NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - Renowned church historians Roland Bainton and Martin Marty, important church leaders such as Martin Niemoeller of Germany and leading theologians from John Howard Yoder to Gordon Kaufman all share a unique link with Bethel College. They have all spoken as part of the college’s annual Menno Simons Lectureship, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. Keith Sprunger, who retired in 2001 from his position as history professor at Bethel College and long-time member and chair of the Lectureship Committee, has written a 30-page history of the series entitled "The Menno Simons Lectureship at Bethel College: A Fifty-Year Celebration."
The lectures began, he notes, as part of a general revival of Mennonite historical studies in the 1940s at Bethel. The impetus came from Edmund G. Kaufman, president of the college from 1932-1952, who raised money for an endowment from among his siblings. By 1953 enough money had been accumulated that Yale historian Roland Bainton could be invited to inaugurate the series. In the late 1990s, when the initial endowment no longer proved adequate to meet expenses, the family of William E. and Meta Goering Juhnke made a significant donation to the endowment.
The lectures have concentrated on the 16th-century history of the Anabaptist movement but have also made frequent excursions to other areas of church history, theology or contemporary political issues. Current events were particularly emphasized in the 1970s. Overall, however, Sprunger observed, people who consistently attended the lectures have received an "excellent education in church history."
An appendix that provides a complete list of lecturers and the publications that resulted from their presentations at Bethel College is part of the anniversary pamphlet.
Copies of the history of the Menno Simons Lectureship are available free of charge at the Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) on the campus of Bethel College or may be ordered for the cost of shipping and handling ($3) by contacting the MLA at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (316) 284-5304.
Copies will also be distributed at the next series of lectures, scheduled for Nov. 2-4, 2003. Mennonite poet Jean Janzen will take the Menno Simons Lectureship into its 51st year.