A Friendly Note to Mennonite Conferences

Mennonite Conferences have been a major part of my life.  I was born in a small conference noted at the time for numerous contentious divisions   As a young adult I became a member of the largest Mennonite conference, likewise noted for numerous small separations on both conservative and liberal divide.  In midlife I became involved in a partially successful effort to reverse divisiveness and unite churches in the southeast that belonged to five  conferences.

LeRoy Sheats, Paul Yoder, Arthur Kraybill, J.B.Miller, seated, Stanlee Kauffman, Harold Shenk, Raymond Martin, Standing

LeRoy Sheats, Paul Yoder, Arthur Kraybill, J.B.Miller, seated, Stanlee Kauffman, Harold Shenk, Raymond Martin, Standing

I served the church as a pastor of a small mission/church, bishop of a district of approximately ten churches, general secretary of an emerging conference, and a two-term member of a denominational board.  After years of reflection in  retirement,  The Old Fool  offer this friendly note to Mennonite conferences in general.

  • All conferences should take a fresh look at the Southeast Mennonite Conference.  The conference  council  has members from each major cultural group served by the conference.  The Conference Minister is multi-lingual, non-Anglo, whose only office is a laptop computer. The moderator-elect is an African American woman with a law degree.  It has rescinded and rewritten its by-laws to reflect the interests of the minority churches that are now in the majority.  It is learning to respect many cultures. The Old Fool suggests that this is likely the future direction of  other conferences.
  • Presently,  Mennonite Conferences may exercise authority over congregations.  The Old Fool believes that all conferences should surrender their power over congregations.  He believes that every congregation should be able to determine its own mission, ministry, and membership without suspicion or hindrance.
  • These are times of rapid change.  The Old Fool suggests that all Mennonite Conferences should protect a single congregation that adapts  to change and adopts new and untried ways to be Jesus in today’s world.
  • It is not good for a congregation to be isolated from other congregations.  The Old Fool believes that a conference should provide ways for congregations to talk to each other and to confer with each other over ways to be more like Jesus and win over the world.

If you know of a conference officer, please call this blog to their personal attention.

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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2 Responses to A Friendly Note to Mennonite Conferences

  1. Drane Reynolds says:

    As a member of the Southeast Mennonite Convention, I affirm what we’ve done and all of the points you mention as well, but there is a tension between #2 and #4. As a former Presbyterian, I always felt from my earliest times as a new Mennonite, that although the Presbys had stronger formal links between churches and synods/the denomination, Mennonites had stronger informal links between conferences/denominations. I thought that the strong informal links were the better path.
    There are many Christian “non-denominational” groups that seem to have no formal connections or weak ones, or very weak, if any informal connections or discipline. I see a virtue in what, in my days as a Presbyterian, we used to call the “connectional church.”
    I’d like to hear more of your opinion on this.

    • The tension you feel between the surrender of authority over congregations #2 and enabling congregations #4 is deliberate on my part. Using the Southeast Conference as an example, the conference ought not to have used its power to discipline the pastor of Covenant Mennonite as in @2, and instead it ought to have used its power to enable the congregation to pursue an open/welcoming mission to all seek to be like Jesus as in #4.

      It reminds me of the advice given me by Ed Taylor in relation to the beginning of Arca de Salvacion. “Don’t you dare tell that congregation what it can’t do.” I wish for a stronger connection among Mennonite congregation in which they do not critque each other’s calling, but instead bless even that which they do not understand. This my response to your question as I understood it. Ask more if I have misread you.

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