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Gering inauguration celebration to combine college, community

Jon and Deborah Gering at Fall Festival 2017

Jonathan C. Gering, Ph.D., will be inaugurated as Bethel’s 15th president on Sunday, Oct. 7, when the college will formally recognize Gering in the role he has filled since Jan. 29 of this year.

The inauguration worship service and ceremony take place in Memorial Hall starting at 10 a.m., the penultimate event in the college’s 48th annual Fall Festival. (A complete schedule of Fall Festival events, starting Thursday, Oct. 4, can be found at www.bethelks.edu/fall-fest)

Gering says he hopes the celebration will be a time of joy and unity for the community.

“Reflecting my sensibilities and preferences, the inauguration will have a lot of voices represented,” Gering says. “My idea of higher education and the academic life is that these are not single-voice systems. There is a diversity of voices.”

To that end, the people who will offer words under a heading of “Reflections” or “Words of blessing and counsel” represent various aspects of the college, the local community, and Gering’s own upbringing and background.

These include Professor of Psychology Dwight Krehbiel (a former teacher of Gering’s when he was a Bethel student, 1990-94, as well as a member of the Presidential Search Committee); Heidi Regier Kreider, conference minister for Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA; Gering’s former pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Kirksville, Missouri, Michael McCormack (who now lives in Florida); Matthew Schmidt, executive director of Health Ministries, Newton, a college friend of Gering’s; Bethel senior Cassandra Voth; Sue Thomas, Ph.D., president of Truman State University, where Gering spent his academic and administrative career, 2001-2017, before taking the Bethel presidency; Bethel volleyball coach Stacy Middleton (whose time at Bethel also overlapped with Gering’s), representing Bethel staff; Kansas House District 72 Representative Tim Hodge of North Newton; and Joe Manickam, Ph.D., president of Hesston College, representing the Mennonite Higher Education Association.

Scripture readers also reflect Gering’s wish to include many voices, with readings in Spanish (by Rosa Barrera, the president’s assistant) and German (by Bethel senior Billie Selichnow), as well as in English by Bethel employee Carmen Schmidt, representing Faith Mennonite Church, Newton, Deborah Gering’s home congregation, and by Warren Gering, Ritzville, Washington, Gering’s father, and a representative for Menno Mennonite Church in Ritzville, Gering’s home congregation.

“A point of emphasis that may be unfamiliar or is sometimes forgotten is that an inauguration is about the institution, not the individual,” Gering says.

He continues, “It’s an opportunity to celebrate everything that’s good about the college – including the Kansas environment and ecosystem – and to reflect on the mission of college.”

He also sees a chance, he says, “to reaffirm, re-establish or rebuild relationships, with individuals and institutions that matter to us. These include our state and local governments, the cities of Newton and North Newton, our alumni and students, the Kansas Independent Colleges Association and the Mennonite Education Agency.”

The main visual symbol for this inauguration ceremony is wheat, which Gering notes carries numerous appropriate metaphors.

Gering grew up in one kind of wheat-growing region – the dryland wheat farms of eastern Washington – and received a pivotal education in another, that of the Central Plains. He is a descendant of the Swiss Volhynian Mennonite immigrants who brought the Turkey Red winter wheat from Europe and made the mid-section of the United States into the country’s “bread basket.”

Gering’s years at Bethel  helped him begin to see “it takes more than wheat to make a loaf of bread,” with flour, yeast and the other ingredients combining to transform into something other than what they originally, individually, were.

“The wheat theme goes way back into the history of the college,” he notes, “and brings with it many historical and biblical metaphors.”

His vision for the college’s future is that it stay on that path of transformation – nurturing seeds (students) and  encouraging growth; cultivating relationships; seeing the harvest in graduates and alumni; infusing the yeast of discipleship, scholarship, service, integrity, community peace and social justice, and diversity into the community, the country and the world; and always sifting wheat from chaff to discern truth.

At the same time, Gering wants to acknowledge that the diversity of grain goes beyond wheat, and the history of Bethel College involves more than Christian immigrants from Europe.

A special display at the inauguration will include – in addition to winter wheat – native grasses (from the college’s tallgrass prairie reconstruction areas) to recall the prairie ecosystem in which Bethel sits, corn to honor the indigenous people who lived on the prairie eons before anyone of European descent, and Kernza®, a domesticated perennial grain grown at Salina’s Land Institute, to invoke the necessity of sustainable ecology now and in the future.

The inauguration will be followed by a public reception on Centennial Plaza outside Memorial Hall (or Thresher Gym in case of bad weather), when Gering, his wife Deborah and their three children will greet guests.

 Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, both for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.eduMelanie Zuercher

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 TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

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.