By Annette Brill Bergstresser
ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — The Board of Directors of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Elkhart, Indiana, is announcing the retirement of Sara Wenger Shenk, Ed.D., AMBS president, effective June 30, 2019. Wenger Shenk has served in this role since the fall of 2010.
“When the board reappointed Dr. Wenger Shenk in May 2017, we agreed to her request that her appointment be reviewed annually,” said Bruce Baergen of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, board chair of AMBS, which serves both Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. “She has carefully discerned that this is the right time for her to conclude her leadership as president of AMBS.”
“While I grieve the need to say farewell to my beloved colleagues and the many loyal, generous friends of AMBS I’ve been privileged to know, I’m entering a season of life when it is important to be close to my family in Virginia,” Wenger Shenk noted.
She added that she believes the time is not only right for her personally, but also for AMBS.
“AMBS is an oasis of theological freshness, winsome witness and moral courage in a rather bleak landscape right now,” she said. “I believe the seminary is poised for significant growth as a resource to global Anabaptists, Anabaptist-leaning evangelicals, immigrant communities and theological inquirers from all professions, and will benefit from invigorated, sustaining new leadership for future flowering.”
AMBS Board member Meghan Good of Glendale, Arizona, noted, “In a time of turmoil and anxiety across the church, Sara’s leadership has been marked by a critical element of emotional and spiritual maturity that has strengthened the institution and kept it grounded in its mission and in its living faith.”
Baergen expressed gratitude for Wenger Shenk’s gifts in fostering team spirit and collegiality as new faculty and staff members have come on board, and for her “realistic, yet calm and encouraging” leadership in times of financial stress.
“Sara has been the right person at the right time for the seminary,” Baergen reflected. “We as board members have been especially grateful for the ways in which she has listened, prodded, encouraged and challenged us as we partnered together to provide leadership.”
He noted that he and Wenger Shenk are working carefully to ensure that the presidential transition occurs with minimal impact on AMBS as a learning community and institution. By serving through June 2019, she is continuing to oversee the orientation of Beverly Lapp, Ed.D., who began as vice president and academic dean on July 1, in addition to a scheduled self-study process required for ongoing accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).
Wenger Shenk has brought to her role as president her experiences as a missionary, church planter, teacher and administrator. Among her accomplishments at AMBS — which she is quick to note have been in large part team efforts — is a Pivot of Hope curriculum revision that she initiated with Rebecca Slough, former academic dean, that resulted in the creation of a distance-learning option for the seminary’s Master of Divinity program. She also has been closely involved with the Hearts on Fire Capital Campaign that raised almost $14.3 million (including annual fund contributions) and with efforts to refine the seminary’s marketing strategies, which included a name change from “Associated” to “Anabaptist” Mennonite Biblical Seminary in August 2012.
Wenger Shenk has been widely affirmed for her role in leading a two-year process (2013–15) of publicly naming, lamenting and repenting for AMBS’s failure to respond appropriately to abuse perpetrated by John Howard Yoder, a former AMBS professor and administrator, in the 1970s and ’80s. A milestone in the process was a March 2015 Service of Lament, Confession and Commitment at AMBS.
Practicing Reconciliation, a blog she launched in February 2013, has consistently been one of the most visited pages on the AMBS website, according to AMBS Marketing and Communications. And under her leadership, eight new faculty members have been hired — comprising almost all of the current teaching faculty — as well as a new vice president and academic dean.
Wenger Shenk reflected: “I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the exhilarating opportunity I’ve had to serve the AMBS community — both on campus and binationally. I often can’t believe that for close to nine years, I’ve had the enormous good fortune to collaborate with such wise, resilient, spiritually mature colleagues and remarkable students.”
According to Baergen, the AMBS Board is working with Mennonite Education Agency of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada to form a search committee for the next president. He noted that updates will be released as the process unfolds.
“The board is hopeful that we will find a new president in a timely manner,” he said. “We ask for prayers from the Church in the U.S. and Canada as we embark on this important journey.”
Wenger Shenk earned a B.A. from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia; an M.T.S. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois; and an Ed.D. from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. For nine years, she and her husband, Gerald Shenk, served as students and teachers in the former Yugoslavia (1977–1983, 1986–1989). For 15 years prior to joining AMBS, she served on the faculty and administration of Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg. She has held conference and denominational leadership roles in the Mennonite Church and has written in both academic and church publications.