Church administrator known for caring approach, gentle humour






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Publication: Canadian Mennonite
Author: Klassen, Mary E
Date published: May 16, 2011

Ross T. Bender

June 25, 1929 - April 21, 2011

Ross T. Bender, dean emeritus of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, died April 21, in Goshen, Ind. In his 81 years of life, he devoted himself to service and leadership in the Mennonite church. He was professor of Christian education at Goshen Biblical Seminary (GBS), Goshen, Ind., and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., over a span of 34 years.

Bender was ordained for ministry in 1958 and was pastor of congregations in Waterloo, Ont., and Lansdale, Pa., and was principal of Rockway Mennonite High School before beginning his seminary teaching. During a leave from 1984 to 1989, he was pastor of Glennon Heights Mennonite Church, Lakewood, Colo. Alongside these ministries, Bender was moderator of Mennonite Church General Assembly from 1981 to 1983 and president of Mennonite World Conference from 1984 to 1990.

Bender began teaching at GBS in 1962. Two years later, both GBS and Mennonite Biblical Seminary (MBS), the two seminaries that formed AMBS, named him as dean. He gave significant leadership to the academic cooperation of the two schools, which led to the move of GBS to join MBS on the Elkhart campus in 1969. The resulting full integration of the two programs strengthened AMBS as a seminary of both the former Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church.

Another significant contribution Bender made to the seminary and the church was his leadership of the Dean's Seminar, a twoyear study project from 1967 to 1969 to develop a model for theological education in the Free Church tradition. This project fostered the redesign of how the seminary trained pastors for Mennonite congregations at a time when there was significant ferment in the culture and change in the church, particularly a move to professionally trained and salaried pastors.

In all of the professional roles Bender held- pastor, administrator, teacher- he was valued for his strong and sensitive leadership, sincere faith, caring approach and creative thinking. Those who knew Bender appreciated his gentle humor, often turned on himself, and especially his warmth. The effects of Parkinson disease limited Bender's involvement in AMBS and the wider church in the last two decades. However, his caregivers noted that he kept up-to-date with developments in the church.

Bender was born June 25, 1929, in Tavistock, Ont. In 1950 he married Ruth Steinmann; she died in 1997. Surviving are their five children, Ross Lynn Bender and Sylvia Horst, his wife, of Philadelphia; Elizabeth and Jim Barker of Buhl, Idaho; Michael and Alice Bender of Washington, D.C.; Lenore and Stevan Challenger of Camano Island, Wash.; and Anne and Dave Jacoby of Bel Air, Md. He is also survived by his brother, Harold Bender, of Stratford, Ont.

AMBS marked Bender's death by tolling its bell 81 times, once for each year of his life. A memorial service was held at College Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind., on April 26.

Author affiliation:

BY MARY E. KLASSEN

Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary release

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