Mennonite Church General Conference
Mennonite General Conference was the over-all representative body of the Mennonite Church (MC), formally organized in 1898 until it was superseded in 1971. Since the locus of authority in the Mennonite Church was the district conference, and the general boards and institutions of the church were independent and self-perpetuating, the General Conference remained from the beginning advisory and consultative in relation to the district conferences and general boards. In fact some district conferences of the church (Franconia, Lancaster, Washington County, MD and Franklin County, Pennsylvania) never formally joined the General Conference, although they participated in varying degrees in General Conference work. They were fully a part of the Mennonite Church nevertheless. In spite of its lack of authority the pronouncements of the General Conference in matters of faith and life carried great weight, and the work of the committees which it created and directed had great value and influence for the church at large.
In 1957 the committees of the General Conference were the following: Executive Committee, General Council, Commission for Christian Education, Peace Problems Committee, Committee on Economic and Social Relations, General Problems Committee, Ministerial Committee, Mennonite Mutual Aid, Committee on Worship. The committees which reported to the final session of the Mennonite General Conference in 1971 were Church Welfare, Peace and Social Concerns, General Council, Historical and Research, Interchurch Relations, and Ministerial. Program Boards included the Board of Education, Board of Missions, Mutual Aid, Publication Board, and the Commission for Christian Education.
The General Council, established in 1951, acted as the interim representative body for the General Conference, is composed of the officers of the General Conference, a representative from each General Conference committee, each district conference and each church-wide general board, with a total membership in 1957 of 35. It became an important body, meeting three or four times between the biennial sessions of General Conference. It recommended the General Conference biennial budget, approved the biennial conference program, counseled the General Conference committees at their request, and acted in emergencies for the General Conference. It did not have administrative responsibility for General Conference committees; they are directly responsible to the General Conference. Since 1953 the conference has had an executive secretary. The first incumbent was Paul Erb, followed by Howard Zehr.
The delegate body of General Conference was formerly constituted of all the ordained bishops of the church, delegates elected by conference, and one representative from each General Conference committee. In 1955 the basis of representation was changed so that the delegate body consisted of all members of the General Council and delegates elected from the district conferences at the rates of one delegate to 200 members, but bishops from non-electing conferences were recognized as delegates ex offices. The number of delegates in attendance ranged from a low of 31 in 1902 to 264 in 1965, with a total audience varying from 1,500 to 6,000 in later years.
The sessions of General Conference were held biennially in the odd years, usually entertained by the larger Mennonite communities. They combine business sessions for the delegates with general and inspirational addresses. Biennial sessions were held in Ontario in 1923, 1935, 1953 and 1971. Canadian moderators of the General Conference were S.F. Coffman (1911 and 1933), Oscar Burkholder (1951) and J. B. Martin (1961).
A preliminary session was held in 1897 at Elida, Ohio, the first regular session at Wakarusa, Indiana in 1898.
The proceedings of the conference were regularly printed, and since 1925 include the full text of all reports and the text of most or all of the programmed sermons and addresses.
In 1971 a new governance structure, called Mennonite Church General Assembly, replaced the General Conference in sessions held at Rockway Mennonite School in Kitchener, Ontario. For information on that structure see Mennonite Church (MC).
Bender, H. S. "The Function and Authority of General Conference, a Review of Past History." Gospel Herald 37 (1944): 289 f., 306, 316 f.
Final Reports Submitted to Mennonite General Conference, August 16-19, 1971. Scottdale, 1971.
Proceedings of the Mennonite General Conference, Including Discussions Leading to its Origination (1890-1919). Scottdale, 1921.
- A Statement of Our Position on Peace, War and Military Service (Mennonite Church, 1937)
- A Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment with Respect to Peace, War, and Nonresistance (Mennonite Church, 1951)
- Declaration of Commitment in Respect to Christian Separation and Nonconformity to the World (Mennonite Church, 1955)
- The Nurture and Evangelism of Children (Mennonite Church, 1955)
- The Way of Christian Love in Race Relations (Mennonite Church, 1955)
- The Christian Witness to the State (Mennonite Church, 1961)
- Capital Punishment and the Ministry of the Church to the Offender (Mennonite Church, 1965)
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 622-623. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. "Mennonite Church General Conference." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M46611ME.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1956). Mennonite Church General Conference. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M46611ME.html.