenical church, the head of an institution more than a century old with a venerable history and a changing future?
“This may not be the traditional path” to the presidency of the seminary, Carter said with a laugh, chronicling his 20-year journey from associate pastor in 1993, through 18 years of pastoral work at Manassas (Va.) Church of the Brethren, to his term as Church of the Brethren representative to the World Council of Churches. But his educational path may have uniquely prepared him for the position.
“I went to Bethany and six additional schools,” he explained. “I was probably one of the first students that did nontraditional education from a distance. I commuted to Bethany, but I also wanted an ecumenical degree, so that when I graduated with Bethany the larger church would also be behind my education.”
Carter considers his ability to balance full-time ministry and full-time education to be one of the gifts he brings to seminary leadership. “I balanced my family life, my church life, my school life, and managed to finance it all, with a sense of integrity and excellence.”
He looks forward to the challenges he faces. “At this time in our history [Bethany is] facing some pressing challenges, which also means we have some of our greatest opportunities. If we are willing to think creatively, imaginatively, and maintain our sense of faith and hopefulness, the future is limitless.”
The main tasks that lie ahead for the school include calling, equipping, and empowering people for ministry in a variety of settings, Carter said, adding “valuing academic rigor and practical experiences, and just exploring with faculty and staff what God is doing in the world and how we might be a part of it. We’re preparing people to share the gospel and extend the kingdom. That could be for the traditional pastoral ministry, church ministry, full-time, part-time ministry, chaplaincy–theological training can be used in a variety of ways. If you’re a lawyer with theological training you can serve the church and be a mediator.”
“I think everyone should have some theological education,” Carter said. One of his jobs, he asserted, is to remove any doubt that getting a theological education is possible. “We provide generous financial aid, and we can assist with housing for our residential students. Our online learning has been cutting edge from the very beginning. We have distributed education, so we can be found in many districts.”
For the individual seeking theological education, questions are similar to those facing the church as a whole, Carter said. “Where are the opportunities? Where’s the adventure?” This sense of adventure and opportunity is something Carter and his family bring to their new home in Richmond, Ind., and to his new position at the seminary, and is something he hopes to instill in all who are thinking of coming to Bethany.
“If there’s one thing I’d remove, it would be the doubt. If you feel the call, go for it. Let us help you. Come for the big adventure.”
— Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren and was on the volunteer communication team at National Older Adult Conference.