From persecution to reconciliation

Menno-Hof information center in Indiana highlights relations with Lutherans, Catholics, Reformed

Feb 4, 2019 by

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SHIPSHEWANA, Ind. — Persecution of Anabaptists in the 16th century by Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed churches created centuries of mutual mistrust and suspicion. In the last 30 years, however, these churches have persistently reached out to Anabaptists.

Team members instrumental in planning and designing the new display at Menno-Hof include, from left, Menno-Hof executive director Jerry Beasley, Gayle Gerber Koontz, André Gingerich Stoner, John Roth and Charlotte Long. — Susan Miller/Menno-Hof

Team members instrumental in planning and designing the new display at Menno-Hof include, from left, Menno-Hof executive director Jerry Beasley, Gayle Gerber Koontz, André Gingerich Stoner, John Roth and Charlotte Long. — Susan Miller/Menno-Hof

The ecumenical dialogue that resulted from these efforts is the focus of a new display at the Menno-Hof Amish-Mennonite information center in Shipshewana.

From 2002 to 2004, Mennonite and Lutheran conversations examined the groups’ shared history and explored issues of baptism and church-state relations. For example, the Augsburg Confession, the confession of faith of the Lutheran Church written in 1530, condemns Anabaptists.

In 2006, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Conference of Bishops adopted a Declaration on the Condemnation of Anabaptists. Mennonites responded with gratitude for their honesty, courage and humility, and accepted the apology in a spirit of forgiveness.

In recent years, Menno-Hof board members, staff, volunteers and other area Anabaptists have felt that these developments in the Amish-Mennonite story need to be told to visitors. This finally became a reality in September.

A display at the end of the Menno-Hof tour, titled “Reconciling in Christ,” was completed with the help of Gayle Gerber Koontz, professor emerita of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; John Roth, professor of history at Goshen College; and André Gingerich Stoner, neighborhood networker for the Near Northwest Neighborhood in South Bend, Ind., and former Mennonite Church USA director of interchurch relations.

With assistance from Kathryn Johnson of the ELCA, the group gathered information and photos of reconciliation events that have taken place between Anabaptists and Cath­olics, Lutherans and Reformed Christians.

“The experiences of persecution traumatized the Anabaptist community. Five hundred years later, many of us still carry a sense of self-righteous victimhood,” Gingerich Stoner said. “This is not attractive or healthy. It hinders us in our life together and our witness to the world. Wholeheartedly receiving [the apologies] and offering forgiveness can change us and free us to be more fully the people God intends us to be.”

Menno-Hof board members and staff, with Gerber Koontz, Roth and Gingerich Stoner, gathered Dec. 13 to celebrate the completion of the display with a service of dedication. Menno-Hof staff member Charlotte Long was recognized for leading the design and layout process.


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