U.S. leaders discuss seminary transition, future


Commitment to collaborate clarified

A press release from the U.S. Conference

U.S. Mennonite Brethren leaders convened the presidents and board representatives of MB Biblical Seminary (MBBS), Tabor College (TC) and Fresno Pacific University (FPU) April 14-15 in Denver, Colo., to renew the national mission of pastoral leadership development through graduate theological education, including a review of recent reorganizational development and exploration of future collaborative efforts.

MBBS, the Mennonite Brethren seminary for graduate-level theological education, transferred its Fresno, Calif., programs to FPU, the Mennonite Brethren-owned university in Fresno, Calif. The transfer, announced Feb. 5, is to be completed by June 1.

“In order for us to be effective in mission together as a familyof churches, we needed to get all the players around the same table,” says U.S. Conference chair Steve Schroeder.“In my opinion, there is no way to craft a collaborativeeffort unless we all sit together in the same room and talk face to face.”

Richard Kriegbaum of Fresno, Calif., served as facilitator along with Schroeder. In addition, district ministers from the North Carolina, Central, Pacific and Southern District Conferences were present for a portion of the meetings.

The first session reviewed the process by which the MBBS Board negotiated the transfer of mission, assets and programs to FPU. The review examined the timeline of events between the collapse of MBBS’s negotiations with Fuller Theological Seminary and the announcement of the seminary transfer to FPU, clarified the MBBS Board’s authority for this transfer and identified details of the financial transaction.

U.S. Conference executive director Ed Boschman says, “When it is unavoidable that changes occur quickly and not everyone is equally in the loop, it is good to communicate full and accurate information about the whys and the hows.” 

In the second session, participants discussed the new structures and the concerns generated by those not party to the agreement. The identity and mission of the seminary, its evangelical-Anabaptist MB biblical theological perspective and the faculty and curriculum will be protected and preserved through organizational structures that create an “asymmetrical” relationship with the other schools of the university. FPU has created a separate corporation to facilitate donations restricted to seminary student scholarships and faculty salaries. The U.S. MB leadership affirmed the ongoing national mission of the seminary and its distinctive role among U.S. Mennonite Brethren and encouraged continued national support for the seminary.

The group also reviewed concerns expressed by those who felt themselves on the margin of the process, including Tabor College Board members, and resolved outstanding questions of understanding. Tabor College is the Mennonite Brethren-owned liberal arts college headquartered in Hillsboro, Kan.

“We spent time on our knees, humbling ourselves before God and asking for his wisdom and grace,” says Boschman.“We experienced the freedom as a group of leaders, to speak the truth in love.”

The third and final session explored possible future collaboration among Tabor, FPU and the seminary. Although a comprehensive, long-range partnership remained illusive, representatives agreed that regular faculty academic consultations, courses taught via video-conferencing technologies and shared curriculum in other programs would provide first steps in increased cooperation. 

Schroeder says, “Each of the leaders is committed to finding ways that we can work together. Beyond that, there was a clear commitment to move forward with future conversations that will culminate in a plan that serves all of ourdistricts well.” Schroeder encourages patience among U.S. Mennonite Brethren, especially those in the Midwest, as plans develop. In time, he says, “MBs will be pleased to learn about some of the innovative and creative ways that FPU and Tabor will partner together in complementing ways to offer seminary training.”

MBBS president Lynn Jost says the meetings strengthened the mission of the seminary. “We are grateful that Fresno Pacific will provide structure for distance education.We are grateful for Tabor College's intent to work in collaboration with the Seminary to fulfill the mission given us by the U.S. MB church.” Jost was charged with facilitating ongoing communication to foster cooperation.


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