La Verne Magazine
Where Have All the Brethren Gone?
by Rebecca Cooper
photography by Jennifer Contreras
Faithful servant of the Church, John Gingrich, former dean of the ULV College
of Arts and Sciences, has seen the ULV Church of the Brethren population dwindle
from 6 percent when he started as College chaplain in 1968 to the current 1
When Lordsburg College opened its doors in 1891 and allowed students outside
the Church of the Brethren to attend, things were bound to change. But no one
112 years ago would have imagined that it would come to a point when less than
one percent of the student population would be affiliated with the Church. Weve
evolved from basically a Brethren-dominated campus to a church-related university,
says John Gingrich, former University of La Verne dean of the college of arts
and sciences and board chair of the Church of the Brethren Bethany Seminary.
With only one percent of the traditional undergraduate population affiliated
with the Church, you can hardly call it a Brethren school.
Currently, 15 Church of the Brethren students attend ULV, one of six historic
COB schools in the nation. These six schools were founded by Brethren who eventually
came to California from the East Coast and the Midwest because of illnesses
that they could not overcome due to the weather and hardships. The University
still has the same percent of Brethren students as it relates to overall Brethren
presence on the West Coast as it always has, says Marlin Heckman, ULV
librarian. In 1936, Brethren students made up less than half the undergraduate
students. Back then, many COB families thought President Ellis Studebaker was
too concerned with accreditation to concern himself with church affairs. He
believed it was important to recruit everyone but worried about the problems
different mores and convictions of non-Brethren would bring to the campus.
Part of the reason there are so few Brethren students at ULV today is that
there are nearly 140,000 Brethren in the United States, and only 5,000 to 6,000
COB members on the entire West Coast. In contrast, ULVs student body is
now about 40 percent Catholic.
Today, there has been a significant reduction in the overall Brethren
Church, and most Brethren students dont attend Brethren schools, because
of a lack of money. They often attend community colleges or schools closer to
home, Heckman says. With improved medical care and technology available
in other regions in the 1930s, many Brethren returned to the Midwest and the
East Coast to be closer to their families and more traditionally conservative
Brethren. Even if every student from every Brethren Church on the West
Coast attended La Verne, you could never get enough students to keep the University
open, Gingrich says. In the beginning, most students, faculty and
administrators were Brethren, but if you want to keep an institution alive and
interesting, then you dont want all the same kind of people.
The Brethren influence on campus lessens each year, but it is still evident
in ULVs mission statement and in opportunities available to students.
The emphasis on values and service in the mission statement is also very important
to the Church of the Brethren. Peace Week programs about nonviolence, the presence
of the Campus ministry and numerous scholarships for Brethren students are an
important part of life at ULV. In the grand scheme of things, its
not very important to increase Brethren enrollment, but I want to work toward
an increased Brethren presence at ULV, because its important to me,
says Julie Wheeler, coordinator of church relations between ULV and the Church
of the Brethren. The dynamics are very different now than when ULV was
founded, but I think its important to have a sense of rootedness. I think
both the Church and the University benefit from a positive relationship, and
I want to work toward building that back up.
Wheeler is trying to increase the Church of the Brethren student presence
on campus, as well as bring a Brethren influence back to ULV. She wants to see
more of a Brethren-like emphasis on doing good for the greater world and contributing
to the community, rather than just getting the job done. No one is saying
we should break our ties, but we do not want to be controlled by the Church,
Gingrich says. There was once fear of being controlled, but that has not
really been the case since the Board of Trustees broke away from the strict
Brethren dominance in 1933.
ULV was the first Brethren College to allow non-Brethren on its Board of Trustees.
Of the 35 members currently on the Board of Trustees, 11 are affiliated with
the Church of the Brethren. Today, 21 of ULVs 332 full-time faculty are
Brethren. In some churches there is a real strong encouragement to attend
one of the Brethren Colleges, but one of the strongest ideals of the Church
of the Brethren is for people to go and do what is most nurturing and beneficial
for them, says Campus Minister Debbie Roberts. But there are other
churches, especially the rural churches in the Midwest that are more conservative,
that think our Brethren Colleges are too liberal for their children to attend.
The Church of the Brethren is a historic peace church that follows no formal
creed or set of rules, but rather the scriptures of the New Testament. The Church
was founded as part of the German Anabaptist movement in 1708. After years of
persecution, the Brethren moved to Pennsylvania from 1719 to 1740, eventually
making their way West in the 1800s. Today, the Brethren are trying to focus
on educating youth, practicing foreign and home service, and peacemaking. Even
though the Church only has 140,000 members, each congregation differs in its
practices and beliefs. Even if you go to the Midwest churches or schools
today, you will see a very conservative Brethren influence, says John
Martin, a Brethren ULV student and communications major from Ann Arbor, Mich.
At my church at home, we are very young and very liberal, which is very
unusual for the Midwest. When I went to the Brethren Youth Conference, I could
always tell the kids from the West Coast, because they were more liberal and
liked to party. The kids from the more conservative churches wont even
play cards or dance.
ULV is not alone in dwindling numbers of Brethren students and faculty in
attendance. The five other Brethren colleges, Bridgewater College in Virginia,
Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Juniata College in Pennsylvania, Manchester
College in Indiana and McPherson College in Kansas, are also experiencing declining
Brethren enrollment. Elizabethtown, which was once more than 80 percent Brethren,
now has 50 Brethren students on campus. This is only 3 percent of the schools
undergraduate enrollment. McPherson College, the smallest of the six Brethren
schools, with a full-time enrollment of 341 students, has 51 Brethren students.
We do give priority consideration to prospective students who are COB,
and we also started marketing campaigns specifically targeted at Brethren youth,
says Carol Williams, director of admissions and financial aid at McPherson College.
Getting the message out to Brethren youth that we exist and offer a quality
education built on the foundation of the COB beliefs is the first step all Brethren
schools must take.
Martin, who attended Manchester College his freshman year, transferred to
ULV, because it has a better communications program. A place in the middle
of Indiana is not the best place to study film. You need to be in L.A. to be
in the film business, he says. Although ULV has newer technology and a
better communications department, Martin says there were more activities for
Brethren students at Manchester. Its kind of sad almost that they
recruit sports players here [at ULV] rather than Brethren students now,
Martin says. The other five Brethren schools recruit more Brethren students,
and it definitely adds to the Brethren presence and influence on their campuses.
At Manchester College, there are 158 undergraduate Brethren students, which
is 15 percent of the overall enrollment. Manchester officials and students continue
to work with ULV and the four other Brethren colleges to increase Brethren enrollment
through the COB Collaboration on Admissions. The COBCOA was created to increase
Brethren enrollment at traditionally Brethren schools. There is an effort
by all the Brethren colleges to increase COB enrollment, as well as overall
enrollment, says David McFadden, vice president for enrollment and planning
at Manchester College. The Church of the Brethren does not have very many
young members, only about 4,000 high school students across the country, so
we have to accept people from outside the Brethren Church to stay open and provide
a quality education to all our students.
In their efforts to increase Brethren enrollment, COBCOA representatives attend
the Brethren National Youth Conference every four years and the denominations
Annual Conference each year to encourage COB high school students to attend
one of the six Brethren colleges. The members of COBCOA also advertise in the
Messenger, the COB magazine, six times a year, and they send mailings to COB
high school students through their national database. Through the mailings and
information from members at her church in Lomita, Erica Schatz, senior liberal
studies major, discovered the Brethren colleges. Manchester College looked fascinating
to her, but she decided to attend ULV because she did not want to leave California.
Schatz said there were no organizations and no gatherings for Brethren students
before February, when Roberts started hosting a meal for Brethren and peace
study students. At the first meal, they ate pizza and talked and then went to
the La Verne Church of the Brethren to play broom hockey.
It was a lot of fun to get to know the other Brethren students and to
relax and have fun with members of my Church, Schatz says. I knew
other Brethren students here before, but I never really felt a strong Brethren
presence on campus, and there was never anyone who organized anything for us.
I wish we would have had events like this starting my freshman year, but this
will be very beneficial to Brethren students in the future and to help try to
increase Brethren enrollment in the future.
The first weekend in May, the ULV Brethren students gathered again at the
La Verne Church of the Brethren for a Polaroid scavenger hunt for ULV students
and young adults throughout the La Verne community. The La Verne Church
is now working to get more young adults and college students involved in activities
because they realize that we are the future of the Church, says senior
Shane Haldeman, a native of Lancaster, Pa. Last year, I talked my little
brother Jason into coming to La Verne, and one of the girls from my church at
home is planning to attend ULV next year. Im trying to encourage an East
Coast migration. Haldeman, who heard about La Verne through mailings from
the COBCOA and the Brethren Youth Conference, is working to increase the Brethren
enrollment at ULV from the East Coast. He was initially interested in attending
La Verne because his father offered him more money if he attended a Brethren
Haldeman works as a youth adviser for the high school youth group at the La
Verne Church of the Brethren and encourages the members of the youth group to
look into the six Brethren colleges. Two Brethren high school students from
La Verne, Irene Beltran and Emily Roberts, will attend ULV next year. The
Brethren influence at ULV hit its low a few years ago, and it has slowly increased,
Haldeman says. I dont think we need to change anything about the
University, but an increased Brethren influence would be great. I try to encourage
all Brethren high school students to attend Brethren schools, because its
good to keep the tradition alive.
Stickers and posters proclaiming the anti-war and pro-peace stance of the Church
of the Brethren adorn senior Erica Schatzs dorm window at the University
of La Verne. Schatz is one of 15 Brethren students attending ULV.