HEPBURN, Sask. — The board of Bethany College emerged from December meetings with sobering news: The current academic year will be the 87-year-old rural Saskatchewan institution’s last.
The college, co-sponsored by the Mennonite Brethren churches of Saskatchewan and Alberta and the Saskatchewan Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, began as a Bible school in 1927.
A trend of declining enrollment hit a critical point last spring. This year there are 64 on-campus students and eight fourth-year interns.
The college sent out appeals for financial support, prayer and students and laid off staff for the summer. Constituency response made the current academic year possible. But despite an October discernment summit where denominational and church partners affirmed the need for places like Bethany to disciple young people and offer leadership training, the board determined the college would cease operation “in its current iteration” in 2015.
“The trend is that [Bible] schools have been declining for a long time,” said Ron Toews, director of L2L, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches’ leadership development arm.
“The closure of Bethany doesn’t change the reality that we need to continue walking alongside young women and men as they think about the foundation of their lives. I’d say there’s a whole new interest in what it means to be a disciple. Churches are taking this back within themselves.
“My lament is that [discipleship training] may well be more piecemeal.
Schools can do some things well in their ‘greenhouse’ environments; churches don’t have that kind of intensity.”
Academic dean Gil Dueck said Bethany staff would “sit down with each individual student” to ensure a strategy for continuing their education.
Most third-year students will be able to graduate with a bachelor of biblical studies degree or receive a bachelor of arts degree in 2016 after completing an internship.
“Of course, none of this fully satisfies those students who intended to finish a Bethany degree and are now grieving that loss,” Dueck said.
“People think institutions will always exist. But it requires a long vision to sustain a thing like a theological school.”