Reunion, divisions

Dec 9, 2019 by

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As a Franconia Mennonite Conference native, I was deeply gratified to read that the dec­ades-long effort to reconcile with Eastern District Conference will be completed in 2020. When I was born in 1937, the split was already 90 years old, but the mutual avoidance was still painfully palpable.

To free themselves from “Old” Mennonite dress codes, two of my aunts transferred from Plains to Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale. But in the 1950s Lansdale Mennonite Church (Plains’ “urban” mission) and Grace built buildings a block apart, which townfolk often confused at summer Bible school time. My father, one of the pastors at Lansdale, would privately chat with Grace’s pastor but could not admit it publicly. Ironically, both congregations are now outside Mennonite Church USA and their historic district conferences.

With mutual forgiveness, Franconia avoids a “prodigal returning home” attitude, and Eastern District avoids lamenting how long it took for traditionalists to catch up with John H. Oberholtzer’s vision/goals (Editorial, Nov. 11) — including greater organizational unity among Mennonites which, ironically both then and recently, has led to further division/disunity.

The Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church merged at the turn of 21st century but split between the United States and Canada. Now, congregations and whole conferences are leaving MC USA, and congregations are playing “musical chairs” as they prefer ideological affinity over geographical proximity.

If Lancaster Mennonite Conference (now LMC) is attracting conservatives from across the country and Franconia the moderates, will Central and Western districts become the progressive home base?

“When they drew a circle that excluded me, I drew a larger one that included them” is too often a naïve dream, because excluders refuse to be included in anyone else’s larger circle.

Dan Leatherman
Fort Collins, Colo.

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