When the first building, Green Gables, was built at Hesston College, it was a marker for Mennonite education beginning in the West. It showed their desire to learn, to go out into the world, and use their knowledge to further God’s kingdom. A plain, simple building was there. It stood as a physical reminder to Hesston’s students of their duty to learn in God’s way. Since that time, the building has been demolished and a turn in another direction has begun.
When you visit Hesston College now, you’ll be greeted by a big, grandiose stone sign embellished with our name, and a tall pillar which reflects the memory of the first building erected on the grounds. When the school began, the founders dedicated the institution to be a place of sound education for Mennonite students so they may learn in an environment free of secular influences.
Their wishes were clear: Hesston College should be a school that upholds the mission and church of God, and our knowledge and experiences should be used to further his kingdom. However, as I said, the direction has changed.
I care deeply about Hesston College. This school gives students of all faiths a firm foundation in their education, and puts them on the way to a successful future. We say in our current mission that we should make every effort to learn from each other in our differing cultures. I respect this. However, we have stepped beyond that threshold. In several ways, we have strayed away from Mennonite values which should be benchmarks for our institution.
At the core, Mennonite values state simple living to be the center of our lives of service, stewardship, faith, and discipleship. Our goal is to show the world the love which is God in Christ. From that, the question arises: Why simple living? The answer: distraction. The world is full of distractions. It may be likely to assume you won’t finish reading this paragraph before someone distracts you. Simple living holds place to focus, and our focus should be, in everything we say and do, to the mission of God’s church.
As we start here and go everywhere, Hesston College students should be known by our difference from the world. While we might not all be Mennonite, our learning should be the tool with which we serve God’s people. While Hesston College has a great history of this since its founding, it has begun down the wrong fork in that path.
Here’s why: First, Hesston College is losing its value as a Mennonite institution through its new choice of physical identity.
Our new entrance ignores our call to simplicity. It says “look at how big and grand we are.” That stone structure should have never been built. There’s a reason behind the simplicity of the original entrance. The fact that it couldn’t be driven through is irrelevant.
When we direct people to our school, we should direct them to the church. Big and easy to find, Hesston Mennonite Church serves as a visual reminder of our roots through its plain and simple styling. We should tell people how to find us by using the church as a physical representation of our mission of service to the world and God’s people.
We forget we’re here to serve God! There is a reason for the light woodwork, the simple patterned brick, and the typeface that introduces the older buildings on campus. There is a reason why we don’t have massive pillars and portraits and paintings everywhere. They distract us from our true mission.
Yet, here we are now: On every wall is a plaque labeling countless financial contributors and their accolade. We remodel our facilities with grand entrances that are of none more than visual appeal which lacks that reminder of our focus. We worship the people who gave to us, rather than submitting their contribution to the mission of God.
We have also strayed by allowing other religious groups’ views to entangle with those of the Mennonite Church. Since we can’t keep the Mennonite population attracted to the school, we now focus on staying afloat by attracting students of other faiths, denominations, and backgrounds. Don’t mistake this point: I believe there is great value in welcoming people of all faiths to freely attend. However, allowing those viewpoints to blur those intended for this institution is shameful. For example, inviting a Catholic priest to share in chapel is wrong. Although the message included few specific Catholic faith ideals, Father Voelker’s presence indicates we have stopped prioritizing Anabaptist values in the very place they should be shared, Chapel. Even his attire reminds us of the system of hierarchy in Catholicism which is opposite of the Mennonite belief of equality and simplicity. Finally, the practice of Catholic bible study on campus is outrageous. Religions such as the Catholic faith should not be allowed to influence the faith life on campus. While Catholics and other groups have every right to believe how they do, and practice their faith as they do, Hesston College must fall in line with the values of Mennonite Church USA.
We are a Mennonite institution. We should be encouraging people to learn and join us in the Mennonite way. If we are a ministry of the Mennonite Church, we need to act like it.