Maranatha Amish Mennonite Churches
The Maranatha Amish Mennonites were a separatist movement from the Beachy Amish Mennonites. Like the Beachys, they supported the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith and also maintained a set of distinctive practices and limits on lifestyle choices. Their limitations were representative of the conservative wing of the Beachy denomination. Maranatha churches had a concern about the Beachys’ apparent lack of denominational structure and the declining distinctiveness of historic religious practices. While Maranatha congregations have remained autonomous, they come under the precepts detailed in a constitution.
Maranatha Amish Mennonite congregations mostly come from Beachy Amish Mennonite backgrounds. Through the 1980s, many Beachy leaders expressed concerns about the decline in historic religious boundaries, such as in areas of dress, recreation, lifestyle, and audiovisual media. They called for a modest restructuring of the denomination. These advocates did not want a hierarchical conference structure like that of many Mennonite denominations, nor did they want an executive committee that had power to forcefully intervene in affairs of local churches. Rather, proponents of restructuring suggested a bishop committee, but their conceptualization of this committee’s function conflicted. In general, the conservatives wanted a committee that would develop and enforce minimum guidelines of constituency membership. Liberals felt the committee should be an advisory think-tank, limited to researching issues and offering recommendations.
At the 1991 ministers’ meeting hosted by Cedar Grove Amish Mennonite of Wellesley, Ontario, conservatives succeeded in establishing a bishop committee, which was charged with developing a set of constituency-wide minimum guidelines focusing on 18 issues of concern. However, within three years, the proposed document, A Charge to Keep, I Have, was abandoned. Some favored the document, some favored it with a couple changes, some were apathetic, and some opposed the whole effort. Those who opposed the document suggested that the bishop committee was promoting "conference." The committee then attempted to seek approval of one issue at a time, but only a statement against radio and television was ultimately approved. As committee members began rotating in the late 1990s, the new members shifted the committee purpose towards a think-tank, advisee role.
In the midst of the rejection of A Charge to Keep, I Have, several church leaders rallied in response. Gathering at Whiteville Mennonite in Tennessee in July 1997, they held the first ministers’ meeting of what would become the Maranatha Amish Mennonites. These included several bishop committee members, leaders from the Cedar Grove Amish Mennonite church, and others. In addition to the rejection of denominational standards, the gathered ministers were disillusioned with the way church divisions were handled. Too often a church would invite a committee of Beachy ministers to investigate local disunity, then the committee would make recommendations, which would not be followed, and a faction would seek assistance from other Beachy ministers in establishing a separate church.
These two issues—drift and the handling of divisions—prompted the proposal of a network for churches that would come under a constitution and have a system of accountability. Membership was granted upon regular attendance by a church’s ministers at the Maranatha ministers’ meetings and with support from the home congregation. The content of the constitution was inspired by A Charge to Keep, I Have and addressed denominational structure, gender roles, dress, marriage and divorce, home life, recreation, and lifestyle. The new organization was originally envisioned to exist within the Beachy denomination, more or less, and therefore, involvement in Beachy programs would not be restricted.
However, as Maranatha provided alternative programs for its members, many chose these over Beachy programs. In the several years after Maranatha’s establishment, the constituency has taken on a separate identity and is more of an independent Amish Mennonite denomination than a subgroup of Beachy. By 2001 they were using the title "Maranatha" and when the multi-affiliation Conservative Anabaptist Service Program (C.A.S.P.) formed, they applied for their own C.A.S.P. division. That said, the early movement never completely coalesced. About half of the early supporters chose not to join formally, for various reasons. These are unaffiliated Amish Mennonites or conservative Beachy churches, and they continue to associate informally with Maranatha.
Theology, Structure and Culture
The Maranatha Amish Mennonites ascribe to the tenants of the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith and have felt their core beliefs are adequately summarized in Daniel Kauffman’s Doctrines of the Bible. In the early 21st century they have thought of themselves as Beachy in the sense of the broader Amish Mennonite movement, but not the organized denomination. For the most part, their dress standard and mission program resembled that of the mission-minded Beachy churches of the 1970s-1980s. Button-up shirts were required for men, as well as suspenders in some congregations. Straight-cut suit coats were worn in greater frequency for church services than among the Beachys. Women’s head coverings were cap style and came up to the back of the ears. Email was allowed in some congregations, but Internet in the home was strongly regulated or restricted. Members were active in tract distribution, nursing home visits, and church planting, mission activities that were once common among the Beachys. Most of the Maranatha churches established an outreach congregation within the first decade or so of the denomination’s existence. Of the few that did not, two experienced divisions; the factions were assisted by Beachy ministers.
Interaction among the laity of the Maranatha churches has been infrequent, owing first to geographic dispersal (churches range from Kansas to New Jersey and from Tennessee to Ontario) and second to separate historical paths within the broader Amish and Amish Mennonite, and therefore, little overlap in kin. Members tended to interrelate with like-minded Amish Mennonite congregations in their geographic vicinity, such as Fellowship or conservative Beachy churches. The majority of churches were outside of historic Anabaptist settlements, with the exceptions being Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and the Wellesley-Milverton, Ontario, region. Tennessee had the largest number of Maranatha churches in 2010.
Church life and structure resembled that of the Beachys. Like the Beachys, families were large among the Maranatha churches. Men were mostly employed in woodworking, farming, construction, missions, or craft-related jobs. Each church also employed several men and women as church school teachers. Young adults participated in Maranatha’s area-wide Bible schools, a one to two week program sponsored each winter by a local church. Rotating circuits of Bible schools were located in Pennsylvania, Missouri-Kansas-Western Tennessee, and Eastern Tennessee. Hunting, fishing, choir, volleyball, and softball are popular recreational activities.
In 2010 the Maranatha Amish Mennonite Churches had 13 congregations with a total membership of 811:
Amish Mennonite Directory. [Various editions since 1993.] Edited by Devon Miller. Millersburg, OH: Abana Books.
Anderson, Cory. "Retracing the blurred boundaries of the twentieth-century 'Amish Mennonite' identity." Mennonite Quarterly Review 85 (2011): 361-412.
Anderson, Cory. "Congregation or conference? The development of Beachy Amish polity and identity." Mennonite Historical Bulletin 72 (January 2011):12-15.
Anderson, Cory A. "The Beachy Amish Mennonite Bishop Committee and the Conflict between Congregational Autonomy and Affiliation Criteria." John Horsch Mennonite History Essay Contest, Class I (Graduate), Historical Committee of Mennonite Church USA, 2010.
The Beachy Amish Mennonites. "Amish Mennonite Sects and Movements." Web. 30 September 2010. http://www.beachyam.org/amishmennonites.htm.
Mennonite Church Directory 2010. Harrisonburg, VA: Christian Light Publications, Inc., 2010: 77-78.
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APA style: Anderson, Cory. (January 2012). Maranatha Amish Mennonite Churches. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/maranatha_amish_mennonite_churches.