Mennonite higher education: A wheel, a heart or a prairie?
One of the pleasures of my job is learning to know the other presidents of our Mennonite sister schools. There are six of us, and you can be reminded of who we are in this brief introductory piece just out from The Mennonite.
When we first gathered together in person last September 2018, five of us had been in office less than 2 years. After president Sara Wenger Shenk retires from her 9-year presidency of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) and we welcome her successor this summer, we will all be within three years of our appointments.
(Let me say that I am already anticipating how much I will miss Sara’s wise and gracious mentorship, just 20 minutes down the road. But that’s for another blog to come.)
It is a privilege to learn to know these presidents. Comprising the new Mennonite Higher Education Association (MHEA) established by the Mennonite Church USA, the six presidents associate regularly for mutual support, collaboration and planning.
Being a college president within Mennonite Church USA is a position that few know, and our circle of collegiality is one of the few spaces where we can speak openly with others who understand the rewards and responsibilities of our role, not only in the context of higher education, but within the community of Mennonite faith.
I appreciate the qualities that each of them brings to our circle; for example:
- AMBS President Sara Wenger Shenk’s deep experience in relating to Anabaptist-Mennonite stakeholders in both the United States and Canada;
- Bethel College President Jonathon Gering’s clear sighted, no-nonsense ability to frame the challenges before us;
- Bluffton University President Jane Wood’s joyful demeanor and fresh, insightful questions;
- Eastern Mennonite University President Susan Huxman’s communication expertise and experience leading Conrad Grebel University College; and
- Hesston College President Joe Manickam’s (a 1991 GC graduate) global citizenship perspective and genuine, warm personality.
I’ve been pondering metaphors for what MHEA is within the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement of 2019.
Perhaps we are missional higher education spokes radiating from the hub of the church.
Or perhaps we are the cardiovascular system carrying the oxygenated blood pumped by the sacred heart of the church.
Or perhaps we are an ecosystem of prairie plant species whose roots are intertwined.
Then God is the axle on which we turn, the Spirit is the air that we all breathe and Jesus is the nourishing soil in which we are grounded.