Ohio Mennonite Conference
Mennonite historians, following the lead of C. Henry Smith, have agreed on 1843 as the date of the organization of this conference, meeting annually in late spring at the Mahoning County or Oberholser Church (now Midway, and later alternating with the Martins Church in Wayne County. (Since, however, Mennonite ministers were holding conferences both in eastern Pennsylvania as early as 1750 and in Canada soon after 1800, and since at least 10 congregations were established in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania before 1830, it seems unlikely that no Ohio conference was held before 1843.) According to John F. Funk the early Ohio conferences had no regular agenda, passed no formal motions, kept no written minutes, but reached decisions by general oral agreement after informal discussion. This was true for several decades, even after Funk began to print the annual reports in the Herald of Truth. After a number of congregations had been organized in Indiana, ministers from that state attended the Ohio conference sessions. Later (by 1856 at least) an annual fall conference was held at the Yellow Creek Mennonite Church in Elkhart County, Indiana, but it did little more than agree to the informal decisions expressed at the spring conference in Ohio. The Indiana meeting had by 1864 become an independent Indiana-Michigan Conference. Toward the end of the century Mennonite ministers began to attend the annual conferences of their Amish Mennonite brethren and to labor for an organic union of the Amish Mennonite and Mennonite conferences. John F. Funk, John S. Coffman, and Menno S. Steiner were tactful but persistent leaders in the movement for unification.
Meanwhile the American Amish wing of the Swiss Brethren-Anabaptist movement continued the traditional practice of holding formal conferences, adopting rules and policies and keeping minutes of the proceedings. From manuscript copies of some of these minutes material has been printed in the Mennonite Quarterly Review (see bibliography). Without the slightest intention of uniting with the Mennonites the Amish gradually took several steps that led in that direction. Even before 1850 some Amish congregations on the Ohio frontier departed from some of their traditional practices and began to adopt the name Amish Mennonite. A Wayne County Amish congregation even ventured so far as to accept a Mennonite as a member without requiring him first to be rebaptized by an Amish bishop. The same congregation fellowshipped with later Hessian, Alsatian, and Palatine Amish immigrants, whose gradual acculturation in Europe had led them away from some of the earlier cultural practices. Toward the end of the 19 century Amish Mennonites and Mennonites gradually became acquainted and drew closer together, first through the columns of the Herald of Truth, then through using the same Sunday-school "Lesson Helps," 1889; meeting in a church-wide general Sunday-school conference, 1892; engaging in a co-operative educational project (Elkhart Institute), 1895; and finally organizing a general conference of Amish Mennonites and Mennonites in the United States and Canada, 1897. In 1904 the Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference voted to unite with the Ohio Mennonite Conference "in establishing a mission post" in Canton. Even before that date the members of each conference attended the sessions of the other. At this 1904 Ohio and Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference six of the sixteen bishops in attendance were Mennonites, as were ten of the twenty-two ministers and one of the five deacons. Even then, however, some of the Amish Mennonites were unfriendly toward too close collaboration with the Mennonites. They preferred their own type of congregational government. It was not until 1926 that each conference appointed a "merger committee" to work out a plan for an organic union of the two conferences. Each conference held a final separate session in 1927. Under the name Ohio Mennonite and Eastern Amish Mennonite Joint Conference (later Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference), the merged conferences held their first meeting in 1928.
The Ohio Mennonite Conference reported the following congregations at the time of the merger in 1927: Midway, North Lima, East Lewistown, and Leetonia, together 390 members; Salem 32; Turkey Run 25; Martins 125; Kolbs, Longenecker, and Union Hill, together 40; Marion 12; Bethel and Guilford 100; Central 82; Pike and Salem, together 225; Mt. Pleasant 40; Medway 34; Bethel (West Liberty) 110; Lima 20; Crown Hill 126; Canton 75; Pleasant View 90; a total of 16 congregations with 23 meeting places and a membership of 1,526. At the time of the merger two of the congregations of this conference were in charge of bishops in the Ohio and Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference: Central at Elida and Bethel at West Liberty.
Bender, H. S. "Some Early American Amish Mennonite Disciplines." Mennonite Quarterly Review (1934): 90-98; (April 1937): 163-80; see also Mennonite Quarterly Review (1946): 232-40, and (1948): 94-115.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 31-32. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Umble, John S. "Ohio Mennonite Conference." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/O4925.html.
APA style: Umble, John S. (1959). Ohio Mennonite Conference. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/O4925.html.