Monday, September 11, 2006

Goshen College presidential inauguration highlights ‘growing wisdom and wonder’



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GOSHEN, Ind. – The inauguration of Goshen College’s 16th president, Dr. James E. Brenneman, filled a weekend with moments of great laughter, joy and celebration, but also of great ritual, worship and tradition.


After being thrown into the college’s fountain by students in the traditional presidential dunking, reconnecting with old college friends, partying and dining with the whole college community at a “Brenneman Bash,” the new president culminated the activities with an inaugural address on Sunday, Sept. 10.


In his remarks, Brenneman quoted Isaiah, Proverbs, Albert Einstein, Rachel Carson and Aristotle, and called wisdom and wonder the hallmarks of great Christian higher education institutions, which need to be continually nourished and developed.


“The spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power and knowledge, spoken of by Isaiah, are the quintessential descriptors of the best educational institutions, secular and religious alike, known to humankind,” he said. “But our educational task is not complete by simply becoming passionate learners of all that there is to know from the vantage point of human capacity. Wisdom and understanding, counsel, power and knowledge, must be embedded in the larger narrative of Scripture.”


Brenneman contrasted the lure to cynicism, with the Christian call to wonder and astonishment. “Let us never lose our capacity for wonder. Though it is awfully tempting to become cynical while learning to be appropriately critical, one cannot be complacent or cynical and wonder at the same time,” he said. “The wisdom of Isaiah invites us to live all our days in complete astonishment under the spirit and wonder of the Lord.”


By continuing to develop more fully wisdom and wonder at Goshen College, Brenneman envisioned the college having an even greater impact on its community and the world. “At Goshen College, like our forebears of faith, let us continue to grow university students and train thought-leaders for the 21st century,” he said. “Such Christ-like wisdom will be transformational to us personally and to the world socially. Such Christ-like wisdom will never be exclusively private or uncritically mainstream. Even as we continue to invest in broadly cross-cultural service around the world, may we also increase our attention locally, working closely with civic leaders in service to the surrounding community. … At Goshen College, we must continue to raise up tomorrow’s thought leaders today who will help reshape the mental framework of the world to more closely align with the peaceable wisdom of God.”


Concluding, Brenneman noted that wisdom and wonder must also include a great deal of joy. “At Goshen College we are known for our very high academic standards. Are we also known for our laughter, our joy, our willingness to take ourselves a bit less seriously at such an august center of learning?” he said. “Perhaps, we are well on our way to an infectious joy that will draw others to this Christ-centered place called Goshen College and ultimately, and more significantly, to Christ, the wisdom of God. That is my prayer.”


Centered on the theme “Growing Wisdom and Wonder” and based on the Isaiah 11:1-2 Scripture, the ceremony was held in the Music Center’s Sauder Concert Hall and attended by nearly 1,000 people. After 33 delegates from other colleges and universities, and the Goshen College current and retired faculty processed into the hall lit with candles and decorated with wreaths of flowers, the worship ceremony included an invocation by Rosalind E. Andreas, chair of the Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) Board of Directors and the investiture by Chair of the Goshen College Board of Directors Virgil Miller. It also included a Scripture reading arranged by Jennifer Davis Sensenig, associate pastor at Pasadena (Calif.) Mennonite Church; an anthem composed for the occasion by Assistant Professor of Music Lee Dengler; a release and blessing from Conference Minister for Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference Jeff Wright and Executive Director of Mennonite Mission Network Stanley Green; a litany of welcome; and a response hymn to the inaugural address with piano and solo by Terri J. Plank Brenneman, the president’s wife.


The ceremony was full of music from around the world, with performances by Goshen College’s Gospel choir Voices-n-Harmony, Chamber Choir, Orchestra, Men’s Chorus and Women’s World Music Choir; an instrumental ensemble from Iglesia Menonita El Buen Pastor of Goshen; and Makinto, an international recording artist and pastor in Los Angeles.


Goshen College’s 14th president Shirley H. Showalter, who served from 1997 to2004, placed the presidential medallion upon Brenneman. The unique medallion was first presented during her inauguration. Other past presidents of the 112-year-old institution in attendance were J. Lawrence Burkholder (1971-1984), Victor Stoltzfus (1984-1995), Henry Weaver (interim president 1996) and current Provost John D. Yordy (interim president 2004-2006).


Inaugural chapel – “Wondering Allowed”

In a special inaugural chapel service on Friday, Sept. 8, Brenneman opened his speech titled “Wondering Allowed” with a bit of his trademark humor, by saying, “I wonder. I wonder when the sign at the restaurant says, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service!’ – what about pants? I wonder. I wonder is the Hokey Pokey really what it’s all about?”


Referring to the Scripture that was read, from Luke 2:40-46, about Jesus as a child at the temple, Brenneman continued, “What does it mean that the God of the whole cosmos enters into our reality as a precocious Christ-teen asking edge-of-the-world questions? Clearly, God invites the inquisitive mind, the challenging question, the listening ear, the intelligent interchange between student and teacher as an act of faithfulness.”


“Growing in wisdom and wonder is clearly a part of what it meant for God to become incarnate, embodied in Christ,” Brenneman said. “And I pray that in your own wondering aloud, that you too – as the Scripture says, will grow strong. May you be filled with wisdom and in years, for the favor of God rests upon each of you.”


Planned and led by students Jeff Hochstetler (Jr., Orrville, Ohio) and Beth Wright (Sr., Alta Loma, Calif.), the chapel included music by a student worship band and by Terri J. Plank Brenneman, who shared her own gifts in worship and music leading.


After several students and faculty shared their own serious and not-so-serious wondering questions, Hochstetler, a student member of the inaugural planning committee, led the gathered campus community out to the Schrock Plaza fountain by asking his own wondering question, “I wonder what GC’s new president looks like sopping wet?”


With four certified student lifeguards on duty and the entire campus community looking on, Brenneman appeared prepared with flippers, a snorkel, goggles, a bright yellow poncho and an inflated shark. After being serenaded with an original and humorous song written by Professor of Bible and Religion Paul Keim, students David Martinez (Soph., Goshen), Libby Smith (Fr., Iowa City, Iowa), Jon Brelsford (Fr., Telford, Pa.) and Caitlin Helmuth (Soph., Harrisonburg, Va.) picked Brenneman up and carried him into the shallow waters, to the pleasure of all onlookers.


According to Mennonite Historical Library Curator Joe Springer, the tradition of dunking new presidents in the college’s Schrock Plaza fountain dates back to the fall of 1971 when the college was preparing for President J. Lawrence Burkholder’s celebration activities. “The waters of GC’s fountains had served generations of students marking noteworthy events – especially engagements. … Upon entering those waters as president, [Burkholder] set in motion what has become a campus tradition.”


A “Brenneman Bash” and other activities

The campus community continued their celebrative activities on Saturday, Sept. 9, with lots of live music and food at the Brenneman Bash, for students, faculty, staff and other friends. Reflecting the Brenneman family’s move from California to Indiana, the evening in the decorated Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center included food from both regions, video and photos of the family’s road trip and songs created for the occasion based on old Beach Boys music. As bowl after bowl of Mackinac Island Creamery ice cream was dipped up for all guests, and servers milled about with trays of food, all eyes were on the live entertainment provided by the Hard Core Values faculty band; the local Goldmine Pickers; Lavender Jazz, the campus Big Band; and Makinto who offered music and rhythms from around the world.


Earlier in the day, Brenneman and his family spent time reconnecting with old college friends in several intimate gatherings. Both Jim and Terri Brenneman lived for a year in a college small group house. Because of the special bond they had with their housemates, all of their peers returned for the occasion to celebrate Brenneman’s presidential inauguration. The group gathered in their old house, Howell House, which is now home to a group of all male students, who hosted a luncheon reunion and tour. Brenneman also spent the afternoon with fellow students with whom he had gone to Honduras for Goshen’s Study-Service Term in 1974, with the faculty leaders of that unit, former Dean of Students Norm Kauffmann and his wife, Sharon.


During the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 9, Brenneman led a crowd of 50 people in a tree planting ceremony, with a gift tree from the Class of 2006 to replace the historic Official Maple Tree of Goshen, which needed to be cut down in the spring because of damage. The ceremony included a presentation by City of Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, a litany and singing of the college’s alma mater.


Earlier in the inaugural weekend, a breakfast for community and business leaders and one for special donors to the college gave Brenneman further opportunities to connect with persons invested in Goshen College’s past and future, and to help them to get to know the college’s new leader personally.


A pastor, Biblical scholar and teacher

A 1977 Goshen College graduate, Brenneman was the founding and lead pastor of Pasadena (Calif.) Mennonite Church, where he was ordained in 1986. He attended Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and finished his master of divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. He also holds a master of arts degree, in religious studies, and a doctorate in Hebrew Bible and Old Testament studies from Claremont Graduate University. Brenneman’s teaching and scholarship has led him to posts on the faculty in Old Testament studies at Episcopal Theological School and as an adjunct professor at both Fuller Theological Seminary and Claremont School of Theology.


Brenneman’s Anabaptist, urban, multicultural perspective developed throughout a life that began in Kalona, Iowa, found him in the Cuban quarter of Tampa, Fla., until he came to study at GC and his 26 years spent in the urban context of Los Angeles as a Mennonite pastor with an interest in ecumenical conversations.


As an Old Testament scholar, Brenneman is the author of “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks: Lessons from the Book of Deuteronomy” (Herald Press, 2004) and “Canons in Conflict: Negotiating Texts in True and False Prophesy” (Oxford University Press, 1997).


Brenneman met his wife Dr. Terri J. Plank Brenneman, who is originally from Fort Wayne, Ind., while attending Goshen College, and they have one son, 10-year-old Quinn. Terri, a clinical psychologist, has served as an adjunct professor in pastoral care and theological counseling at both Fuller Theological Seminary and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She has also served as congregational worship leader and music team member, and is a former member of the Mennonite Church General Board and Mennonite Education Agency Board of Directors.


Brenneman was named to the presidential post in December 2005 by the Goshen College Board of Directors, and formally began his term July 1.

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or



Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit



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