Mendenhall became the seminary’s eighth president in August 2000. During her administration, the seminary has sustained strong enrollment in degree and lifelong learning programs, and has seen growth in fund raising, both capital gifts and annual giving. Under her leadership Columbia has undertaken investments in information technology and in new facilities, including a student residence hall to be ready for occupancy in summer 2009.
In a letter to members of the seminary community and alumni/ae, Mendenhall said, “I look forward to working hard through this school year. I intend to cross over home plate next summer covered in sweat and dust and cheering on the next batter!”
Answering an inquiry from the Outlook, Mendenhall outlined the CTU elements “I pass off to the next president, praying that he/she will take them to the next level of strength …
• A student body that continues to be bright, eager, committed to Christ’s ministry and church. They are evidence that God has not forgotten us, that God continues to send us leaders. They are beginning to represent more racial-ethnic diversity, more theological diversity. While they come with deep experience in the church, they are young and able to take us into the future church.
• A faculty that is academically strong and fully committed to Christ’s ministry and church. Half of them have been called during my presidency. Two-thirds of them are PC(USA) officers. I trust them to train the next generation of leaders and to keep the rest of us impassioned for Christ’s ministry.
• A Board of 40 faithful pastors and leaders who see the future into which Christ calls us, who pray fervently for the wisdom and courage to follow that vision, who come from all parts of the PC(USA) and are determined (with a new residence hall and a new academic building, with fully integrated technology, with additional faculty, with increased scholarship support) to offer the resources of CTS to bear on the work of Christ’s church in the world. It has been an extraordinary gift to work with such leaders, now almost all of whom were called into this service during my presidency. They and the donors they represent, in whose shadow I stand, have made me a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
“I am grateful to be able to pass off to the next president such strength. This body of leaders is working together off of a strategic plan that names this vision. The work will continue under the new leadership of the next president who, undoubtedly, will bring new strength to the team.”
Answering an Outlook question about how seminarians and seminaries have been changing during her years as president, she responded: “While I am certain that much has changed in the church and in theological education during these nine years of my presidency here, in another regard nothing has changed. Perhaps all we have done is simply to recommit to the original mission of CTS, to prepare pastors and leaders for the church, working that mission out in ways that are appropriate for this era. … Across the country seminaries are seeking to be more connected to the church, as is CTS. … Across the country seminaries are seeking to prepare pastors and leaders for a future that we cannot see, as is CTS.
During these nine years we at CTS have been committed to preparing pastors and leaders, not for one facet of the church and its ministry, but for the whole church. This means that we continue to stretch ourselves to read Scripture with those who read it differently, that we might hear God’s Word more fully and follow more faithfully. This is surely one of the learnings of this era in ministry.”
In a joint letter to the seminary’s extended family, William E. Scheu, Board of Trustees chair, and William S. Morris III, capital campaign chair, noted: “While the trustees were surprised by Laura’s decision and are sincerely sorry that she is leaving, we can feel only tremendous gratitude for her ministry at Columbia. With unwavering enthusiasm and energy, and with grace, wisdom, and good humor, she has balanced the multiple roles of executive, pastor, teacher, and ambassador. Columbia’s influence in the church grows exponentially as the seminary’s alumni/ae (now more than 3,000) live into their ministries around the world. With a gifted and exciting faculty, skilled and dedicated staff, and extraordinarily talented students, Columbia is in a position of strength, and much of this can be attributed to Laura Mendenhall’s leadership.”
Mendenhall and her husband, Chuck, will return next summer to Texas to be with family. She also intends to continue her ministry as senior philanthropy advisor for the Texas Presbyterian Foundation, an agency for the Synod of the Sun.