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Mennonite Higher Ed Proposal addresses denominational relationships

10.6. 2017 Written By: Mennonite Education Agency Staff 468 Times read

The committee on Higher Education Future Church-School Relations has completed an initial proposal outlining a new relationship structure between Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) and Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) affiliated institutions of higher education. The proposal will be tested and reviewed this fall by college, university and seminary boards, the MEA Board of Directors and the MC USA Executive Board.

The task force, moderated by Dick Thomas, retired superintendent of Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Mennonite School and former moderator of MC USA, is comprised of representatives from MEA, MC USA and all affiliated colleges, universities and seminaries. The group began meeting regularly in June 2017, both in person and via video conference, seeking to outline the relationship between MEA and MC USA affiliated institutions of higher education.

“The task force is a wonderful group of people with diverse thoughts regarding the best relationship between MC USA and its institutions of higher education,” Thomas says. “While coming with strong opinions, committee members worked well together to find common ground.”

Since its inception in 2002 with the merger of the Higher Education Council (of General Conference Mennonite Church) and Mennonite Board of Education (of the Mennonite Church), MEA has negotiated distinct relationships with each MC USA higher educational institution. With changes in MC USA identity and practice over the last 15 years, the agreements have become increasingly dissatisfactory for defining relationships both among MC USA affiliated educational institutions and between MEA and the schools.

“This has been a timely group process to explore how best to move forward the denomination’s relationships with its multiple institutions of higher education as needs and realities have changed over time,” says Bluffton (Ohio) University President James M. Harder, who served on the committee. “Diverse perspectives on some questions were evident in the task force’s work, yet it has been clear that all who participated have been united in the goal of creating new opportunities for Mennonite colleges, universities and seminaries to relate more directly—and hopefully more effectively and more collaboratively—with each other in the future.”

The MC USA Executive Board met Sept. 28-30 in Kansas City, Missouri. The EB reviewed the proposal and affirmed its direction. The MEA board will meet Oct. 27-28, and by mid-November all higher education boards will have had the opportunity to review the proposal and offer feedback. The task force plans to have an updated version of the proposal ready by April 2018.

Highlights of the proposal

The proposal calls for the creation of a new association—the Mennonite Higher Education Association (MHEA)—made up of the presidents from each of the MC USA affiliated colleges, universities and seminaries. MHEA will meet regularly as a group, creating increased opportunities for collaboration. A representative from MEA will also meet with MHEA and will be encouraged to attend one board meeting at each of the schools per year. MHEA will be the main point of connection between the schools and MEA. The proposal also states that the intention is that “the initial cost to schools will not be higher than the current support payment the schools pay to the MEA; and efforts will be made to provide reductions in support fees.”

“This has been a good process with a real attempt to find common ground among all the parties,” says Carlos Romero, executive director of MEA. “We seek to balance a number of things: supporting the relationships between the church and the schools, the schools’ desire to be Anabaptist-Mennonite educational institutions with the freedom to be able to respond to the shifting realities of higher education, and shifting our perspective of our schools from being schools for Mennonites to being Mennonite schools for all.”

Current Mennonite High Education institutions are: Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana; Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas; Bluffton University; Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia; Goshen (Indiana) College; and Hesston (Kansas) College.

Find the entire proposal of the Mennonite higher education task force here.

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