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Mennonite Education Agency strategizes the changing needs of Mennonite education

12.31. 2018 Written By: Kayla Berkey for Mennonite Education Agency 458 Times read

Board and staff of Mennonite Education Agency and Mennonite Mission Network surround and offer prayers for the pastors within the Mennonite Church of Puerto Rico, following a time of the pastors offering prayers for them. Photo by Kayla Berkey.

“Peace-seekers, community builders and service givers—these are the unique characteristics that Mennonite schools and colleges offer to the world,” said Judy Miller, MEA board chair, in a presentation to those gathered Oct. 26-27 to begin a strategic planning process for MEA. “These are the gifts a hurting world needs.”

MEA staff, board members and invited guests gathered at Academia Menonita Betania in Puerto Rico for board meetings that had a strong emphasis on strategic planning for the agency’s future. Some of the group, including staff and the board, also arrived ahead of the meetings to fellowship with local Mennonite pastors and participate in the school’s ongoing restoration projects resulting from Hurricane Maria that ravaged the island in September 2017. They also attended the school’s 70th anniversary, visited Mennonite churches in Aibonito and surrounding areas and preached at Sunday services.

MEA staff, board and invited guests work through a strategic planning process during their board meetings at Academia Menonita Betania in Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Photo by Kayla Berkey.​

Strategic planning

MEA staff and board, as well as several invited guests including pastors, school administrators, communications and marketing experts and constituency group representatives, participated in a daylong initial strategic planning session that began with short presentations to address current factors impacting Mennonite education and Mennonite Church USA. They also reviewed feedback that MEA gathered from four main stakeholders: Mennonite Higher Ed Association (MHEA) and Mennonite Schools Council leaders, MC USA’s Constituency Leaders Council and leaders of MEA’s Hispanic Ministries programs.

“There was significant strength in the diversity and the many voices in the room as we talked about future directions,” said Romero. “We are committed to continuing this process in partnership with our stakeholders to further define and strengthen the work of MEA as a ministry of the church.”

Presentations included the following:

  • Romero presented a report by Marco Guete, director of Hispanic Ministries for MEA, reviewing MEA’s Hispanic Ministries programs, Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (IBA) and Seminario Bíblico Anabautista Hispano (SeBAH), which have increasing numbers of students though staff time has been cut to address limited funding. Guete named a growing need for these ministries in Spanish, due to the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the United States with a high rate of first-generation immigrants.
  • Elaine Moyer, senior director at MEA, and Conrad Swartzentruber, superintendent at Dock Mennonite Academy, Souderton, Pennsylvania, addressed current factors impacting K-12 Mennonite education, such as increasing cultural polarities in political views and theological understandings.
  • Joseph Manickam, president of Hesston (Kansas) College, spoke about Mennonite higher education, suggesting that the strength of Anabaptism is in the margins. Tom Stuckey, who served as president at Northwest State Community College, Archbold, Ohio, urged innovation and partnerships to strengthen higher ed programs.
  • Stanley Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, addressed cultural trends that have impacted MC USA, including declining institutional loyalty, a shift toward relativism, a trend toward localization and a shrinking Mennonite demographic.
  • Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA, addressed current environmental factors within MC USA. “The biggest challenge we’re thinking about here is how to remain relevant to culture now,” he said.
  • Romero talked about the challenges within MEA, including requests to serve broad constituencies with limited resources and that people commonly express a lack of understanding of what MEA does.

MEA board and staff visited Mennonite churches and preached at Sunday services after holding their board meetings at Academia Menonita Betania. Several attended Iglesia Evangelica Menonita in Aibonito. Photo by Kayla Berkey.

Presentations were followed by table group discussions and a SWOT analysis, in which people brainstormed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for MEA within these contexts. The group indicated that MEA’s greatest strengths are in networking and resourcing within and between various programs, as well as building community and Anabaptist identity.

Following the planning times, several of the invited guests expressed a greater appreciation for MEA after learning more about their multifaceted work.

“This is one the best meetings in the denomination I have had,” said Sandra Montes-Martinez, moderator of MC USA’s Iglesia Menonita Hispana. “We see representation of most of the church here. This is the type of conversation I see bringing us together as the church.”

Some raised concern about how to communicate the relevance of this strategic planning for racial/ethnic communities. “Is part of the friction in the denomination a failure on our part to educate minority communities on the work we are doing?” Roy Williams asked.

As they reviewed the strategic planning sessions, MEA board members expressed excitement for a renewed vision for the agency and discussed how they will be responsible for carrying through on some of the initiatives that came out of the gathering.

Romero said MEA’s next priorities include interacting with a broader list of stakeholders. “At the end of the day, how we engage people will have an incredible impact on how MEA moves forward and how effective we can be in our work,” he said.

Board leadership changes

The board appointed J. Richard Thomas to serve as MEA’s new chair, replacing Judy Miller, who began serving in this role in 2014, and Lynette Bontrager as secretary, replacing Marlene Kropf, whose board term ends in 2019. Shana Peachey Boshart, minister of faith formation for MC USA, will serve as MC USA’s new liaison to the MEA board.

The board also reviewed changes in the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS in Elkhart, Indiana) board, choosing not to replace those who stepped down from the board this summer as a result of the new statement of agreement between AMBS and MEA created by the new Mennonite Higher Education Church/School Relations Agreement. They approved Miriam Book and Byron Pellecer to continue as MEA appointees to the AMBS board.

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