Discussions between the leaders of Fresno Pacific University, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and the U.S. Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB) is leading to a renewed strengthening of the relationship between the seminary and the denomination.
Denominational leaders and a growing number of pastors and congregations in USMB and the Pacific District Conference have voiced concern with the direction of the seminary and most recently some teaching positions of visiting lecturers in a seminary master’s program.
FPU president Joseph Jones has had several meetings with key leaders, as well as the U.S. Board of Faith and Life (BFL) during the denomination’s July National Convention. Positions on issues vary, but denominational support for the seminary remains strong, Jones points out.
“The Mennonite Brethren community is called to peacemaking and reconciliation. Even in times when we fall short, we attempt to teach, model and practice this in our communities,” he says. “Affirming these values does not prevent disagreement but provides a foundation to build trust in working relationships.”
As the renewal process moves forward, this fall seminary dean Valerie Rempel will serve as interim vice president. Terry Brensinger, seminary president since 2013, will leave his administrative role and become professor of pastoral education in January 2019 after a semester-long sabbatical. In addition, visiting lecturers Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey and Brian Zahnd are no longer connected with the seminary’s Master of Arts in Ministry, Leadership and Culture.
The master’s program, which began in 2016, blends online courses and short residencies to educate solo pastors, outreach pastors, family pastors, youth and child pastors—anyone serving at least 10 hours a week in a church ministry. The program will continue to be offered at the seminary, taught by the full-time faculty.
Jones and Rempel express appreciation for Brensinger’s leadership.
“Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary programs have grown in enrollment and influence in the Valley and beyond,” Jones says. “I have also appreciated Terry’s counsel as a member of the university administration.”
Rempel says, “(Brensinger) has given strong, visionary leadership to the seminary and served faithfully.”
The realignment will be an ongoing process, campus and denominational leaders agree, to consider the many perspectives within the MB community on the seminary and the best way forward.
Other actions scheduled for the coming months, include:
- Updating the memorandum of understanding between the seminary, university and U.S. BFL. The seminary, founded in 1955 and located on the main FPU campus in southeast Fresno, became part of the university in 2010.
- Creating a process to address issues of concern between the denomination and the university and seminary.
- Further policy decisions by the FPU Board of Trustees following its October 2018 meeting.
- A joint letter from FPU and U.S. BFL to all constituents reaffirming their commitment and support to work together to strengthen the university and denomination.
“I highly value and appreciate the Mennonite Brethren Conference covering which the University enjoys and look forward to a strengthened partnership between the Church and University and Seminary,” Jones says.