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First campus ministries house close to becoming reality

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – While most students are away for the summer, one building on the Bethel College campus has been given a new mission meant to enhance their experience when they return.

The small brown structure known as Richert House, near the Fine Arts Center, is set to become Bethel’s first campus ministries house.

Dale Schrag, director of church relations and newly appointed campus pastor, got the idea from The Chaplain’s Handbook, whose author suggested, “If you can have a house for campus ministries, it is incredibly helpful,” Schrag says.

When he took the campus pastor appointment at the end of the last school year, Schrag began thinking of ways to embody this new call, he says. One thing that occurred to him: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we have something new to show – something that wasn’t there before.”

Another driving factor in the project was student requests for a place to hold Bible studies and discussion groups. In the past couple of years, Deanna Wisdom, former resident director of Voth Hall, and her husband Jeremy hosted 35-40 students each week for Bible study groups in their campus apartment. Their leaving left open the question of where such gatherings could continue.

So Schrag approached Ruth Harder, associate pastor of Bethel College Mennonite Church (just across the street from Richert House), with his idea, hoping BCMC would be interested in helping with the endeavor.

The church had been looking for ways to strengthen its connection with the college and serve students more effectively, and Harder quickly jumped on board. The church has promised about $5,000 in memorial money as well as manual labor to help make the dream a reality.

The goal is to have a “home-away-from-home feel,” says Chad Childs, vice president for student life. There will be a functional kitchen as well as a living room and dining room.

In addition, there will be office space for any pastors from churches in the community who would like to hold office hours there.

“The purpose of the campus ministry house is to establish a higher profile for Christian fellowship and worship on the Bethel College campus by creating a designated location for campus ministry efforts and collaboration with community churches,” explains Childs.

He adds that this space is different from a church because it “hasn’t been used [before] for any specified religious activity. It’s open, and it provides room for student-led, worshipful experiences.”

Schrag agrees. “It’s a very different space from any other [on campus].”

Bethel’s campus ministry department has only begun to develop ideas for activities and future uses of the house and much of the continued planning will involve students.

Childs and Schrag plan to have the campus ministries house open by the time students arrive on campus August 28. In the meantime, volunteers will be painting, landscaping and doing minor repairs, plus furnishing the home.

The house, located just south of the Fine Arts Center on College Avenue, was the home of Bethel’s legendary math professor, David H. “Uncle Davy” Richert, who taught at Bethel from 1906-56. It has served as faculty housing, briefly hosted the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution and most recently provided offices for retired faculty.

Not many regional colleges have this type of campus ministry building that offers students a separate space. To have it has meant sacrifice on the part of some departments, Schrag says, but the college wanted to take “a bold step to see if something like this fit the need of students and the mission of Bethel.”

“During these challenging times, it’s encouraging to see Bethel boldly take risks that enhance the mission by responding to student needs and connecting with the community of Bethel and beyond,” says Childs. “This decision is a true embodiment of Bethel’s central values, its foundation in Christ and its hope for the future.

“I’m really excited about it, philosophically,” he adds. “The campus ministry house is a dramatic link to Bethel’s foundational principles and its current progressiveness and creativity.”

Childs and his wife, Jody, will be taking over leadership of the Bible studies the previously met in the Wisdoms’ apartment and these will now take place at the campus ministries house. Area pastors interested in scheduling office hours in the house should contact Schrag at 316-284-5356 or drs@bethelks.edu.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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