Bethany College, initially known as Bethany Bible Institute, was started in 1927 in Hepburn—one of over twenty Bible schools started by the Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Canada. The first of eight Mennonite Brethren Bible school initiatives located in southern Saskatchewan was Herbert Bible School, which was started in 1913. This precedent, along with the proximity of the German-English Academy in Rosthern, stimulated interest among the Mennonite Brethren in central Saskatchewan to have their own “Bible-centred school,” which could help preserve the German language, teach the Bible to their young people, and prepare leaders for their churches. After experimenting with itinerant Bible classes for several years, the public school building in Hepburn was purchased in 1927 and a permanent school was established.
Despite numerous commonalities with other Mennonite Brethren schools, Bethany was unique in at least three respects. First, it experienced a comparatively rapid transition from German to English, the language of instruction quickly becoming a mixture of German and English during the 1930s as pressure for a bilingual curriculum mounted from students. Second, the school promoted evangelism and missions: in 1935, the Bethany Prayer League Children’s Mission was formed as an outreach extension of the school and sent hundreds of Bible school students into rural communities across northern Saskatchewan to conduct summer Vacation Bible Schools for children. Third, it was the first Mennonite Brethren school to experiment with offering a “college” program: a two-year program of study was expanded to three years in 1932, to four years in 1934, and then to five years in 1941. Although the fifth year was discontinued in 1945, this signaled an interest in higher education within the denomination that came to fruition more fully in 1944 with the start of the Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg.
Advances in communication and transportation eventually prompted the denomination to consolidate its educational institutions. In 1957, Herbert Bible School amalgamated with Bethany. After the closure of Alberta Mennonite Brethren Bible Institute, the Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Alberta joined together with the Mennonite Brethren in Saskatchewan in 1968 as co-sponsors of Bethany. The school has never been a large enterprise: its enrollments reached 100 near the end of the 1930s, plummeted during the early 1940s, and gradually increased during the late 1950s, peaking at nearly 200 in the early 1980s. With the financial support of an ever-expanding constituency, the school successfully completed numerous building projects to expand campus facilities. In 1995, the Saskatchewan Conference of Evangelical Mennonite Mission Churches joined the Mennonite Brethren as a third sponsor of Bethany College. Full accreditation with the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges was obtained in 2000.
Bruce L. Guenther