This week I was invited to visit Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. A part of their strategic plan is to strengthen ties with their church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
My time on campus as a visiting bishop began on March 26, 2019, with a friend and colleague, Pastor Dick Monson, who used to serve here in the Gulf Coast Synod at Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Conroe, Texas.
Bethany College has 14 academic departments. The school offers majors focused in education, humanities, fine arts, sciences, and social sciences; minors ranging from business and sacred music to theater and art; teaching endorsements for all majors in education; and six pre-professional studies including medicine, law and, physical therapy.
Tuesday I was picked up by Pastor Richard and Janet Monson. Richard had lived in Kingwood and served the in the Gulf Coast Synod in a number of ways, including serving as associate pastor, and eventually interim pastor at Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Conroe, Texas. It was nice to reconnect. Janet grew up a few miles from Bethany in McPherson. They now live on family land. After dinner at Larkspur Bistro in Wichita, we headed up the highway to Lindsborg, “Little Sweden.”
Wednesday morning I had the privilege of preaching at chapel.
After chapel I attended Tyler Atkinson’s “Religion in the Public Square” class. What a passionate, engaged group.
Meet Bethany President Will Jones. We had lunch after my class. Will grew up in Appalachia, and has lots of stories to tell. Faith and education have clearly been powerful movers in his life. We share a common appreciation for Parker Palmer.
Bethany College, founded in 1881 by Swedish Lutheran immigrants, is a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Last last two years Bethany has had record enrollment. Texas is the third most represented state at Bethany, after Kansas of course, and then Colorado. Students from McPherson and Salina Counties get free tuition.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Matt Phannanstiel gave me the full tour of campus after lunch. President Jones credits him for the growth in enrollment. Bethany has a 14:1 student to faculty ratio. They are 32% African American and Latino. 52% of students are Pell eligible.
A few years ago they found a significant number of students weren’t buying textbooks. The average cost of textbooks in the U.S. is $1,400/year. So they moved to a rental system for $800/year, students get a book. At the end of the class they turn it in or have the option to buy.
Lindsborg was settled by Swedish immigrants in 1869, led by Pastor Olof Olsson (pictures below) from Värmland, Sweden.
Pastor Monson took me to visit the Birger Sandzén Memorial Art Gallery. Sandzén, the most important artist in Kansas history, taught at Bethany. I am mesmerized by his painting, that provides a bridge between Impressionism and modern art. He begins in the late 1800s in the dark European style, dabbles in pointillism and then moved beyond. These photos can’t do justice to the textures of his oil on canvas. Close they look like a mishmash of color. From a distance the scene comes into focus.
A short wall down the street and we encountered the gallery of National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson. I was particularly interested in his collection of sacred spaces, photographed over a career of thirty years. His wife Kathy collects and sells jewelry from around the world. I can’t show his full-res images, but here are some tastes…
Messiah Lutheran Church
In the evening I attended a Lenten supper at Messiah Lutheran Church and preached at the Lenten service. Pastor Amy Truhe serves this parish and as Campus Pastor at the college. Messiah was the first English-speaking Lutheran Church in Lindsborg.
Thursday I attend a clergy text study. Great conversation with the Central Kansas Conference.
Then I attend Big Brew. There is also a luncheon with area pastors. In the afternoon I will join Adam Pryor’s “Political Theology” class.
Bethany Lutheran Church
The college began with 10 students in the sacristy of Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg, Kansas. In honor of its founding in the sacristy of Bethany Lutheran Church, students traditionally walk to the church for a welcome service on their first day at Bethany as freshmen. The congregation has about a thousand members today.
President Jones grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. He knows first-hand how a liberal arts education and hard work can transform a student’s life.
A few years ago, 2016, chalk messages appeared on the campus of Bethany College, in Kansas. The chalkings said, “Make Lindsborg white again,” referring to the small city where the college is located. Other chalkings featured the outlines of dead bodies with the words “rest in peace my friend.”
They had been left there by a small group of people who claim to be associated with a hate group. A few days after the messages appeared, President Jones received a call from a man who is not a Bethany student who said that he and others had left the messages. “He stated that the chalk messages were written in response to the makeup of my family (I have two adopted, biracial children), to some of the things that have been written and posted online and in the press about my work at the college, and in response to the students of color that Bethany College is recruiting,” Jones wrote.
About one third of Bethany’s students are black or Latino.
“That’s right. Think about it,” Jones wrote. “A man called my office to tell me that messages like the outline of a dead body and ‘make Lindsborg white again’ were directed at my family — the love of my life and my sweet children, ages 7 to 14 years old. Let it sink into your mind and heart. Dead body outline. Children. Hate. As a parent, how would you feel?”
The man called a second time, demanding changes in the college. The man left a message with his name and phone number, which enabled the college to identify him. “He was already on our radar and the police’s,” Jones wrote. The man has since been banned, along with three others, from coming to campus. Security has been bolstered.
I remember reading about this a few years ago and being impressed with how well he handled this. Hearing the story first hand from his this week I learned how much deeper the story went. Leadership matters.