A proposal released in the fall of 2017 by the Higher Education Future Church/School Relations Committee includes the formation of the Mennonite Higher Education Association (MHEA). The committee has recommended that a MHEA Beta edition begin to function Feb. 1, 2018. The MHEA has been affirmed by the boards of the six schools: Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Bethel College, Bluffton University, Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College and Hesston College. It has also been affirmed by Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) and the Executive Board of MC USA.
MHEA Beta edition will initially be chaired by Richard (Dick) Thomas of Lancaster, Pa., who is the current moderator of the Future Church/School Relations Committee. MHEA has been established to provide a vehicle to increase collaboration between the individual schools and between the schools and MEA to advance educational opportunity and excellence and to work at affordability.
Presidents of the schools and a representative of MEA will comprise the association, which will meet several times per year. By starting MHEA Beta edition in February, James Harder, President of Bluffton University, will be able to share his passion and vision for the association with the five new college/university presidents before his retirement on June 30, 2018. Sara Wenger Shenk, President of AMBS and a member of the Church/School Relations Committee, will be part of MHEA Beta edition and then continue as a member of MHEA. The association will be fully functioning with its elected officers by July 1, 2018.
The MEA-appointed committee has made progress on its task of recommending a revised mutual understanding and a common structure that will support long-term connections and linkages between MC USA church-related institutions of higher education and an educationally-supportive denomination. The final proposal to MEA will:
·         Clarify those principles that will guide the development of mutual understandings and a common structure for supporting:
o   long-term commitments to and identity with Anabaptist/Mennonite faith and values.
o   connections and linkages between an educationally-supportive denomination (MC USA) and the MC USA church-related institutions of higher education.
·         Recommend a common structure that clarifies connections and linkages between MC USA church-related institutions of higher education and an educationally-supportive denomination that will sustain Anabaptist/Mennonite faith and values over the long-term.
·        Recommend a timeline for implementing the common structure identified above.
“The demographic, economic and cultural changes that are taking place, both in society and in our church, call us to reexamine our relationship with the schools, while at the same time providing the flexibility to respond to the changing landscape of higher education,” said Carlos Romero, Executive Director of Mennonite Education Agency. “We are working at the creation of something new that will require all the parts to be willing to change. The underlying foundation is still the same: the church and the schools want to maintain strong ties.”
Last fall, a draft proposal was shared with the higher education institutions, Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and the MEA. The committee is reviewing feedback from the schools, MEA and the MC USA Executive Board to revise the proposed Statement of Arrangement, taking seriously the feedback they received from the draft proposal released in October 2017.   The committee has attempted to work at creating a new vision to define the future relationship between the schools and the church, understanding the past polity and history but not being defined by those, and proposing what the group feels will best serve the schools and the church in the context of the present realities.
The primary purpose of the proposed structure is to ensure the ongoing Anabaptist/Mennonite identity and mission of the schools of Mennonite Church USA, so that church and schools can continue together in higher education, despite the rapid changes that each are experiencing.
Thomas said that the new structure will provide the flexibility to act quickly. “The structure also provides new opportunities for MEA as it moves from focusing on governance to empowering the schools as well as newly emerging partners, to meet the various needs that educational programs serve for both MC USA and the world,” said Thomas.
The committee aims to have an updated proposal by February 1 to share with all the stakeholders.

Contributed by Mennonite Church USA/MEA Staff  –  1/11/2018