Tag Archives: Mennonite Heritage Center

Food – Heritage, Sustenance, Culture, Celebration, Community

by Sarah Heffner, Mennonite Heritage Center

 Food is a daily and essential part of our lives. It touches on creation, celebration, and community.  Food is also a concern as extreme weather cycles and global strife impact the production of food and people’s access to adequate food. Global issues affect local food production and food consumption. Locally, 10 – 11% of Montgomery County residents experience some form of food insecurity.  

A new exhibit, Food: Our Global Kitchen will be on display from July 6, 2019 through January 4, 2020 at the Mennonite Heritage Center. The Opening Reception for the exhibit is scheduled for Sunday, July 28 from 2-4 pm. The exhibit features large-format, colorful exhibit panels created by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).  Exhibit themes about the global food supply include Food Waste, Scarcity & Abundance, Crop Diversity, Trade & Transportation and the Future of Growing.

The accompanying exhibit, Food Heritage of Eastern Pennsylvania, depicts our regional food heritage. Raising crops and preparing and preserving food was, and still is, a keen reminder that we are dependent on the Lord for the harvest each year. Events like our Apple Butter Frolic are great fun, with the sampling of traditional foods and farming demonstrations, but events like that don’t always connect us to the realities or labor of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century farm families or what the loss of prime farm land to development has meant in the mid-twentieth century. The regional food heritage exhibit connects some of those dots.

The local food story will begin with that of the 17th-century Lenape people and continue with the stories of the 18th-century European immigrants and 19th-century farm families who raised and prepared most of their own food. Beginning in the mid-20th-century, the region experienced rapid growth and development, and, today, a minority of area Mennonites are involved in agriculture. There is, however, a resurgence of interest in locally grown food, seasonal cuisine, and environmental and social justice issues surrounding food production and distribution.

Programming accompanying the Food: Our Global Kitchen exhibit: 

  • Friday, September 20, 5 p.m. Traditional Foods Potluck, in partnership with Indian Valley Public Library. Bring a dish from ethnic cookbooks featured at the library. Preregistration required.
  • Sunday, October 27, 7 pm. Community Harvest Home service in the Nyce Barn. Speaker Nate Stucky, Director of the Farminary Project, Princeton Theological Seminary. Open to the public.
  • Friday, November 8, 5 p.m. “Mennonite Community Cookbook” Potluck celebrates this classic Pennsylvania German Mennonite cookbook. Bring a dish/recipe from the cookbook. Preregistration required.
  • Sunday, November 17, 2:00 pm: This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair—Historian and storyteller John Ruth will present his work on finding language and understanding around the transfer of the land between the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers from native peoples to our Mennonite ancestors. Open to the public.

Thank you to the following congregations for their financial support for the exhibit: Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, Franconia Mennonite Church, Plains Mennonite Church, and Zion Mennonite Church, and to our business sponsors; Alderfer’s Poultry Farm, Godshall’s Quality Meats, and Bauman’s Fruit Butters.

Bible makes 50-year, 7000-mile roundtrip

by Mennonite Heritage Center staff

In 1953, at the end of the Korean War, Mennonites opened a vocational school in Kyungsan, South Korea to educate homeless orphaned boys. Mennonites in the United States were asked to “adopt” a boy and provide financial and emotional support for the adoptee.

Willis and Mary Lederach, who attended Salford Mennonite Church (Harleysville, Pa) decided to support Kim Jong Sub, now known as Byung Dong Kim. For more than a decade, Mary faithfully wrote to Kim Jong Sub, and he considered her his American mother.

Dae Wee Kim holds the Greek-English New Testament that returned from South Korea to Harleysville last year.
Dae Wee Kim holds the Greek-English New Testament that returned from South Korea to Harleysville last year.  With him are MHEP’s Joel Alderfer and Mary Lederach’s daughter Mary Jane Hershey.

After Kim Jong Sub graduated from the vocational school, he considered enrolling in a seminary. In 1964, Willis and Mary sent him a Greek New Testament with an English translation. Mary inscribed the first page of the New Testament with their names and the date and added, “With much love to our Jong Sub from your American parents.”

Kim did not become a seminarian, but went on to have a successful career in business.

For Koreans, it’s important to know your familial heritage. During Kim’s young adult life, he attempted to find his birth family, and eventually he changed his name to Byung Dong Kim, believing that name more clearly reflected his authentic self.

Mary Lederach continued to write to Kim after he left the vocational school, but eventually they lost contact. In 1986, during a vacation to the United States, Kim made inquiries about the Lederachs and was put in touch with their oldest son, Paul, who was living in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. It was a great disappointment to Kim and to the Lederachs that Mary and Willis had died prior to his visit.

Since then, Byung Dong Kim and his wife have visited the Lederach family numerous times. Their son, Dae Wee Kim, graduated from Goshen College and then spent two years in Lansdale, Pennsylvania working for accounting firm Baum, Smith & Clemens. Dae Wee received an MBA at Notre Dame University and now lives in Northern New Jersey, where he is a CPA. He is married, and has two children. He and his family are faithful members of a Korean church in their community.

After 50 years, the Greek-English New Testament that Mary and Willis sent Kim Jong Sub came back to Harleysville: In September, Dae Wee brought this precious book to the Mennonite Heritage Center to be added to the Mary Mensch Lederach and Willis Kulp Lederach collection in the MHC archives. An inscription written to Mary and Willis’s daughter, Mary Jane Lederach Hershey, says, “To Sister Jane, I have Dae Wee bring this precious Book to you. Can be part of what you are collecting for Mother Mary Lederach, July 2, 2013, Byung Dong Kim (Kim Jong Sub) Republic of Korea.”

Two countries miles apart, connected by a book whose theme of loving one’s neighbor has forever entwined two extended families in profoundly unspeakable ways: A story of faithfulness, love and grace.

Youth Gather for Outdoor Worship

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Youth from Franconia Conference and Eastern District gathered on Sunday, June 1, for an afternoon of worship, celebration, and inspiration.

The event, held under tents that had hosted the Mennonite Heritage Center’s Whack & Roll croquet tourney the day before, was the first of what planners hope will become an annual event.

The speaker, Luke Hartman, reflected on John 17 and Jesus’ prayer that believers would recognize their unity with each other and with God. Hartman encouraged those present to make the tent larger, for all God’s people to be a part of the kingdom. He challenged youth to be change agents in the world, and to discover their own sense of worth and calling.

A joyous, embodied worship was led by Peder Eide, a singer-songwriter from the Lutheran tradition who had the group dancing in short order.

John Stoltzfus, Franconia Conference youth minister, says that in the past, there hasn’t been an event for youth from both Franconia and Eastern District to draw together; delegates from both conferences had expressed desire to explore how members of the conferences were relating to one another and building a foundation of trust and intimacy between churches.

The event was planned by conference staff, pastors, youth workers and youth. Mennonite Church USA contributed funding. About 175 youth and adults attended the gathering.

Check out the Facebook photo album!

Youth worship event – June 1, 2014 from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

Worship event to foster connection among youth

by Sheldon C. Good

Luke Hartman
Luke Hartman will be the guest speaker at the June 1 youth worship event. Photo by Lindsey Kolb/Eastern Mennonite University.

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Franconia and Eastern District Conferences are hosting junior and senior high youth this June at an event that will feature elements very similar to the biennial Mennonite Church USA youth convention, but with one key difference – it’s outside.

The worship event, cosponsored by the Mennonite Heritage Center, will be held from 12-3pm on June 1 on the lawn of 569 Yoder Road, Harleysville, a campus shared by the Mennonite Heritage Center and the Conference offices.  The rain location is Christopher Dock Mennonite High School’s auditorium (Lansdale, Pa.).

After eating lunch together at noon, potentially hundreds of youth will spread out on the lawn for free time and then worship featuring Luke Hartman, vice president of admissions at Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.), as the main speaker. Hartman’s message will focus on John 17’s call to unity in the body of Christ. He will collaborate with his good friend Peder Eide, a popular musician and worship leader in the Lutheran Church.

Additional music will be provided by Susquehanna, a band of students from Christopher Dock. Band members are John Bergstresser, Ryan Moyer, Austin Kratz, Brooks Inciardi, Simon Nam, Derek Reeser, and Ethan Neal.

John Stoltzfus, conference youth pastor and one of the event planners, anticipates that the event will invite youth to consider “what God is doing among us and who God is calling us to be together.”

He said there are several goals for the event: to provide opportunity for deepening relationships and fellowship among youth across conference churches; to give space for youth to engage in inspiring worship and experience renewal in their relationships with God and one another; and to offer a witness to the surrounding community of the church’s call to be a united people of God.

Mike Ford, associate pastor of youth at Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation, has also been integrally involved in the event’s planning. He hopes that “youth leave challenged and encouraged spiritually, and that they also experience a healthy dose of fun and fellowship.”

The gathering is part of an ongoing commitment in Franconia Conference to help individuals and congregations connect, says Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister.  “While it’s true that it takes little or no effort for us to find opportunities to disagree, it takes a greater commitment to reach out across our diversity and connect in ways that express the kingdom of God,” he reflects.  He encourages congregations to keep this event in prayer, as youth gather to worship, play, grow, and share a meal together in Christ.

“Now that’s a very cool way to connect,” he says.

A window into the life of some Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonites

John Ruth Memoirfrom Mennonite Heritage Center

“A first-born and only son, I opened my eyes in a sprawling 122-year-old farmhouse along a pleasant creek in southeastern Pennsylvania,” writes Mennonite historian, John Landis Ruth, in his forthcoming book, Branch: A Memoir with Pictures. As eighty-three year old Ruth tells his story through photos and essays, readers get a rich glimpse of his life but also the Mennonite family and community in which he was raised.

The narrative begins at his birthplace, the 1809 Lower Salford Township farm along the East Branch of the Perkiomen Creek to which, at age 57, he returned with wife Roma and two sons’ families. The early tone is set by the 1940’s photography of his father Henry L. Ruth, a Bucks County-born farmer.  “Those are the scripture verses that little John L Ruth learned by memory when he was a little boy of 4 years old,” writes John’s maternal grandmother in a diary entry included in one of the book’s intimate and evocative photos.

After attending school in Lower Salford and Lancaster County, Pa., and Virginia, in 1950 at the age of 20 the future historian was chosen to be a Mennonite minister by the casting of lots.  Subsequent studies took him to Harvard where he earned a Ph.D. and became a Professor of English at what is now Eastern University, St. Davids, Pa., with a sabbatical as Guest Professor of American Literature at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

Back in Pennsylvania, Ruth accepted a call in his mid-forties to work on themes of Anabaptist-Mennonite heritage in a popular rather than academic mode.  His first book, commissioned by Conrad Grebel College, appeared in 1974.  Photographs from the following decades of cross-country teaching, film-making, writing, speaking at historical observances and tour-leading are interspersed in the memoir with scenes from family, church, and the author’s changing southeastern Pennsylvania community.  “In the end this is a love story—love of family, love of community and church—all anchored in an enduring, classic Mennonite faith,”  observes Dick Benner, editor of The Canadian Mennonite.

In small coffee-table-style, each of the 210 two-page spreads opens to a mini-essay paired with a full-page picture.  Ruth chose this format “to explore synergy between a lifetime’s collection of pictures and the words they may call forth.”

The 432-page, hard-bound memoir, priced at $25, is scheduled to be released at book-signings at the Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville on November 21 at 7:30 p.m; on November 22 in Lancaster County at Landis Homes at 10:00 a.m., Garden Spot Village at  2:00 p.m., and at a pictorial presentation on “Travel in the Anabaptist Historical Landscape” at the Martindale Reception Center at 7:30 p.m.; on November 23 at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society at 10:00 a.m.  The release in Canada is scheduled for Tourmagination’s 45th Anniversary Celebration at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo on November 28.

Copies will be available for purchase from TourMagination, www.tourmagination.com and the Mennonite Heritage Center (215 256 3020), 565 Yoder Road, Harleysville, PA 19438, www.mhep.org.

Lois Gunden Clemens named Righteous Among the Nations

Lois ClemensLois Gunden Clemens was involved with leadership at Plains congregation in Hatfield, Pa. and on the Franconia Conference Nurture Commission, as well as the Franconia Conference chapter of Women’s Missionary & Service Commission of the Mennonite Church, editing their national publication “Voice” for some years.  She gave the 1970 Conrad Grebel lectures on “Who Is Woman?” and published the lectures in book form in 1971 through Herald Press under the title “Woman Liberated,” along with a study guide.  –Forrest Moyer, Mennonite Heritage Center

“Lois’s contribution was of such real quality that many of our local people only fairly realized it in retrospect.  She could speak effectively both [inside and outside of the community], to both the traditional and the forward-looking members of our spiritual community, with unself-promoting dignity.” –John Ruth, Salford congregation


July 18, 2013: Press Release from Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem recently recognized Lois Gunden, an American Mennonite who helped save Jewish children while in France during the Holocaust, as Righteous Among the Nations.

Gunden will be posthumously honored in a ceremony that will take place in the United States, in which her niece, Mary Jean Gunden will accept the medal and certificate of honor on her behalf.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, was established in 1953. Located in Jerusalem, it is dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, documentation, research and education.

According to a Goshen (Ind.) College press release, Gunden Clemens was a 1936 Goshen College graduate and a French professor at the college from 1939-1941 and 1944-1958.

In 1941, twenty-six year old Lois Gunden, a French teacher from Goshen, Indiana, accepted the call to serve with the Mennonite Central Committee in southern France.

Gunden joined the Mennonite organization Secours Mennonite aux Enfants in Lyon, and was sent to establish a children’s home in Canet Plage, located on the seaside of the Mediterranean.

The children’s center became a safe haven for the children of Spanish refugees as well as for Jewish children, many of whom were smuggled out of the nearby internment camp of Rivesaltes.

One of the Jewish children sheltered there was Ginette (Drucker) Kalish who was born in 1930. Her family lived in Paris until July 1942 when Ginette’s father was deported to Auschwitz. Managing to hide from the police, Ginette and her mother fled to the south of France but were caught on the train and eventually taken to Rivesaltes.

It was there that Lois Gunden approached Ginette’s mother and pleaded with her to let her take the child out of the camp. While hesitant at first, Gunden managed to convince her that Ginette would be safer under her care, and Ginette’s mother decided to part from her child.

“At the time I was 12 years old and certainly scared,” Ginette Kalish told Yad Vashem, “but Lois Gunden was quite kind and passionately determined to take me and these other Jewish children out of Rivesaltes to protect them from harm … I remember Lois Gunden being kind and generous and she made a special effort to blend us in with the other children. None of the other children were told that we were Jewish.”

Far from her home, Gunden would show great courage, ingenuity and intuitiveness, as she rescued children of a different nationality, religion and background.

One morning while the children were out for a walk, a policeman arrived at the center in order to arrest three of the Jewish children, Louis, Armand and Monique Landesmann.

Gunden told the police that the children were out and would not return until noon.  At noon the policeman appeared again and ordered her to pack the children’s belongings and prepare them for travel.

This time Gunden told him that their clothing was still being laundered and would not be dry until the late afternoon.

Gunden testified that throughout that day and evening she prayed for wisdom, guidance, and the safety of the three children. The officer never returned and the children were saved. During this time Gunden kept a diary, describing in it her experiences and daily activities.

In November 1942, the Germans occupied southern France. Although Gunden was considered an enemy alien after the United States entered the war, she continued to run the children’s center.

In January 1943, Gunden was detained by the Germans until she was finally released in 1944 in a prisoner exchange, later returning to her home in Indiana. In 1958 she married a widower, Ernest Clemens.

While she did not have any children of her own, Gunden gained a stepdaughter through her marriage. In addition to teaching French at Goshen College and Temple University, she also ministered in the Mennonite Church. Gunden passed away in 2005.

On Feb. 27 Yad Vashem recognized Lois Gunden as Righteous Among the Nations.

Lois Gunden is one of four Americans to be recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations alongside Varian Fry and Waitstill and Martha Sharp.

Barns dismantled, rebuilt at Mennonite Heritage Center

Hartland Demolition & Restoration is in the midst of dismantling a barn in Hilltown for the Nyce Barn Project. News-Herald photo — DEBBY HIGH
Hartland Demolition & Restoration is in the midst of dismantling a barn in Hilltown for the Nyce Barn Project. News-Herald photo — DEBBY HIGH

by Bob Keeler, bkeeler@montgomerynews.com, originally posted on June 11 by the News Herald, reposted by permission.

As Mike Hart went through the lumber from one of two local barns that are being dismantled, then reassembled as one, he noticed a piece was from an American Chestnut tree.

“That’s an extinct piece of wood there,” Hart, of Hartland Demolition & Restoration, said. “It wouldn’t surprise me there’s more.”

American Chestnut logs are only occasionally found in old buildings in Bucks County and seldom in Montgomery County, although that type of wood is more commonly found farther south, such as in Chester or Delaware counties in Pennsylvania or in the states of Delaware or Maryland, he said.

The barn on Minsi Trail in Hilltown and one on Forrest Road in Franconia were each built about 1850. Each is on township-owned open space land. The two will be combined into one that will be reconstructed at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville.

Known as the Nyce Barn Project, the Mennonite Heritage Center will use the barn to store historic farm equipment and items used in events such as the Whack & Roll croquet tournament and the Apple Butter Frolic.

Another purpose of the barn is to bring back memories of local barns.

Mike Hart carefully gives his son, Austen, the maltese-style cross from the barn to preserve it as co-worker Rick Dyer watches. News-Herald photo — DEBBY HIGH
Mike Hart carefully gives his son, Austen, the maltese-style cross from the barn to preserve it as co-worker Rick Dyer watches. News-Herald photo — DEBBY HIGH

“That’s a big part of it,” Dan Lapp, the Mennonite Heritage Center’s development director, said.

While the second floor will be an authentic re-creation of the old barns, Hart said, the first floor will have a larger, more open space and a concrete floor.

“That will be used for classes,” Lapp said. The classes could include some, such as weaving, that are already offered at the center, or other suggested new ones, such as ones on canning food, he said.

About $150,000 of donations has been received for the project, with about $50,000 more needed, Lapp said.

The initial plan was to move only the Franconia barn to the Mennonite Heritage Center, but the Hilltown one will now make up the main part of the reconstructed barn, with the Franconia one being used to supply additional parts, Hart said. Floor boards from an early 1900s barn being dismantled in Limerick will also probably be used in the project, as well as some barn parts he’s accumulated from previous projects, he said.

“Because of the size of this one here, it lends itself a little bit better to the usages that we want to try to put it to,” Hart said recently during the dismantling of the Hilltown barn.

MHEP barn
Progress has been made on the Nyce Barn at the Mennonite Heritage Center since work began in June. Photo by Gay Brunt Miller.

The barn would have been a typical one for the Bucks and Montgomery County area, he said.

Some interesting remaining features include the wooden hay trolley, wooden water tank and the original granary, he said.

The second-story granary was used to store grains such as oats, wheat or barley after it came from the nearby thrashing floor. It’s uncommon to see barns that still have the granary, Hart said.

“A lot of times, over the years, they were taken out just to make a little more room,” he said.

He also pointed out the tin plates covering parts of the granary wall.

“The rats loved to chew into the board to get into the grain, so almost always the granaries are patched up with tin can lids and license plates and different things like that,” Hart said. “This one’s no different.”

A corn crib on the property will also be moved to the Mennonite Heritage Center and reconstructed, he said.

All of the pieces of the dismantled barns are individually tagged to assist in putting the parts back together, he said.

Work at the Hilltown site is expected to continue throughout June, he said. The goal is to have the reconstructed barn completed by this year’s Apple Butter Frolic taking place Oct. 5 at the Mennonite Heritage Center.

Whitewash on the interior logs will be pressure washed off before the reconstruction.

“It [whitewashing] was mandatory in the 1930s if you operated a dairy farm out of your barn,” Hart said.

The “summer beam” or main girder of the barn is 16 inches wide and 55 feet long, he said.

“That is a real chunk of timber there,” Hart said. “That’s a big oak tree.”

The beam, which he estimated weighs more than 3,000 pounds, was probably cut from a nearby tree and dragged to the barn with the help of animals, he said.

“Imagine, they got it up by hand,” he said of the original builders.

To do that, it took a group of men, perhaps having piled up stone to assist with the job and lifting one end at a time into place, he said.

There are also about 20 40-foot-long beams and a secondary summer beam that used two pieces to span the 55 foot length of the barn.

“It’s gonna be a heavy duty load of lumber,” Hart said. The 55-foot beam is two feet longer than the longest tractor-trailer, he said.

MHEP barn
Clyde Leatherman, Rockhill congregation, and Dave Rice, Deep Run East congregation, are reconstructing the barn’s stone wall. Photo by Gay Brunt Miller.

Both the Franconia and Hilltown barns also have stone foundations made from local stone that will be reused in the combined barn.

One part that won’t be taken along with the Hilltown barn, though, is the about 2 feet of dried manure remaining in a portion of it. It’s unusual to see that because the farmers generally removed manure on a regular basis, Hart said, but apparently that was no longer being done when the barn was last used for farming.

Whack & Roll Tournament raises funds for non-profits

by Sarah Heffner, Mennonite Heritage Center

Whack and Roll--MHEP
Teammates Donna Floyd and Courtney Floyd compete in the Mennonite Heritage Center's Whack and Roll Tournament on June 2nd.

Dan Lapp, Director of Development for the Mennonite Heritage Center, had a brainstorm several years ago about using a favorite backyard game as a fundraising event.  This led to Whack & Roll Croquet Tournaments on the lawn of the Heritage Center each summer for the last four years.

Croquet has been a favorite summer pastime in southeastern Pennsylvania for many years.  Accounts of croquet history vary, but it is thought the game began in Ireland and was introduced to England in the mid-nineteenth-century. The game traveled to America, and by 1882 an official National American Croquet Association was formed. Croquet was even played in the 1904 Olympics.  For most, however, croquet was played in back yards on Sunday afternoons and it is still a favorite activity at summer get-togethers and family reunions.

This year’s Whack and Roll Tournament was held the first weekend of June.  Friday, June 1 was the Senior Tournament for teams from local retirement communities. Teams of two enjoyed a friendly competition with the traveling trophy awarded to Living Branches. The evening Reception on the Lawn featured a dinner where the Reunion Vocal Band, Eastern Mennonite University friends since 1989, performed for an appreciative audience.

Saturday, June 2, players for seventy-two teams representing twenty-two area nonprofit organizations arrived early in the morning to sign in for the elimination tournament. These teams competed for cash prizes for their nonprofit organization on two dozen croquet courts set up on the Heritage Center campus.   Daniel Hackman, a Penn View Christian School science fair finalist, brought his croquet inspired science fair project “Croquet From All Angles” to the event.

Whack and Roll--MHEP2
Courtney Floyd and Rina Rampogu watch as Andrew McElhaney takes his shot.

Three teams of two players compete on each court. A match ends when time runs out or when both members of a team successfully “stake out” (hit the end post with their ball).  Each team played two matches in the morning. In the afternoon, twenty-seven teams advanced to the quarter final round and then nine teams moved to the semi final round.

After a long day of croquet, the first place winners were Phil Swartley and Andrew McElhaney who won $5,000 for Spruce Lake Retreat; second place prize of $2,500 was won by Paul and Rina Rampogu for Quakertown Christian School and the team of Donna Floyd and Courtney Floyd won third place of $1,250 for Keystone Opportunity Center.  Donations of $500 to each participating nonprofit organizations were sponsored by Bergey’s, Inc. and many local businesses were sponsors of the event.

For more information on the tournament, see the Mennonite Heritage Center website.

Global Faith: Local Context Class scheduled for March 2012 at the Mennonite Heritage Center

The Mennonite Heritage Center, 565 Yoder Road, Harleysville, announces a class on “Global Faith: Local Context” scheduled for Thursday evening March 1, 8, 15, and 22, 2012 from 6:30-9:15 pm. The course, sponsored by Eastern Mennonite University Seminary, will be taught by Dr. Derek Cooper, assistant professor of Biblical Studies and Historical Theology at Biblical Seminary, Hatfield, Pa.

The Global Faith class will discuss the four most influential and global non-Christian faiths by focusing on the history, sacred texts, and key events and persons associated with these religions. It also will explore how these religions are not just isolated or in far-away places, but how they are alive and thriving in our local contexts.

Participants can receive a continuing education unit for the course through Eastern Mennonite University.  Pre registration is required and is due by February 24, 2012. The cost of the course, including the continuing education credit, is $65. Those wishing to audit the course may do so for $55.  No refunds are given unless the class is canceled for insufficient enrollment.  The following book: A World Religions Reader by Ian Markham and Christy Lohr (3rd Ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) is required for students taking the class for the 1 CEU credit through EMU and is suggested for those not taking this class for credit.  Due to the book’s expense, participants may want to purchase it used or to share it with another student. For information and to register for the course, contact the Mennonite Heritage Center at: www.mhep.org, email info@mhep.org or call 215-256-3020.

New fruit, rooted in history at the Mennonite Heritage Center

by Sarah Heffner, Hereford

The Mennonite Heritage Center, Harleysville, and Eastern Mennonite Seminary cosponsored a class on Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction to Basic Themes and Perspectives on four Tuesday evenings in October.  Instructors John Ruth and Steve Kriss and 23 participants considered critical themes running throughout Anabaptist history.

Steve Kriss instructs the Anabaptist history class at the Mennonite Heritage Center. Photo by John Ruth.

The class syllabus described this introduction as “acquainting students with the almost 500-year sweep of Anabaptist/Mennonite history, experience and theological reflection since 1525. This story of a movement and faith communities will be viewed against the background of the spiritual, social, geographical and cultural dimensions both historically and from today’s perspective.”

An ambitious agenda for the four evenings, but an excellent opportunity for participants to ponder what Ruth described as “a small chapter in a specific story with universal meaning”. During the first class, the instructors gave a quick overview of early European Christian history leading up to the Reformation period. From the early beginnings as a persecuted church until Christianity became legitimized as a religion after the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, the church grew and spread throughout Western Europe. Kriss noted that although the church became rich and institutionalized, it was still the voice of Jesus Christ through the centuries.

Ruth, who has led many trips to the Anabaptist European roots in the Netherlands and the Palatinate, discussed the early European reformers’ objections to the corruption of the official state church during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The religious fervor, persecution and social upheaval of this period led to the development and growth of the Anabaptist churches. Ruth noted that the development of the printing press played an important role in the ability of the common person to learn and study Scripture and theology for themselves. The insularity of the local Mennonite culture began to change with the modern era. “Mennonites of this region were in a thermos bottle for three centuries and their warmth was retained,” Ruth said.

Kriss spoke about the mission effort of the mid to late 20th century as one of Christianity’s major efforts, noting that the mission efforts sometimes lacked in cultural understanding. “We are now in another reforming time,” Kriss said. “The good news goes out even though the church goes through upheaval. How do we play in the global church reality?”

The last evening was spent looking at the global Mennonite story and the rising presence of the global church in local Mennonite conferences. Franconia Conference is growing because of the new immigrant congregations. Kriss noted that we will need to graft the stories of the historic congregations and the new congregations together—the fruit might look different but the harvest is there. The desire is to have our roots planted seriously but with a strong sense of the global community.

Both Kriss and Ruth enjoyed the challenge of teaching this topic. “Teaching with John Ruth is a privilege and challenge,” Kriss noted. “I appreciate his wisdom, wit and experience. In our teaching together, I hope that John and I are able to model the struggle and possibility that exists within our time with respect to history and hope for the future, knowing that we’re living a story still being written by God and that we are characters in this ongoing drama across the generations—of creation, learning and redemption in the way of Christ.”