Bethel College Mennonite Church works to welcome students
JOSUE COY DICK
Bethel College Mennonite Church, located on the southeast end of the Bethel College campus, attended by many Bethel College alumni, hopes to increase interaction between the church and Bethel College students. Pastor Nathan Koontz commented on his vision for the relationship between BCMC and Bethel College.
“Bethel College Mennonite Church hopes to become a partner with Bethel College in creating a safe, healthy and just community for all those who live in North Newton,” said Koontz.
This hasn’t always been easy, and building relationships between Bethel College students, BCMC and the broader North Newton community can be difficult because of the differences in demographics.
“The city of North Newton has been designed primarily to benefit white middle and upper-class people who are middle-aged or older. As a long term-stable institution in North Newton, our church hopes to be a bedrock connecting organization that can help to amplify voices and experiences that may not come from the white heteropatriarchy and then help to move those stories and experiences into policy and cultural change,” Koontz said.
If you have ideas to share or stories to tell as we seek a safe, healthy, and just community for all, please contact Pastor Nathan Koontz.
As a part of BCMC’s broader efforts to build a relationship with Bethel and Bethel students, BCMC holds a Church College Relations Team. Darlene Dick is a long-time member of BCMC, and a member of the BCMC Church College Relations team.
According to Dick, the team has been around for 10-12 years and has about five members. Dick shared about the origins of the team:
“The BCMC Church College Relations Team grew out of the concern that the church should reach out to students rather than expecting them to come to us,” said Dick.
The team has coordinated many events over the years. Some of these activities include: an ice cream and dessert social (often in the fall), donuts during winter finals, providing food for the Bethel College Food Pantry, hosting college students at members’ homes and providing scholarship money to students from the congregation who attend Bethel College.
In Covid years, BCMC collected nonperishable items (from hand sanitizer to snacks and drinks) and had tables for students to pick up any of these items they felt they could use. Last spring, in April, the church hosted and coordinated a very successful event, a collaboration with Campus Pastor Michael Unruh and Dean of Students Sam Haynes, called “Piña Colada on the Green”, which included games, cookies, pina colada drinks, prizes, live music and even a bonfire.
Dick articulated that Covid has, however, slowed things down a bit.
“Many of the activities we've used to do have kind of taken a back seat the last few years, but we hope to become a lot more active again and we may still have another activity in late April or early May,” said Dick.
Additionally, in association with the push for implementing a work college, BCMC employs students to sing in the choir, to work in the nursery and to teach Sunday school. BCMC has also offered an internship program that has paid $500 per semester. The internship has concentrated on anything from art to faith formation to ecological concerns, usually under supervision and guidance of one of the pastors.
Natalie Graber, a senior from Divide, Colo., has had an engaging and beneficial relationship with BCMC.
“I have always been approached by members at BCMC asking me how school is going and making an effort to make me feel welcome. They are always happy to see college students attending their services,” said Graber.
From her experience at BCMC, Graber commented:
“BCMC is a community that will challenge you to grow in your faith but offer a safe and supportive place to do so. I hope that in the future more students engage in this vibrant community and all that it has to offer,” said Graber.
Eli Regier, a sophomore from Newton, has also had positive experiences with the church.
“Last semester, when the Concert Choir recorded a CD, we sang in the BCMC sanctuary as a way to social distance during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. I have fond memories of having the windows open, hearing the birds sing, and making music with my peers,” said Regier.
However, Regier also shared that he wishes there could be more involvement and opportunities with the congregation.
“I think it would be great if BCMC was more involved on campus. Currently, they don't have a large presence and I don't know any students who attend there regularly,” said Regier.
Regier’s hopes for the future include increased involvement from students, suggesting that responsibility may lie with both parties.
“Perhaps this is by fault of us students, but I feel like BCMC could be more welcoming by reaching out and inviting students to come on Sunday mornings,” said Regier.