When I was ten years old, I was baptized with a group of children and accepted as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I don’t remember it, but I am sure that the elderly Bishop Noah Mack charged us as new members of the church to give counsel and receive counsel. Those words were part of the traditional baptismal ritual. I do remember that at the very next annual business meeting of the Marion Mennonite Church I voted for the officers of the church and Sunday School. If I had wanted to do so, I could have engaged in the nominating process. The Marion Church might have been unique for its time, but women and children could nominate and vote as members of the church.
On February 1, 1950 we left Pennsylvania to be a missionary family in Florida. I was to be the pastor of a church with Rhoda by my side to help me. The two year old daughter learned to entertain guests. She opened the doors of neighbors, and made valuable connections for us, some lasting for life. On February 4, 1950 we arrived in Tampa.
The ground was bare on our departure, and the sun was shining on our arrival. We spent the last night in a motel in Citra, Florida. On both sides of US 301 were large citrus trees in full bloom, and the air was thick with their fragrance.
In 1960 I was ordained a bishop of the Georgia-Peninsular district of the Lancaster. In the instruction time before ordination the examiners decided that I would fit in, and was fit for the office. Near the end of the session David Thomas, the moderator of conference, asked if I would give my counsel to the bishop board even if I were a minority of one.
I remember with pleasure the ten years as a member of the Bishop Board of the Lancaster Conference, even though I was the youngest. Though I needed sometimes to speak as a minority of one, I was heard respectfully. It was not unusual for the other bishops to call for my writing skill when they felt it was needed.
I write this because now is a time when all members of Mennonite Church USA should give and receive counsel, and exercise their gifts to keep the church whole. All senior members should speak up, and also listen. I wish to rouse your memories, especially, perhaps, the memories of senior women.
If you can remember when most women, even young women, of the church wore coverings with uncut hair, cape dresses and black stockings, and wore no jewelry, all in obedience to certain scriptures that were taken too seriously till change came.
And then holy women took off their veils, cut their hair, dressed like other modest women of society, and wore jewelry. Why ought the elderly testify of such changes? Because the middle aged and youth should know that change in the way the church views certain biblical texts is often desirable and possible.
It is the Old Fools belief that such a time is upon us. More and more congregations without fanfare have discerned that gay, lesbian, or transgender sexual orientation should be welcomed. One hundred and fifty church leaders have written a letter with an appeal for change of practice that is in keeping with the way of love. The letter was wisely responded to, with responses to the response that were predictable.
The predictable is no longer permissible. Out of this cacophony of response there can come calm reflection, unity, and peace. But only if the testimonies of the elderly and the visions of youth are heeded by middle aged persons in the pew and in power. If we take the Bible too seriously we shall be like saints of the past who continued to think that the earth was flat because the Bible said so!