“You are our letter, written on our hearts”
Bethany College graduation exercises, Apr. 25–26, 2015
Graduations mark the end of an intense period of studies and signal the beginning of something undefined, unknown, utterly new for the graduates. At Bethany College’s 88th graduation exercises Apr. 25–26, 2015, these characteristics applied not only to the students’ future but to the school’s.
The legacy celebration weekend was bittersweet with remembrance of the prairie school’s impact on young people and church leaders in the MB conference. The theme of God’s faithfulness permeated the songs the student and alumni chorus performed at the concert of praise on Saturday and congregational singing at the graduation service on Sunday.
“We gather to mourn a loss that cannot be ignored,” said academic dean Gil Dueck at commencement, but with “firm conviction in the God who creates new beginnings out of what appear to be dead ends.”
“You are our letter, written on our hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2) was the theme of the event and graduation address by Bruce Guenther, president of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada. He surveyed the impact of the college in the broader Bible school movement of the last century when Mennonites started 60 of 110 Bible training institutions in Canada.
Bethany College is “holy ground,” said Guenther, in his address to the graduates, “because we know that ‘the transforming Spirit of the Living God’ wrote on the hearts of 5,800 individuals here, in this very place.”
The founders of these schools believed that “the future of the church depended on how successfully they would transmit their religious and cultural heritage to their children,” said Guenther.
Responsive to this “sacred trust,” they started places like Bethany, where the students’ missional impulse sometimes ran ahead of their instructors’. In 1932, a Monday night student prayer meeting became the force that launched the Western Children’s Mission. In 1935, a student body uprising demanded instruction in English to better engage the culture around them.
Teaching to obey is an indispensable component of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20), said Guenther. “The most effective missional movements in the history of Christianity are those that have combined proclamation of the gospel with the more systematic task of teaching and educating.”
He noted the irony that Bethany should close at a time of economic prosperity but biblical illiteracy and desperate need for well-trained leaders in an increasingly hostile culture, and called the church to “envision new, creative avenues for being faithful to what is collectively our sacred trust.”
In closing, Guenther encouraged the students – and those who mourn the school – to “embrace the One who is the giver of life and who satisfies our deepest hungers” as they go out “as our ‘letters of recommendation’ to a generation that desperately needs to encounter Jesus.”
Staff and faculty are also “our letters on our hearts, written by the Holy Spirit,” said fourth-year student Stephanie Chase. The winner of the Delta Epsilon Chi award for excellence in academics and character commended her instructors for mediating Jesus’ touch to the students as they learned and struggled and grew.
Through nurture and teaching from the Bethany community, second-year student Matthew Janzen discovered that “the God that redeems broken people and broken situations is nurturing fading embers into roaring campfires.” He testified: “God is always at work even in the mundane and unplanned.”
With the presentation of awards, Dueck remarked that “artist output mushroomed this year.” A challenging year, marked by uncertainty about the future and severe injury to two students in an October vehicular accident, converged with creativity, evidenced on walls adorned with banners and art.
“Even though Bethany will go dormant for good – or for a season,” said board chair Trevor Rempel, “God still has work to do in young people’s lives.” Through the event, the gym echoed with the cries and chatter of young children, a reminder of the next generation who will also need an avenue of theological and spiritual nurture and training as they grow into maturity.
Bethany students vacated the campus at the close of the weekend and support staff will finish up at the end of the week, reported president Howie Wall.
Faculty will continue until May 15, 2015, and maintenance staff will prepare the grounds for dormancy by June.
One staff person will continue to answer phones and tend to continuing administrative tasks and a part-time worker will maintain the grounds.
The website will remain live for transcript requests and as a conduit for information from the board and conversations with the alumni association.
Decisions on the sale of assets is deferred until December. The Canadian conference holds the mortgage, and the board continues to hold the school charter.
“There is still a need for something broader [in terms of discipleship training] than what a local church can do,” said board chair Trevor Rempel.
Graduation 2015 by the numbers
Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask., held its 88th and final commencement ceremony Apr. 26, 2015, in the gym on campus, awarding a total of 54 diplomas and certificates.
College board chair Trevor Rempel acknowledged and thanked the long history of servants who poured loved into students over the school’s 88 year history.
“We leave this place, but we also carry it with us,” said Rick Schellenberg, instructor in Bible and theology, noting that relationships built at Bible school often carry through the ages. He urged attendees to continue to hear Christ’s command in Matthew 28. “In new forms and old, the church must continue to make disciples,” he said. He urged: students, take the message of the gospel outside the borders of comfort zones; parents and supporters, continue to declare – through life and speech – all that Jesus taught; staff and faculty, fulfill Christ’s command. “The good we’ve tried to do here will surely live on.”
- Governor General’s bronze medal: Matthew Janzen (diploma, biblical studies)
- Delta Epsilon Chi award (for high academics, Christian character and leadership): Stephanie Chase (BA, 4-year)
- Bachelor of arts (4-year): 12
- Bachelor of biblical studies (3-year): 13
- Diploma of biblical studies (2-year): 16
- Certificate in Christian studies (1 year): 13
See also The offspring of a “bridal school”
Updated May 11: links and sidebar added.