After his first year as Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Va., vice-president and seminary dean, Michael A. King reflects on success, failure and goals for the next year.
After one year, what surprises you the most about being dean at EMS?
What surprises me most is that I am dean. I didn’t see it coming. Without fail what I hear from friends and colleagues is shock. I was a publisher and pastor who, 30 years ago, went to seminary to wrestle with faith questions, not to become a pastor. Now I’m a seminary dean? I still often pinch myself. I’m also hugely grateful, because matters of faith, theology, how we conceptualize and do church in fast-changing cultural currents, and how we form vibrant pastors, church leaders, and creative theologians are among my lifelong passions. Now I get to be in the midst of these issues every day.
What do you consider a major success in the last year?
A little over a year ago, I came close to burning down my house, due to poor judgment related to cleaning a fireplace (perhaps best left unexplained). That has given me a metaphor for celebrating the first year’s success: new associate dean Lonnie Yoder and I didn’t burn down the seminary! Or then there’s one of my favorite and related stories. The departure of two key and superb seminary leaders, Ervin Stutzman and Sara Wenger Shenk, understandably created worries as to how the seminary would go on. So I was tickled the day a faculty member gazed around the seminary in some awe and said, “But teachers are still teaching! Students are still going to class!”
What do you wish you had done differently in your first year?
I founded my own publishing company in 1997 so have been a business owner for nearly 15 years and a middle manager before that as a Herald Press book editor. I had hoped that maybe when I got a chance to cast a business-savvy eye on the EMS budget I could spy ways to streamline costs.
I have been pleased to find that business-honed skills help me manage EMS administrative responsibilities, but I’ve been disappointed to find no budget magic bullet. I’m presiding over a budget too tight for long-term comfort. I’m grateful that our existence within a larger university contributes to our funding stability, giving us a firm foundation on which to ground efforts to enhance our financial strength.
What do you want people to know about EMS that they might not realize?
Maybe this: Although free-standing seminaries have their own treasures, I’m pleased to have moved into EMS leadership at a moment of opportunity for this university-based seminary. Great interdisciplinary possibilities have long existed at Eastern Mennonite University among graduate and undergraduate programs.
We seem to have reached a kairos moment for reaping that potential. EMS is in the thick of conversations across just about every EMU department with potential for cross-fertilization. We think and hope this can help plunge EMS into leading thought currents of the day and link these currents integrally and excitingly with theological and ministry-related training.
What are your goals for your leadership in the 2011-12 school year?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention higher enrollment as a primary goal. But numbers are far from everything. Jesus’ teachings that the last shall be first and the poor are blessed tell me that we need to be quite careful how we manage numerical goals or we just replicate bigger-is-better, number-one-is-best consumerist culture. I put numbers first just in awareness that if we have no students we have no revenue and no seminary and if we have enough students we have good revenue to support the parts of a thriving program that require money.
I have to admit, though, the goals that most excite me go beyond money. Perhaps you notice them already, lurking in my comments on how we manage the potential tension between numbers and the gospel. I see that as a big issue in our culture. That points to one of my heartfelt goals, which is for EMS to find itself ever more deeply in the midst of the big issues and conversations of the day. A number of us recently had the privilege of participating in Pittsburgh 2011. There were countless big conversations unfolding there. Each one made me salivate and think, “Exciting, let’s see how we can get EMS into the thick of that!”