After just three full semesters at Goshen College, campus pastor Cathy Stoner has resigned.
I can no longer do my job with integrity.
— Cathy Stoner
“It brought a lot of stress,” said Madeleine Kelly-Kellogg, a sophomore on the Spiritual Connection Team that works directly with Stoner. “It was just so out of the blue.” Many students shared Kelly-Kellogg’s sentiment of surprise and rumors began circulating immediately.
One thing is certain, though: Stoner did not want to leave.
In an exclusive interview with The Record, she said that members of the GC administration told her that her messages were not aligning with their expectations, and that she was asked to change her messaging.
She did not.
On March 8, she submitted her two-weeks’ notice. “I can no longer do my job with integrity,” she said.
Just prior to her resignation, Stoner said, she received a performance improvement plan (PIP) from her supervisor — a document detailing specific changes she needed to make in order to keep her job.
According to Stoner, the document included specific administrative and general performance requirements, such as punctuality and organization, which she acknowledged were areas for improvement.
However, there was one specific section that stopped her in her tracks, titled “Bringing more inclusiveness into chapel/worship.” It featured two subheadings: “No overt political references” and “Develop specific programming plan for evangelical, conservative students.”
“I knew then,” she said. “I was not thinking about quitting my job until I saw that.”
Gilberto Pérez, Jr., vice president of student life and dean of students, said that while he couldn’t comment on Stoner’s situation specifically, it is important as a campus pastor to be open to all viewpoints.
While he said that many students are progressive, he noted a trend of increasing rates of conservative and mainline Protestants — and conservative viewpoints should be welcomed.
Stoner has preached progressive ideas since coming to campus — progressive enough that some students who felt excluded for having more conservative values submitted complaints to the administration. Yet, she feels like she was blindsided.
“I know there’s room for improvement in anyone’s ministry, faith, walk, anything,” Stoner said. “I’m open to hearing about that. But I didn’t hear anything and I didn’t hear anything, and then, boom: … All these complaints about not being able to feel this sense of welcome.”
Stoner said she feels that the school’s vision of her job and her vision are inconsistent. She wanted her “message to be accessible, relatable and relevant.
“I’ve been saying that since day one,” she said, “and that’s what’s called for with a super diverse student population like we have.”
Pérez agreed with that statement. However, he said an accessible message has to be relevant to everyone — on all sides of the political spectrum.
“It’s not our job to say to you, ‘it must be this way,’” he said. “We’re working to figure out how [every group] can find a space where they can jump in, and feel [like they belong].”
“We are a different campus than ten years ago,” he added.
It’s true: the student body is steadily growing less and less Mennonite. Pérez said that he wants students “not to convert, not to say you’re wrong, but to say ‘your understanding of the Bible is one I had not heard of. Explain it to me.’”
Although Stoner was allegedly told to “be more welcoming in chapel,” her goal from the start was inclusion. In a 2021 interview with The Record when she first came to GC, she laid out her “central message: [that] the way you are made, no matter how that is, is good.”
Others have characterized her ministry as inclusive, such as GC’s president, Rebecca Stoltzfus. In a written statement to The Record, Stoltzfus said, “Pastor Cathy has brought to GC a ministry characterized by the radically inclusive way of Jesus. She helped us walk through times of crisis, including Ezra Kipruto’s death. I have appreciated her presence and friendship and I wish her well.”
Stoner touched on her interactions with Stoltzfus during her time at GC. Strikingly emotional, she said of Stoltzfus, “We share commitments, we share values, we share vision. We are about the same things. I don’t know what other forces are at work. That’s what I think; she’s not looking at me and going, ‘wrong messaging.’”
That’s something Stoner emphasized throughout — she doesn’t feel that any individuals in the administration necessarily led a charge against her message; rather, she said it’s the system.
And the system here at Goshen is why she ended Wednesday’s chapel with the words, “Resist capitalist grind culture. And another thing they didn’t want me to say, which was anything [including] overt political references: Jesus is Lord.”
Regarding her talk of capitalist grind culture, Stoner said, “I talk to people on faculty and staff here. I talk to people [whose] job description goes from this to this,” she said, as she stretched her hands wide.
“They are on you until you wear yourself out. I’m not down with that; I don’t feel like there’s Jesus in that … I don’t want you guys to grow up like that, to be oppressed by those systems.”
And the “Jesus is Lord” as a political reference?
“The prohibition on using overt political references — so now I can’t talk about Jesus being Lord? I’m not making any commentary about whether they think Jesus is Lord or not. But what’s more political than the Kingdom [of God]?”
Stoner’s final day on campus is March 22. After that, she says, she will be working more at her part-time job as a chaplain at a motel, but will still be reachable by email. Pérez said that the school is working on reaching out to local pastors to assist with student pastoral care and faith formation activities once she leaves.