By Frank Ramirez
There’s a line from a song by Bob Dylan – “He who is not busy being born is busy dying!” – that probably defines Jeff Carter’s tenure as President of Bethany Theological Seminary. During a time when seminaries are struggling to stay open Bethany has experienced “ten years of sustained growth,” and welcomes larger classes, including a wider range of ecumenical students, because of a focused mission of returning to Brethren core values by instituting new programs.
Thursday’s Bethany Theological Seminary Lunch at Annual Conference included recognition for Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership Graduates, as well as recognition for employees who are ending their time of service to the seminary. It also featured a conversation between President Carter and new faculty members Dr. Maggie Elwell and Dr. Joelle Hathaway.
Speaking about the new Bethany BOLD (Build. Organize. Love. Dare.), Carter said, “It feels good to have a new program,” and added, “It goes back to our founding: education rooted in practical experience.” He recalled how the students on the old Hastings Street campus in Chicago would put their theological education to work in local hospitals, jails, and soup kitchens, and emphasized that Bethany continues to be “made new again in new ways.”
Dr. Maggie Elwell, the new Assistant Professor of Peace Studies and Director of Bethany BOLD, said that the program “is faith in action,” adding, “Our students want to put what we know into action in the community.” BOLD involves students in local school board meetings and similar organizations to educate them in the ways community organizations work, and how they wield power. Other programs encourage students to explore ways they can invite these community members to fulfill their desire to bring change to their community.
“It’s important for students to see the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Elwell said, and to learn about “both the beauty and terror of power.”
Learning how Richmond, Indiana, the home of Bethany, works, she suggested, gives them experience “. . . they can take with them no matter where they go. I want them to build the Kingdom of God where we live.”
Another major cog in Bethany’s growth has been the emphasis on Theopoetics, which is, according to Dr. Joelle Hathaway, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies and Director of the Theopoetics program, is a way of speaking theologically that makes space for a variety of methods of expression – poetry, drama, and storytelling among others. It involves “. . . opening oneself out to listen to other people’s stories.”
Hathaway added “It creates a liminal space for people who have been hurt in church. They still have faith in God but don’t want conventional church expressions.” Hathaway has been trained in Systematic Theology, but also enjoys the decidedly unsystematic expression in Theopoetics. Evidently so do a lot of folks, because a significant portion of Bethany’s student body chose the seminary for its Theopoetics program.
Participants in the Bethany BOLD program receiving housing, full-tuition scholarships, and a monthly stipend. Information about the program can be found at bethanyseminary.edu/bold.