August 9, 2016 | 2 p.m.
By Monique Kleinhuizen '08 GS'16, New Media Strategist
Community—and the good food that comes with it—will remain a staple of the seminary student experience, thanks to a generous gift from the class of 2016.
“Is there any organization that doesn’t use the word ‘community’ as something they want? It’s kind of the buzzword of our decade,” says Jeff Sanders, associate dean for formation and student development at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. Seminary class formats and student demographics have shifted, with more distance learners on campus sporadically, and block classes that bring local students onto campus for less frequent—but longer, busier—stretches of time. With fewer students taking classes face-to-face, and no residential component to seminary anymore, “there has been some mourning of the community that was,” explains Sanders. “But how do we build community? What is community? If we were going to build it, we knew we needed to build it all together: students, faculty, and staff.”
So Sanders and his team arranged revamped chapel gatherings—with multiple expressions of worship and student testimonies—and spent part of the student formation budget on lunches, beverages, and snacks for students. The regular gatherings—and yes, the food—became a core facet of the seminary community. “At the end of the year, [Seminary Vice President and Dean] David Clark said, ‘This just has to stay,’” says Sanders, who set aside funds from the budget to continue the tradition.
When the class of 2016 announced that they had raised their own funds to support the continued gatherings as part of their class gift to the seminary, Sanders was floored. “It was so exciting and affirming of what we had been hoping for and dreaming!” he says.
“There is a deep desire among the Seminary Student Senate board, student body, faculty, and staff to foster relationships and connections among seminarians at Bethel. Seminary isn't easy, nor do we as seminarians often have the chance to dig into conversations with others who ‘get’ our season of life and calling,” says Steph Fedor ’09, a current seminary student and member of the Student Senate board responsible for making the gift. “Because seminary is a unique experience, our desire is that this would be a place where our students feel supported, connected and challenged so that they are well equipped to lead and serve the church…these meals, activities, and little details not only provide space for students to meet and learn from one another, but they are also representative of the underlying values that make up our seminary's three-centered approach. From a holistic standpoint, this gift will help to ensure that upcoming and continuing seminary students are not only receiving an excellent educational experience, but a robust, thoughtfully encouraging, and networked peer base as well.”
"Our hope is that these things will be used to help draw the Bethel Seminary community together, as that is what our class has appreciated during our tenure,” says Cassy Bloyer, S’16. “We hope that the current and future students will be able to enjoy not only the events, but each other during these times of community gathering."
Anna Tucker, S’16, notes that the gift comes with a measure of flexibility, allowing the Office of Student Development and Support to allocate funds to hot beverages, community meals, treats, or incidentals. “We felt that building community and creating space for that to happen was incredibly important as the seminary moves forward,” says Tucker.