Bethany Christian Schools and Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference
December 10, 2017
Bethany Christian Schools is a dynamic learning community that integrates faith development with academic excellence. Grounded in Mennonite values, Bethany equips students for Christian discipleship in the church and around the world.
Although the words of the mission statement have been updated and revised from time to time, Bethany is essentially carrying out the same mission since the school was founded in 1954 by the Indiana-Michigan Conference of the Mennonite Church.
In the early 1940’s the Mennonite church was struggling with how to confront the powerful influence of mainstream culture. In many congregations there existed deep mistrust of the secular world. Perhaps to insulate or protect youth from secular influence, many Mennonite youth did not attend high school.
As a result, individuals within the conference saw a need to create a Mennonite high school. The original intent was to provide a “safe” educational curriculum that would weave together the sacred and secular worlds. After several years of discernment through prayer and community meetings, perhaps some cajoling and compromise, the school was founded in 1954.
Realizing that the IN-MI Mennonite Conference constituted a broad spectrum of beliefs and practice, the founding intent was clearly not to use the school as a means of maintaining conformity or enforcing doctrine. As one early founder noted, the intent was to help students “measure the way of the world by the rule of Christ” In today’s world of Christian education, we would say the founding model was missional rather than doctrinal, and Bethany remains so today.
Over the decades Bethany has experienced many changes. In the early years nearly all students came from conference congregations. In fact, in those early years, yearbook photos included the name of the students’ home congregations. The 1965 yearbook indicates that students came from nearly all of the local Mennonite congregations, as well as far flung ones like Howard-Miami, Kouts, Leo, Milan Center (Ohio), second Mennonite (Chicago), and Cedar Grove (Manistique MI).
More recently, nearly all of our students come from within a 25 minute drive of Bethany. In addition, the percentage of students who identify as “Mennonite” or historically Anabaptist is less than two thirds. Less than 50% of our students attend IN-MI conference churches. We have evolved from a school for the Mennonite community to a Mennonite school for the community.
Another evolution has been in the way that Bethany is funded. In the early years, tuition was kept very low, with the expectation that congregations would contribute significantly to the school. In fact, the early heads of school essentially worked a fundraising circuit within the conference churches. In 1965, direct contributions from congregations to the annual fund covered 70% of the school’s operating costs.
Partly as a result of the dependence on congregational support, Bethany drifted from one budgetary crisis to the next. The school considered closing several times; as recently as 1995 the operating debt was $709,000. That year Allan Dueck became head of school and among other strategies, worked to reduce debt by raising tuition and relying less on the vagaries of congregational giving.
Today less than 1% of operating income is direct support from congregations. The school however does partner with several area congregations (not all in IN-MI conference) to subsidize tuition for students from their congregation. Partnership plan support now amounts to about 20% of our income and is on a clear downward trend.
As our circumstance demonstrates, organizations evolve. Over time, successful organizations inevitably outgrow their founding stage, function autonomously from the founding organization, and no longer require assistance, or frequent guidance. Maintaining the hegemonic relationship hinders both organizations. Therefore it is time for BCS and IN-MI to redefine their relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial. Doing so can make both organizations stronger by supporting one another’s missions on equal footing.
BCS and IN-MI Conference as partnering organizations
The stated purpose of IN-MI Conference is to maintain a federation or “community of congregations” with a shared Anabaptist vision. Conference resources are geared toward equipping and supporting that community. On the other hand BCS is primarily an educational institution that uses Anabaptist faith tradition as a scaffold for its educational program. Yet IN-MI Conference and BCS have some similar goals, and as peers or sister institutions, can be mutually supportive of one another’s mission. For example, both institutions promote faith formation and spiritual practices, practice community living by emphasising mutual accountability.
How can IN-MI Conference support the mission of Bethany Christian Schools? Broadly speaking, the vibrancy of IN-MI conference and the influence it has on congregations can significantly impact Bethany. Approximately ⅔ of our students come from historically Anabaptist/Mennonite households. As IN-MI Conference constituency increases more potential families that might connect with Bethany’s vision. The conference could promote and support Mennonite education kindergarten through post-secondary.
How can BCS support the mission of IN-MI Conference? Youth are the future of our church. Bethany is one of the few places that collects a broad spectrum of Mennonite youth. BCS has students from 30 Mennonite or Anabaptist congregations, 14 IN-MI Conference churches. Bethany is a place where students are exposed to and can discuss Mennonite Faith perspectives. A church body or conference is genuinely interested in a youth perspective, has a ready and accessible delegate body on the Bethany campus.
 Devon Schrock from Hearing Our Teacher’s Voice p 16.
 Hearing our Teacher’s Voice p 188.
IN-MI Conference mission statement: We are a community of congregations; Centered on Jesus; Guided by the Holy Spirit; Acting through grace, love and peace; Engaging the world God loves.
 all within a 25 mile radius of Goshen. More broadly, BCS currently has students from 63 congregations representing 24 different faith groups.