Rooted in the way of Jesus

This presidential column originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of The Bulletin.

BY REBECCA J. STOLTZFUS ’83President of Goshen College

BEING ROOTED IS POWERFUL. Roots provide physical anchoring, lifegiving water, nourishment and reproduction. It is no wonder that being rooted is also a Biblical idea. Jesus himself sprang up from the stump of Jesse, from whose roots “a branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1). Paul writes to the Ephesians: “And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power. . .” (Ephesians 3:17-18)

Goshen College, as we say in our mission statement, is “shaped by Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition.” Our Anabaptist-Mennonite respect for all persons shapes our commitment to nonviolence, sustainability and our participatory organizational culture, as well as our love of singing and the simple architectural styles of our buildings. But much more importantly and powerfully, our tradition roots us in the way of Jesus — not only in our beliefs about who Jesus is, but the ways we live as students and followers of his teachings, acts and life.

As we crafted our new mission statement, we strove to embrace our particular tradition and also to be inclusive and ecumenical within our Christ-centeredness. “Shaped by Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, we integrate academic excellence with real-world learning and active love for God and neighbor.” Our mission echoes Jesus’s distillation of all the law and the prophets: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). We embrace active love not as sidedressing, but as an integral part of our excellence.

A recent nationally representative research project by the Fetzer Institute found that 86 percent of people in the United States consider themselves to be spiritual to some extent, and a majority of people also aspire to be more spiritual, engage in at least one spiritual or religious activity each week, and describe spiritual people in positive terms. Furthermore, people who describe themselves as spiritual are more likely to be civically engaged and want to make a difference in their communities. The authors report: “Human beings yearn for a spirituality that will root us in the love, courage and hope that we need to build our lives and communities.” Goshen College connects with that contemporary yearning.

I am convinced that the present and future vitality of Goshen College hinges on our vision to be manifestly “rooted in the way of Jesus,” not theoretically and historically, but actively and presently. So that we may have power “together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18)