This presidential column originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of The Bulletin
BY REBECCA J. STOLTZFUS ’83, President of Goshen College
IN THIS 125TH anniversary year, we pause and wonder at the heritage that we have received, and consider how we are shaping that heritage in this time for the coming generations.
Goshen College was brought into being by ordinary people like us, who were extraordinary
servant leaders. They were motivated by their own joy in learning and the possibility to create something new at the intersection of the tradition of Mennonite church, the locality of Elkhart County and the optimism of the late 19th century.
What have we inherited from these founders and servant leaders?
We inherited enthusiasm. Joining the teaching faculty of the Elkhart Institute in 1898,
historian C. Henry Smith “faced the future with the enthusiasm born of hope and youthful
confidence.” One of Goshen’s founders, John S. Coffman, described the Elkhart Institute
as the “welling up of a pent-up stream that could no longer be suppressed. Disadvantages,
opposition, fears of failure, all had to give way before the force that was driven into action by the deep consciousness of duty to God, to the church, to our young people, and to the cause of Christ in general.”
We inherited Christian faith and the vision that “the men and women going out from
Goshen College would be armed with a character that will never shrink from maintaining
true principles, a trust that relies solely on the favor of God for success,” said Coffman. The
commitments of Goshen College to Christian discipleship in general and to the Mennonite
church in particular are an enduring inheritance. That these commitments have been
questioned in every era of our history is evidence of their aliveness. We did not inherit faith
that is sleepy or taken for granted, but a faith that is curious, growing and unafraid of struggle.
We inherited engagement with the world. In 1903, President Noah Byers declared: “Let our motto be, Culture for Service.” It still is and we should not underestimate the radical nature of this motto. Goshen’s enduring commitment to service and to interconnectedness with local and global communities has been held in tension with academic and church culture.
In the face of the academic tendency to be elite and intellectual, Byers exhorted Goshen
College not to produce “an aristocracy of cultivated parasites.” And in the face of the
Mennonite church’s tendency to stand apart from society, J. Lawrence Burkholder asked
in 1955 as a young professor: “Shall we go on and take a responsible position in society, or
completely withdraw and become a sect in the stricter sense of the word?” Goshen College has over and over voted with minds, hearts and hands to engage and serve the world.
We inherited freedom, as Smith said in 1899, “…not because old habits of thinking are
always wrong … but because without this freedom growth is impossible …” Seven decades later, Ruth Krall, the founding professor of our women and gender studies program, asked her students: “What do you want to learn? What do you need to learn? And where do you want to look?” The freedom of Goshen College is grounded in our trust in truth and grace, and our openness to the diverse goodness of God’s Creation.
In the language of Psalm 16:6, we have “a goodly heritage,” a delightful inheritance in fact,
and we are eager to steward it into the future.