ELKHART, Ind. — The board of directors of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary announced on Oct. 23 the retirement of President Sara Wenger Shenk, effective June 30. She has served in the role since the fall of 2010.
“When the board reappointed Dr. Wenger Shenk in May 2017, we agreed to her request that her appointment be reviewed annually,” said board chair Bruce Baergen of Edmonton, Alta. “She has carefully discerned that this is the right time for her to conclude her leadership as president of AMBS.”
Wenger Shenk noted: “While I grieve the need to say farewell to my beloved colleagues and the many loyal, generous friends of AMBS I’ve been privileged to know, I’m entering a season of life when it is important to be close to my family in Virginia.”
She added that she believes the time is not only right for her personally but also for AMBS.
“In a time of turmoil and anxiety across the church, Sara’s leadership has been marked by a critical element of emotional and spiritual maturity that has strengthened the institution and kept it grounded in its mission and in its living faith,” said board member Meghan Good of Glendale, Ariz.
Wenger Shenk has been closely involved with the Hearts on Fire Capital Campaign, which raised almost $14.3 million (including annual fund contributions) and efforts to refine the seminary’s marketing strategies, which included a name change from “Associated” to “Anabaptist” Mennonite Biblical Seminary in 2012.
She led a two-year process from 2013 to 2015 of publicly naming, lamenting and repenting for AMBS’s failure to respond appropriately to abuse perpetrated by John Howard Yoder, a former AMBS professor and administrator, in the 1970s and 1980s. A milestone in the process was a 2015 service of lament, confession and commitment at AMBS.
Under her leadership, eight new faculty members have been hired — comprising almost all of the current teaching faculty — as well as a new vice president and academic dean.
Baergen expressed gratitude for Wenger Shenk’s gifts in fostering team spirit and collegiality as new faculty and staff members have come on board, and for her “realistic, yet calm and encouraging” leadership in times of financial stress.
“Sara has been the right person at the right time for the seminary,” he said. “We as board members have been especially grateful for the ways in which she has listened, prodded, encouraged and challenged us as we partnered together to provide leadership.”
He noted that he and Wenger Shenk are working carefully to ensure that the presidential transition occurs with minimal impact on AMBS. By serving through June, she is continuing to oversee the orientation of Beverly Lapp, who began as vice president and academic dean on July 1, in addition to a scheduled self-study process required for ongoing accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the exhilarating opportunity I’ve had to serve the AMBS community — both on campus and binationally,” she said. “I often can’t believe that for close to nine years I’ve had the enormous good fortune to collaborate with such wise, resilient, spiritually mature colleagues and remarkable students.”
The board is working with Mennonite Education Agency of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada to form a search committee.
“The board is hopeful that we will find a new president in a timely manner,” Baergen said. “We ask for prayers from the church in the U.S. and Canada as we embark on this important journey.”
Wenger Shenk is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., with degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va. For 15 years prior to joining AMBS, she served on the faculty and administration of Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg.