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The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College community at the opening convocation of the 2017-2018 academic year on August 23, 2017.

 

On the face of a massive building in the center of the University of Minnesota, the purpose of that school, my alma mater, is inscribed with the following words:

Founded in the Faith that Men are Enobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State

In these words we note the primary goal of colleges and universities across our land that may be summarized with these words: Teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The core content of this teaching remains constant from one age to the next, but much of the rest of it changes due to advancements in learning in pursuit of truth.

The University of Minnesota was founded in 1851 in Minneapolis by people descended from immigrants harking mostly from the Scandinavian lands of Norway and Sweden. It started as a preparatory school, but stalled until wheat-milling entrepreneur, John Pillsbury, worked to secure the school’s future. And, Pillsbury’s efforts bore fruit as students finally graduated with baccalaureate degrees in 1873, twenty-two years after the school’s founding.

Fourteen years later, in 1887, another group of immigrants, this time from what is now known as Ukraine, had similar aims in establishing a college, Bethel College, one that would provide teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The place? A piece of prairie North of Newton, Kansas on slight rise of land they named Hebron and bordered by a stream they called Kidron, names, like that of the College, reminiscent of biblical locations. The founders likewise were interested in wheat, Mennonites, with names like Goerz, Warkentin, and Krehbiel.

So, here, on this site, the first Mennonite College in North America was started. The founders saw the importance of providing higher education for its youth, but not only Mennonite youth.

The original intent of the Newton College Association was a “nonsectarian, but religious college.” And, the successor to this association, a corporation named The Bethel College of the Mennonite Church of North America aimed to follow this direction. For, the First Annual Report of the Board of Directors, 1887-1888 invited students who were not only Mennonites, but those coming from other religions or cultures as well. By extending this welcome, the College sought to “pay the debt of gratitude to other denominations by opening wide the doors of the institution, so that all may have an opportunity to partake of whatsoever advantages may be offered by it.”

Not only were youth from all faiths invited, but those from across the country as well. Bethel historian, Peter Wedel, writes that Bethel College “was not to be just a local institution.” “Its courses were to be sufficiently comprehensive to attract students from great distances.” An example of this commitment comes from the observation that, according to Wedel, the first board consisted of “five members from Kansas and four from other states as the new institution should serve the largest constituency possible.” Indeed, the residences of those who served on the board over the first decades included people not only from Kansas, but also from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, and Washington.

Like the University of Minnesota, Bethel, at first was a preparatory school. It eventually, however, graduated six students with baccalaureate degrees in 1912. A very significant event followed four years later, 1916, when the school became accredited by the Kansas state board of education, an event celebrated with the unveiling of a flag bearing the school colors adopted nine years earlier in 1907, maroon and gray. A liberal arts college was born!

What can we learn from this story? (more…)

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From Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board:

This election cycle, we find ourselves in a season of temptation. Billions of dollars are being spent to capture our vote and our allegiance. We are tempted to place our hope for wholeness and well-being on particular candidates, parties, and ideologies.

In this particular time, Scripture speaks pointedly to us: Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save (Psalm 146:3). This is a time to deepen our allegiance to Jesus, our Lord and Savior who rejects dominating power, links his future to the weak and vulnerable, and loves even enemies.

Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit for his own season of temptation. The promises of influence and power he faced and rejected remind us of the political promises made today. We invite you and your community to follow Jesus’s example in this time of temptation and engage in prayer and fasting during this election season.

We offer this invitation as a spiritual discipline of deepening allegiance to Jesus. Fasting can loosen our attachments to actions and attitudes that compete for our allegiance. Prayer brings us closer to Christ, transforms our minds and purifies our hearts.

Whether or not we cast a ballot in November and regardless of whom we might vote for, let us emphatically declare that our ultimate allegiance is not to a candidate, platform or party, but to Jesus Christ. Let our words, intentions and actions clearly demonstrate that each day we seek to follow Jesus’s example.

The strength of the diversity across Mennonite Church USA means that responses to the invitation to prayer and fasting will find many different expressions. We are grateful for the abundance of ways in which we can live out our allegiance to the Prince of Peace. We invite you and your faith community to gather for a communion celebration on the evening of Election Day (Nov. 6, 2012), to remember to whom we belong and to whom we give our hearts and our ultimate allegiance. May we as individuals and congregations across Mennonite Church USA draw closer to Jesus in this time.

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We believe in Jesus Christ the Lord,

Who was promised to the people of Israel,
Who came in the flesh to dwell among us,
Who announced the coming of the rule of God,
Who gathered disciples and taught them,
Who died on the cross to free us from sin,
Who rose from the dead to give us life and hope,
Who reigns in heaven at the right hand of God,
Who comes to judge and bring justice to victory.

We believe in God His Father,

Who raised Him from the dead,
Who created and sustains the universe,
Who acts to deliver His people in times of need,
Who desires everyone everywhere to be saved,
Who rules over the destinies of people and nations,
Who continues to love people even when they reject him.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

Who is the form of God present in the church,
Who moves people to faith and obedience,
Who is the guarantee of our deliverance,
Who leads us to find God’s will in the Word,
Who assists those whom He renews in prayer,
Who guides us in discernment,
Who impels us to act together.

We believe God has made us His people,

To invite others to follow Christ,
To encourage one another to deeper commitment,
To proclaim forgiveness of sins and hope,
To reconcile people to God through word and deed,
To bear witness to the power of love over hate,
To proclaim Jesus the Lord over all,
To meet the daily tasks of life with purpose,
To suffer joyfully for the cause of right,

To the end of the earth,
To the end of the age,
To the praise of Christ’s glory.

Adapted from The Mennonite Hymnal, 723 and Hymnal: A Worship Book, 713.  The Mennonite Hymnal was published in 1969 as a joint project of representatives from the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church. The Hymnal: A Worship Book was published in 1992 as a joint project of representatives from the Church of the Brethren, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Mennonite Church with the assistance of contributors from the Churches of God, General Conference and the Mennonite Brethren Church. The Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church merged in 2002 to form the Mennonite Church USA.

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  1. A God of love made you and me in his image as a good part of creation. God wants us to live at peace with our Maker, our world and one another.
  2. Sin destroys harmony in creation when we try to run our own lives apart from God. Suffering, greed, violence and broken relationships result.
  3. Jesus died on the cross because he confronted the powers of sin that fracture our world. Jesus healed the sick, forgave enemies and lived in the joy of the kingdom of god.
  4. You can have a new beginning by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. God forgives when we confess our sin, and the Spirit of God enables us to follow Jesus in all of life.

Prayer: God, I have sinned by turning away from you and trying to run my own life. Separated from your love, I am shaped by the powers of greed, lust and violence that bring chaos to the world. Forgive my sin and let me start anew. Thank you for your Son Jesus, who defeated Satan and brought the kingdom of God to reality. Give me power to live like Jesus—loving the enemy, sharing possessions, serving others, caring for creation and speaking Good News of your salvation. I commit myself to the church as the body of Christ. I give allegiance to Jesus and his way of forgiveness above every other loyalty. Amen

Source: “Four Spiritual Truths of a Peacemaking God: A Way for Anabaptists to Share Their Faith,” by J. Nelson Kraybill, The Mennonite, November 4, 2003, pages 9 – 11.

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My friend and brother, John Wagenaar, occasionally distributes a memo to his other siblings in the Southside Mennonite Church family in Springfield, Ohio. As a fellow gadfly, I look forward to reading John’s wise reflections. One of those memos, Memo 20, surfaced out of the rubble in our house during a recent attempt at conforming to American, domestic orderliness. “Would others benefit from John’s trenchant remarks?” I thought. Believing you will, I reprint them here. [BTW, my additions are in brackets]

Memo 20

Please eat responsibly: Know where your food comes from (and, please listen to gospel bluegrass, WYSO, 91.3, Sundays, 6 – 8 A.M.).

I’m not much on sports but, boy, you just have to love those Dutch!—going all the way to the top in the world soccer cup. The Spanish beat the Germans, though that would have been an intense contest between the Dutch and Germans, fraught with historic intimations and possible civil consequences (I once saw a bumper sticker in Yellow Springs: “IF YOU’RE NOT DUTCH, YOU’RE NOT MUCH.” Turned out she wasn’t Dutch at all, but had spent time in Nederland). Anyways, the Spanish don’t stand a chance against the mighty Dutch. The game is today, during our business meeting! Can we adjourn? [PS: Netherlands 0, Spain 1 in extra time]

While I’m at it, I’d like to put in a good word for wine and sex—both of which seem to have fallen in disrepute in recent weeks in our church (The wine meditation seems a little hokey: “relevance” stuff we’ve come to expect from the salaried Mennonite curriculum committee, and is the reason I fear “themed Sundays). Mennonites have this guilt and shame thing (cf. “Being Mennonite,” The Mennonite, July 2010, 26): An intrusion of American temperance mentality and Methodist revivalism upon a basically European Mennonite consciousness?

Do Mennonites really know how to have fun? (more…)

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“Probably the biggest difference between most Mennonites and Baptists is that Mennonites do not participate in the military. Mennonites believe that peace is the will of God and the way our lives should be lived daily. Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective states: ‘Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of women and children, violence between men and women, abortion and capital punishment.’”

“Another difference would be that Mennonites believe strongly in separation of church and state, and believe that allegiance to God takes priority over allegiance to country. Baptists wouldn’t sort out the issues in this way.”

“Again, quoting from Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective: ‘We believe that the church is God’s holy nation, called to give full allegiance to Christ as its head and to witness to all nations, government and society about God’s saving love. . . . In contrast to the church, governing authorities of the world have been instituted by God for maintaining order in societies. . . . As Christians we are to respect those in authority and to pray for all people, including those in government. . . . We may participate in government and other institutions of society only in ways that do not violate the love and holiness taught by Christ and do not compromise our loyalty to Christ.’”

Quoted from “Baptist and Mennonite Differences” in “Mennonite Glossary” on the “Who are the Mennonites?” page in the “Third Way Café” website. Third Way Café is a program of Third Way Media, a department of the Mennonite Mission Network, an agency of the Mennonite Church USA.

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Watch the following four-minute video and you might be surprised by the answer it gives to that question.

For more help, check out “Who are the Mennonites?” in the “Third Way Café” website. You also may want to look through the “Anabaptist” file in my electronic “File Cabinet.”

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