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Beloved Advent tradition has endured for more than 30 years

April 16th, 2018

by Sam Bertholf

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Lighting of the Green has been an annual tradition at Bethel College that dates back to 1986.

This year, the Lighting of the Green takes place Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. around the Green in the center of campus, coordinated by Bethel’s student chaplains.

Many Western Christian churches, including the Mennonite Church USA denomination with which Bethel is affiliated, observe Advent, the season of preparation for celebrating the birth of Christ on Dec. 25.

For Bethel’s Lighting of the Green, most electric lights on campus are turned off and Bethel students, staff, faculty and community members gather with unlit candles on the sidewalk around the Green. It takes about 250 people to form a complete circle.

They listen to Advent Scripture passages and a brief meditation, and sing Christmas carols led by Patty Shelly, professor of Bible and religion.

The candles are lit to make a “wreath” of light, followed by everyone converging to the middle of the Green to form a “Christ candle” and sing one more carol.

All are welcome to join in the Lighting of the Green, an activity well-suited to families with children. For more information, call 316-284-5356.

Campus Pastor Peter Goerzen has been participating in the Lighting of the Green tradition for about 25 years.

His first memories of the event are of accompanying his father, Les Goerzen, Bethel physical plant director.

“I would follow my dad around campus beforehand as he would get all the lights shut off,” Goerzen said. “Then we would go up to the third floor of the Ad Building and watch from there.”

His passion for the event carried into his college years at Bethel, 2003-07.

“It was moving to join the service as a student for the first time in 2003, knowing my dad was still watching from the Ad Building,” Goerzen continued.

The Lighting of the Green has come to be Goerzen’s favorite Bethel College tradition and Campus Ministries event. The unifying themes of hope and light are what make the event so special to him, he said.

“The Lighting of the Green requires a community to encircle the Green and to form the massive Christ candle,” he said. “You can’t light the Green by yourself!

“This is a profound part of the invitation to the Light. It is an invitation to a community.”

In Goerzen’s opinion, the service perfectly encapsulates the values Bethel was founded on and continues to uphold to this day.

“[Lighting the Green] expresses much of what makes Bethel a special place — an inclusive community, with its identity rooted in a faith tradition committed to the hope and joy of the Light that still shines in the darkness.”

All are invited to gather around the Green Dec. 10 to, as Goerzen put it, “remind ourselves and our community that amid the tragedy and brokenness that surrounds us, the Light still shines, even in and through us.”

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.