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GOSHEN -- James Brenneman has deep roots in California, but is ready to transplant to the college whose school song refers to the "spot where the leafy maple grows."
Brenneman, who prefers to be called Jim, was introduced Friday morning as the likely next president of Goshen College. A search committee that initially included Brenneman has been working the past year to find the person to become the 16th president. President Shirley H. Showalter resigned last fall, and John Yordy is interim president.
Brenneman, 51, returns to the college he graduated from in 1977. Since then, he's become a biblical scholar and pastor in Pasadena, Calif. "They were fortunate to get so much in one skin," said Vic Stoltzfus, one of three former GC presidents present for the announcement.
The search committee unanimously selected Brenneman, who had left the committee when he became a candidate. The GC board and Mennonite Education Association have yet to approve Brenneman, but Virgil Sauder, board chairman, and Carlos Romero, Mennonite Education Association executive director, endorsed him Friday morning. Rick Stiffney, search committee chairman and vice chairman of the GC board, said the board will affirm his appointment and a timetable is likely to be determined in the coming weeks.
Former presidents and college and church officials repeated how pleased they were with the choice of Brenneman and how it inspires optimism for the future of the Christian college based in Goshen. "You would bring the mind of a scholar, the vision and determination of a leader and the heart of a pastor," said Romero to Brenneman.
Prior to meeting with faculty, students and community leaders throughout the day, Brenneman addressed them in the chapel, lacing his comments with humor and explaining why he was willing to uproot his life in California to return to Goshen.
"I can't help but feel this spot is holy ground," he said of the college. His life was changed, and others continue to be at the liberal arts college, he said. "I believe the world needs Goshen College," he said, later adding, "The world wants what Goshen College has to offer."
The college can pass on biblical truths and revolutionary values to upcoming generations of students, he said. The college can be a bit odd, with young men wearing skirts on campus and others wearing ties to chapel. But the unconventional ways of Goshen College, while at times odd, can be worthwhile and even "ecumenically contagious."
He cited how Mennonites or their Anabaptist ancestors have called for the separation of church and state, abolition of slavery and fair trade before the ideas took hold more broadly. "Goshen College has been part of a movement that often times has been ahead of its time," he said.
He invited students at the school he called "cutting edge" to be part of a revolution of ideas and potentially be salt, light and leaven in the world.
Stiffney was among those excited by Brenneman's message and potential at the college. "Jim is a person who is deeply committed to evangelical nonconformity. That's a different way of saying Anabaptist," he said.
Contact Marshall V. King at firstname.lastname@example.org.