By Jenny Williams & Mandy Ford
Students at Bethany Theological Seminary and Earlham School of Religion (ESR) get more to their educational experience than meets the eye. As seminaries across the country are downsizing, merging, or closing, these two schools in Richmond, Indiana, intend to keep building on a partnership that began a quarter of a century ago.
In the early 1990s, Bethany decided to relocate from its suburban Chicago property to maintain financial solvency. In seeking a seminary with which it could partner, Bethany chose to approach schools of similar size and with values corresponding to its own in the Church of the Brethren. Conversations were opened with ESR, of the Quaker tradition, and by the fall of 1994, the seminaries were offering classes next door to each other. ESR is an embedded seminary with Earlham College, and both seminaries are located on the college campus, creating a tri-school relationship that has benefited all in the campus community.
“The partnership between Bethany and ESR offers opportunities beyond what either school could do alone,” says Steven Schweitzer, academic dean at Bethany. “Our open cross-registration allows all students to enroll in almost any course offered at either school without worrying about tuition or other details. The richness of the interaction and the diversity of perspectives in the classroom, physical or virtual, is strengthened by this living partnership. Together, our schools can expand course offerings and avoid being redundant in what is offered, intentionally resulting in a wider range of educational areas and experts in their fields teaching more advanced courses in those areas.
“With this system in place, faculty at both Bethany and ESR have worked and will continue to work together in creative ways. Whether team-teaching or creating new certificates and degree programs that draw on the strengths of each school, the faculties of Bethany and ESR bring their best to the classroom, which is accessible to both student bodies.”
Students, staff, and faculty at Bethany and ESR benefit from the unique experience of a shared community life outside the classroom as well. They have the opportunity to travel together on contextual theology trips to locations such as Colombia and India. Members of both seminaries work together to plan shared worship experiences, gather for community meals, and enjoy social time outside of campus. The faculties meet regularly to collaborate and share ideas for curricula and teaching, and the schools also hold joint orientation activities for new students. The shared resources that students have at their fingertips are what make the student experience at these seminaries one of a kind.
“As more theological schools explore options of partnership and collaboration, ESR and Bethany’s experience of thriving partnership stands out as a shining example of what seminaries can accomplish when they work together. Despite differing denominational backgrounds, our shared commitment as two Christian Historic Peace Churches provides a solid foundation for students from a wide range of theological traditions to engage in rich dialogue and exploration. As we head into 2019 — the twenty-fifth anniversary of Bethany’s move to Earlham’s campus — we seek to rededicate ourselves to our shared calling, helping prepare students for creative ministries that truly impact the world. We look forward to sharing exciting developments along these lines in the coming months.”
— Matt Hisrich, Acting Dean at Earlham School of Religion
Jenny Williams is director of communications for Bethany Theological Seminary, the graduate school for the Church of the Brethren.
Mandy Ford is director of community engagement for Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker graduate school. Both denominations are among the three Historic Peace Churches.