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How Christians mark life transitions to be subject of Nov. 16 symposium

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College hosts its second Worship and the Arts Symposium, “Accompany Them with Singing,” to explore how cultural realities influence Christian practices of marking life transitions.

The one-day symposium will be on the Bethel campus Saturday, Nov. 16, beginning at 8:30 a.m. with registration in the lobby of the Fine Arts Center. The $50 registration fee includes plenary sessions, workshops, a hymn sing, lunch and supper. (Registration is free for Bethel College and Hesston College faculty, staff and students.)

The keynote speakers for the symposium are returning by popular demand from the first Worship and the Arts Symposium in 2011.

Thomas G. Long is a Presbyterian minister who has served congregations in Georgia and New Jersey and taught in four seminaries – since 2000, at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. He is the author of textbooks on preaching and worship, collections of sermons and biblical commentaries on Matthew and Hebrews.

His most recent books are Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2009; inspiration for the 2013 symposium) and What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Eerdmans, 2011).

John Ferguson recently retired as professor of church music and Cantor to the Student Congregation at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where he directed the church music-organ program, taught organ and conducted the St. Olaf Cantorei.

For many years, Ferguson has prepared and led hymn festivals across the country, for both local congregations and professional gatherings. The culmination of the 2013 Worship and the Arts Symposium will be one such festival in the form of a worship service, “A Thousand Ages,” open to everyone, whether symposium registrant or not.

The worship service begins at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall and will also feature reflections and a sermon by Long and music from the Bethel College Concert Choir, Bethel instrumentalists and singers from area church choirs.

At Bethel’s 2011 Worship and the Arts Symposium, “we had such a good time with Tom Long and John Ferguson,” said Patty Shelly, professor of Bible and religion and a member of the symposium planning committee, “it was pretty clear we wanted to have them back.

“As we considered how we could best call on what they have to offer, we thought of Tom’s [2009] book, and about the Christian response to issues of death and dying. These are important topics that are not usually covered in a symposium like this.”

The title of Long’s book and the symposium come from a quote in the Apostolic Constitutions, c. A.D. 385: “In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing, if they were faithful in Christ, for precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

The symposium will begin with Long speaking on “reclaiming the Christian funeral” in a plenary session at 9 a.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium, followed after a break by Long and Ferguson in conversation on the topic, with time for questions and response from the audience.

Between lunch and the afternoon workshops, Ferguson will lead a hymn sing in the Administration Building chapel, from 1-1:45 p.m.

Concurrent workshops in the afternoon will look at “an Anabaptist response” to the morning plenary address, with panelists Lois Barrett, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary-Great Plains, Mark Jantzen, Bethel College professor of history, and Ray Reimer, co-pastor of Zion Mennonite Church, Elbing; rituals of healing and dying, with two chaplains – Eric Massanari, Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton, and Frances Rathbun, Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice, Wichita – and a hospice nurse, Laura Ratzlaff; a panel discussion with three local pastors – Jim Anderson from First Presbyterian Church, Newton, Heidi Regier Kreider from Bethel College Mennonite Church and David Stevens from Eden Mennonite Church in Moundridge – and Newton funeral director Fred Petersen; a discussion with John Ferguson of the role of the church musician at difficult times (e.g., weddings, funerals); and an examination of medical ethics and end-of-life planning with Bruce Woods, retired professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Phyllis Miller, director of Bethel’s Department of Nursing, and Justin Heinzekehr, an instructor in Bible and religion at Bethel.

Currently in Bethel’s Fine Arts Center Gallery is the exhibit “Inconsolable” by Ann Resnick, which was planned to coincide with the symposium, since Resnick’s recent work explores the transitory nature of life and human connections.

She will talk about the exhibit, which includes an installation of paper flowers made by residents of Kidron Bethel Village, at 4 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium, followed by an artist reception outside the auditorium at 4:30.

The FAC Gallery will have extended hours Nov. 16, from 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Register for the Worship and the Arts symposium online at or contact Mary Regier at 316-284-5250 weekdays during regular business hours.

The symposium is made possible by the Reimer-Boese Worship and the Arts Endowment and the Lucille Graber Estate.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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