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As an area conference of Mennonite Church USA, Lancaster Mennonite Conference (LMC) is a fellowship of congregations in the Northeast corridor of the United States. Lancaster is one of 21 conferences that make up the denomination in the United States. Lancaster Mennonite Conference joined Mennonite Church USA as a full member in 2006 after five years of provisional membership in the new denomination. It is one of five conferences of Mennonite Church USA in Southeast Pennsylvania along with Franconia Conference, Eastern District Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, and Franklin Conference.

Prior to the affiliation with Mennonite Church USA, Lancaster Mennonite Conference affiliated with the (Old) Mennonite Church. Mennonite Church USA was a merger of the (Old) Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church, which occurred in 2001.

In 2010 Lancaster Mennonite Conference included 170 congregations with about 15,000 members and six agencies. The number of congregations has decreased from a high of 248 with slightly more than 20,000 members in 1998. This decrease resulted in part from the departure of congregations from Lancaster Conference in relation to the decisions to join Mennonite Church USA and to ordain women. The congregations of Lancaster Mennonite Conference encompass six states in the Northeast United States and the state of Hawaii. Congregations are scattered across eastern Pennsylvania with a majority located in Lancaster County. Many congregations are situated in major urban areas like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC. In 2013 there were approximately 14 different language groups throughout Lancaster Mennonite Conference. One estimate has suggested that almost two-thirds of the new churches in Lancaster Mennonite Conference are of non-Germanic ethnicity. Hispanic ethnicity is the largest grouping after Caucasian.

The six agencies of Lancaster Mennonite Conference--Eastern Mennonite Missions, Friendship Community, Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Lancaster Mennonite Schools, Landis Communities, and Philhaven--provide a host of services to the congregations of Lancaster Conference and considerably beyond. Eleven fraternal agencies also relate to Conference congregations. The official organ for the Conference is Shalom News, which began in 2009 and replaced the prior Lancaster Conference News.

In 2013 Lancaster Mennonite Conference had a Board of Bishops, which provided spiritual guidance, oversight, and nurture, and which made some decisions for the whole. It has also ha\d a smaller executive council, which deals with governance issues. A conference moderator has facilitated both groups. Lancaster Mennonite Conference congregations are grouped in geographic districts. A bishop, overseer, or supervisor provides oversight of each district. A Constitution and Bylaws have provided formal structural guidance. While there have been several confessions of faith developed over the centuries, the Conference primarily utilizes the Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective [1995], a document developed as part of the merger process that culminated in the formation of Mennonite Church USA in 2001. A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership guides polity issues, which is also a Mennonite Church USA document.

What in 2013 was Lancaster Mennonite Conference took shape after the arrival of 29 Swiss Anabaptist immigrants in Philadelphia in 1710. The several histories of Lancaster Conference tell this story in some detail. The most recent and most detailed, The Earth Is the Lord's by John L. Ruth, appeared in 2001. It provided both a sense of the breadth of the 300-year history of Lancaster Conference from its origins among German-speaking Swiss Anabaptists who immigrated to William Penn's "Holy Experiment" in Pennsylvania to details of the lives of many Conference members over the centuries. The Earth Is the Lord's largely replaced the two earlier histories, The Lancaster Mennonite Conference History and Background by Ira Landis and Mennonites of Lancaster Conference by Martin G. Weaver.

Lancaster Mennonite Conference congregations are part of the free-church tradition and believers-church tradition. They also connect with the historic peace-church tradition. "Historic Peace Churches" is a label that refers collectively to the Mennonites, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Church of the Brethren.

The first 100 years of Lancaster Conference saw growth and consolidation of the pioneer Mennonite community around the acquisition of land and wealth plus the trials of the Revolutionary War upon a nonresistant faith community. The 19th century revivalist movement proved divisive to the community as some members sought a more "heart-felt" experience of faith. The 19th century also saw communal wrestling with the emerging American social ethos that was in many ways contradictory to the Lancaster Mennonite faith experience, especially as it related to nonconformity to society and Civil War issues. The adoption of the English language, the use of pulpits, and the adoption of Sunday school in the 1890s were schismatic issues. The schism in the Groffdale-Weaverland district led by Bishop Jonas Martin took place in 1893. This division between conservatives and progressives was perhaps the most antagonistic in Lancaster Conference history.

In the 20th century, Lancaster Conference engaged in significant institutional building with most of the current agencies emerging during this period. In 1905, this community included almost 6,800 members overseen by eight bishops. Two world wars generated stress on the pacifist and nonresistant belief and practice. Institutional responses included the creation of government sanctioned alternate service institutions in lieu of military service. Foreign missions, increased educational attainment, and alternate service in the 20th century broadened the horizons of many people, especially young adults from this community. As a result, Lancaster Conference experienced a time of immense change by mid-century in relation to what lived faith might look like. The Healing Revivals and the Charismatic Renewal presented serious theological questions. Modernity pressed on praxis issues like the use of technology (cars, radio, and television), plain dress, and the application of the formal Conference Rules and Discipline, a doctrinal and behavioral manual rescinded by Bishops in 1981.

As the 21st century opened, the suspicion of higher education present in the Anabaptist movement had largely reversed itself. At the same time, the movement from the farm into business, trades, and professions was mostly complete. The prior emphasis on a nonconformity that was both visible and doctrinal began to move toward a solely theological nonconformity that, while less obvious, was equally distinct from other Christian traditions and the broader culture. Training of new church leadership received considerable attention during the waning decades of 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st century. Lancaster Conference leadership introduced the missional church movement to the constituency with generally positive and mostly successful results. In many ways, the Anabaptist movement was and is a missional movement.

The experience of these Anabaptists, European and otherwise, that constitute Lancaster Mennonite Conference is a story of vibrant growth, struggle with change from within and without, and painful division. A few families in 1710 grew to encompass a large faith community. Consistent strife over issues of faithfulness and proper praxis regularly generated schism over the centuries. In 2013 this fellowship of congregations contained considerable ethnic variety, great theological diversity, and assorted congregational polities.

Bibliography

Durnbaugh, Donald F. The Believers' Church: the History and Character of Radical Protestantism. New York: Macmillan Co., 1968, 1970, reprinted Scottdale, 1985.

Juhnke, James C. Vision, Doctrine, War: Mennonite Identity and Organization in America, 1890-1930, Mennonite Experience in America Series, volume 3. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1989.

Kanagy, Conrad. Road Signs for the Journey. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2006.

Lancaster Mennonite Conference Core Values. Web. http://www.lancasterconference.org/who_we_are/what_we_believe.php.

Lancaster Mennonite Conference. "Come Walk With Us: 300 Years of Lancaster Conference History." Video, 2010. Web. http://www.youtube.com/watch/v=yhSVdBEOelc.

Landis, Ira D. The Lancaster Mennonite Conference History and Background. [Lancaster, Pa.]: Christian Nurture Committee of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, 1956.

Littell, Franklin H. The Free Church: The Significance of the Left Wing of the Reformation for Modern American Protestantism. Boston: Starr King Press, 1957.

MacMaster, Richard K. Land, Piety, Peoplehood: The Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America, 1683-1790, Mennonite Experience in America Series, volume 1. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1985.

Ruth, John L. The Earth is the Lord's: a Narrative History of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2001.

Santiago, Rolando. "Immigrant Churches from the Global South," Shalom News (August-September 2013). Web. http://www.shalomnews.net/aug_sept_13/spa.html.

Schlabach, Theron F. Peace, Faith, Nation: Mennonites and Amish in Nineteenth-Century America, Mennonite Experience in America Series, volume 2. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1988.

Toews, Paul. Mennonites in American Society, 1930-1970: Modernity and the Persistence of Religious Community, Mennonite Experience in America Series, volume 4. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1996.

Weaver, Martin. G. Mennonites of Lancaster Conference: Containing Biographical Sketches of Mennonite Leaders, Histories of Congregations, Missions, and Sunday Schools, Record of Ordinations, and Other Interesting Historical Data. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1931.

Additional Information

Address: 2160 Lincoln Hwy E Ste 5, Lancaster PA 17602-1150

Telephone: 717-293-5246 or 800-216-7249

Website: Lancaster Mennonite Conference

Lancaster Mennonite Conference Congregations

The following 169 congregations were members of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference in 2010:

Congregation City State
Abundant Life Chinese Mennonite Church   Cherry Hill New Jersey
Agape Fellowship  Williamsport Pennsylvania
Alleluia Worship Center  Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Alsace Christian Fellowship  Temple Pennsylvania
Believers Mennonite Garifuna Ministries  Brooklyn New York
Benders Mennonite Church  Pen Argyl Pennsylvania
Bethany Fellowship  Lititz Pennsylvania
Bethlehem Community Fellowship  Bethlehem Pennsylvania
Blackwood Group  Camden New Jersey
Blainsport Mennonite Church  Reinholds Pennsylvania
Bossler Mennonite Church  Elizabethtown Pennsylvania
Bowmansville Mennonite Church  East Earl Pennsylvania
Buffalo Mennonite Church  Lewisburg Pennsylvania
Byerland Mennonite Church  Willow Street Pennsylvania
Calvary Mennonite Fellowship  Morris Run Pennsylvania
Cambridge Mennonite Church  Gordonville Pennsylvania
Capital Christian Fellowship  Lanham Maryland
Carpenter Community Church  Talmage Pennsylvania
Cedar Lane Chapel  East Earl Pennsylvania
Centro Evangelistico Cristiano  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Chestnut Hill Mennonite Church  Columbia Pennsylvania
Church of the Overcomer  Trainer Pennsylvania
Churchtown Mennonite Church  Narvon Pennsylvania
Coatesville Mennonite Church  Coatesville Pennsylvania
Community Mennonite Fellowship  Milton Pennsylvania
Congregacion Menonita Nueva Cancion  Sunbury Pennsylvania
Congregacion Menonita Shalom  New Columbia Pennsylvania
CONNECT  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Cornerstone Christian Fellowship  Mountain Top Pennsylvania
Crossroads Community Fellowship  Lititz Pennsylvania
Crossroads Mennonite  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Dawsonville Mennonite Church  Poolesville Maryland
Delaware County Fellowship  Folcroft Pennsylvania
Delaware Mennonite Church  Thompsontown Pennsylvania
Destiny Christian Ministries  Reading Pennsylvania
Diller Mennonite Church  Newville Pennsylvania
East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
East Petersburg Mennonite Church  East Petersburg Pennsylvania
El Buen Pastor  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Elizabethtown Mennonite Church  Elizabethtown Pennsylvania
Emmanuel Community Church  Jersey Shore Pennsylvania
Emmanuel Worship Center  Bronx New York
Ephrata Mennonite Church  Ephrata Pennsylvania
Erb Mennonite Church  Lititz Pennsylvania
Erisman Mennonite Church  Manheim Pennsylvania
Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Lancaster  Salunga Pennsylvania
Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Baltimore  Windsor Mill Maryland
Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Philadelphia  Lansdowne Pennsylvania
Evangelical Garifuna  Bronx New York
Evangelical Garifuna Church of Manhattan  Bronx New York
First Deaf Mennonite Church   Lancaster Pennsylvania
Frazer Mennonite Church  Frazer Pennsylvania
Freedom in Christ Fellowship  Lebanon Pennsylvania
Gehman Mennonite Church  Adamstown Pennsylvania
Gingrichs Mennonite Church  Lebanon Pennsylvania
Goods Mennonite Church  Bainbridge Pennsylvania
Goodville Mennonite Church  Goodville Pennsylvania
Grace Community Fellowship  Manheim Pennsylvania
Green Terrace Mennonite Church  Wernersville Pennsylvania
Groffdale Mennonite Church  Leola Pennsylvania
Habecker Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Halifax Community Fellowship  Halifax Pennsylvania
Hammer Creek Mennonite Church  Lititz Pennsylvania
Hernley Mennonite Church  Manheim Pennsylvania
Hershey Mennonite Church  Kinzers Pennsylvania
Iglesia Cristiana El Shaddai  Reading Pennsylvania
Iglesia Cristiana Valle de Jesus  Brooklyn New York
Iglesia Evangelica Menonita "Faro Ardiente"  Vineland New Jersey
Iglesia Hispana Bethel  Cressona Pennsylvania
Iglesia Hispana Kennett Square  Camden New Jersey
Iglesia Manantial de Vida  Camden New Jersey
Iglesia Menonita Aposento Alto  Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvacion  Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Iglesia Menonita Hispana Vida Nueva  Burke Virginia
Iglesia Menonita Nueva Shalom  Falls Church Virginia
Iglesia Menonita Puerta de Sion  Trenton New Jersey
Iglesia Menonita Roca de Salvacion  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Iglesia Unida de Avivamiento  Brooklyn New York
Infinity Mennonite Church  New York New York
International Christian Community Church  Brooklyn New York
James Street Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Jesucristo Es La Respuesta  Harrisburg Pennsylvania
Jesus Power and Love Ministries  Claymont Delaware
Kauffman Mennonite Church  Manheim Pennsylvania
King of Glory Tabernacle  Bronx New York
Kinzer Mennonite Church  Kinzers Pennsylvania
Krall's Mennonite Church  Lebanon Pennsylvania
La Luz del Mundo  Reading Pennsylvania
Landis Valley Christian Fellowship  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Landisville Mennonite Church  Landisville Pennsylvania
Lao Mennonite Fellowship/Slate Hill  Camp Hill Pennsylvania
Latter Rain House of Restoration  Claymont Delaware
Laurel Street Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Lauver Mennonite Church  Richfield Pennsylvania
Lebanon Christian Fellowship  Lebanon Pennsylvania
Life Mennonite Fellowship  Conestoga Pennsylvania
Lititz Mennonite Church  Lititz Pennsylvania
Living Light Mennonite Church  Washington Boro Pennsylvania
Living Stones Fellowship  Peach Bottom Pennsylvania
Lost Creek Mennonite Church  Mifflintown Pennsylvania
Love Truth Chinese Mennonite Church  Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Luz de Salvacion   Lebanon Pennsylvania
Luz Verdadera  Reading Pennsylvania
Lyndon Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Manheim Mennonite Church  Manheim Pennsylvania
Maranatha Family Christian Fellowship  Nazareth Pennsylvania
Marietta Community Chapel  Marietta Pennsylvania
Martindale Mennonite Church  Ephrata Pennsylvania
Meadville Mennonite Church  East Earl Pennsylvania
Mechanic Grove Mennonite Church  Quarryville Pennsylvania
Meckville Mennonite Church  Bethel Pennsylvania
Mellinger Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Mennonite Evangelical Tabernacle  Brooklyn New York
Metzler Mennonite Church  Lititz Pennsylvania
Millersville Mennonite Church  Millersville Pennsylvania
Millport Mennonite Church  Leola Pennsylvania
Mount Joy Mennonite Church  Mount Joy Pennsylvania
Mountain Spring Mennonite Church  East Earl Pennsylvania
Mountain View Fellowship  Trout Run Pennsylvania
Mountville Mennonite Church  Mountville Pennsylvania
Nanticoke Christian Fellowship  Nanticoke Pennsylvania
New Danville Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
New Holland Mennonite Church  New Holland Pennsylvania
New Holland Spanish Mennonite  New Holland Pennsylvania
New Hope Community Church  Harrisburg Pennsylvania
New Life Christian Fellowship  Honolulu Hawaii
New Life Mennonite Church  Ellicott City Maryland
New Providence Mennonite Church  New Providence Pennsylvania
Newlinville Mennonite Church  Coatesville Pennsylvania
Norma Mennonite Church  Norma New Jersey
North Bronx Mennonite Church  Bronx New York
Nueva Vida en Cristo  Trenton New Jersey
Old Road Mennonite Church  Gap Pennsylvania
Oxford Circle Mennonite Church  Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Palo Alto Mennonite Church  Pottsville Pennsylvania
Parkesburg Mennonite Church  Parkesburg Pennsylvania
Parkview Mennonite Church  Reamstown Pennsylvania
Peabody Street Mennonite Church  Washington District of Columbia
Pilgrims Mennonite Church  Akron Pennsylvania
Prince of Peace Mennonite Church  Reading Pennsylvania
Red Run Mennonite Church  Denver Pennsylvania
Risser Mennonite Church  Elizabethtown Pennsylvania
River Corner Mennonite Church  Conestoga Pennsylvania
Roedersville Mennonite Church  Pine Grove Pennsylvania
Rohrerstown Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Rossmere Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Schubert Mennonite Church  Richland Pennsylvania
Shiloh Mennonite Church  Reading Pennsylvania
Slate Hill Mennonite Church  Camp Hill Pennsylvania
South 7th Street Mennonite Church  Reading Pennsylvania
Stauffer Mennonite Church   Hershey Pennsylvania
Steelton Mennonite Church  Steelton Pennsylvania
Stony Brook Mennonite Church  York Pennsylvania
Strasburg Mennonite Church  Strasburg Pennsylvania
Stumptown Mennonite Church  Bird In Hand Pennsylvania
Sunnyside Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Susquehanna Mennonite Church  Port Trevorton Pennsylvania
The Way Thru Christ Community Fellowship  Chester Pennsylvania
Tinsae Kristos Evangelical Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
University Christian Fellowship  Millersville Pennsylvania
Upper Darby Mennonite Fellowship  Penn Valley Pennsylvania
Vietnamese Christian Fellowship  Pearl City Hawaii
Vietnamese Mennonite Church  Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Village Chapel Mennonite Church  New Holland Pennsylvania
Weaverland Mennonite Church  East Earl Pennsylvania
West End Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania
Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church  Baltimore Maryland
Willow Street Mennonite Church  Willow Street Pennsylvania
Witmer Heights Mennonite Church  Lancaster Pennsylvania

Original Articles from Mennonite Encyclopedia

By Ira D. Landis & Carolyn C. Wenger. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 275-279; vol. 4, p. 1146 & vol. 5, p. 504. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.

1957 Article

The Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church USA ) first convened in 1711, a few months after the Swiss-Palatine immigrants had established themselves in their new home, to select by lot one of their number to return to Europe. Hans Herr, their bishop and general adviser, was chosen, but Martin Kendig actually returned. In 1725 five representatives, Martin Baer, Hans Burkholtzer, Christian Herr, Benedikt Hirsche, and Johannes Bowman, attended the first general Mennonite Conference, held probably in Manatawny, when the historic Dordrecht Confession was translated into English and signed by 16 leaders, for all American Mennonites. The Conference always established peaceful relationships with the Indians, so that within the confines of the central county no blood was spilled on either side.

The Christian Herr house, built in 1719 on the Conestoga Road, connecting Indiantown, Brandywine, and Germantown, is the oldest meetinghouse dwelling still standing in the county. The John Herr house, built in 1740, for 60 years provided a large room on the second floor as a place of worship. Abbeyville and Weaverland were built before 1750, the members having previously met in private houses and barns. Hernley (1745), Habecker (1760), and Bair's Hanover (1774) were built on Penn grants. The Byerland house (1747) is preserved as a sample of the simplicity and miniature size of the meetinghouses in the woods of that day. In the 1950s many were about 50-60 ft. x 100 ft. They still were conservative in architecture, economically built with considerable free labor by the members, simple but practical, of brick or substantial blocks, with a raised pulpit at one end, and the floor sloping toward it, and furnished with basements for religious education and meals for all-day meetings.

Fifteen years after the first settlement in Lampeter, the Mennonites were located throughout Lancaster County and ready to overflow. The Conference nurtured some of the scattered daughter colonies until full-fledged in the Ontario, Virginia, Washington County (Maryland, USA)-Franklin County (Pennsylvania), and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Conferences. The Conference gave not only Benjamin Eby to Ontario, but most of the pioneers of both Waterloo and Woolwich Townships (Ontario, Canada), to establish two strong Mennonite communities in Upper Canada. It sent Ebersoles, Lehmans, Horsts, and Martins to people Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and Washington County, Maryland, mostly in 1790 and later. It gave Weavers, Abraham Brubaker, Rhodes, Stricklers, Heistands, etc., first to the northern Shenandoah Valley, Virginia; then by 1790 David Heatwole, Joseph Wenger, Peter Burkholder, and others to Rockingham County, Virginia. John Graybill went to Juniata County in the early 1770s, followed by Brubakers and Shellenbergers; they in turn peopled Blair County and Freeport, Illinois. John Brubaker started Rockton, Pennsylvania. J. A. Ressler opened the India Mission in 1899. The Snyders and Abram Metzler established the church at Martinsburg in Morrison's Cove, Blair County. Bishop Michael Horst went from here to Stark County, Ohio, the Metzlers to Columbiana County, John M. Greider to Clark County, William Westheffer and Henry Martin to Martin's Church, Wayne County, Ohio. Christian Snavely went to Sterling and Simon Graybill to Freeport, Illinois. David B., John M. R., and Reuben M. Weaver, Daniel A. Diener, Tillman Erb, J. D. Charles, and Abram Hess went to Hesston and elsewhere in Kansas. John M. Kreider went to Palmyra, Missouri).

They were always thrifty, with large families earlier, and of the middle class of Americans, preferring independence of one another, but in times of stress and strain, ready for the necessary relief. As pioneers they had more extensive barns than houses, so that both in this area were considerably larger than in most other large American communities. The best agricultural practices were followed. Some hemp and flax were raised in the first century. Dairying, beef fattening, and later poultry raising, including broiler production, was a big factor in preserving the fertility of the soil. This with industry, diversification, and crop rotation always placed Lancaster County as the first in America in agricultural wealth. The land values, increased from 35 cents to $1,800 per acre by the 1950s, meant smaller farms, but the cost of building mostly offset this trend. At first the parents retired on the farm, but in later times in towns. There were town meetinghouses in Lancaster (1879), Elizabethtown (1905), Lititz (1906), and Mt. Joy (1908). Others were built later. In 1956, 60 per cent of the members were still dependent upon agriculture. The rest were in industry, domestic employment, and the professions, especially teaching.

During the German ferment period, 1729-ca. 1790, their preachers were not permitted to perform marriages. They became naturalized beginning with 1729, under the British Crown. By 1742 Hans Tschantz called a conference to reprimand Martin Meylin for his large, extravagant sandstone house, to hold to simplicity and allay any undue suspicions among the neighbors concerning their prosperity. On 7 September 1758 a committee was sent to Holland to obtain aid for the suffering Virginia brethren. On 7 November 1775 they appealed to the Colonial Assembly for recognition of their conscientious scruples, which resulted in favorable legislation.

It was during the Revolutionary days that the United Brethren Church started here, when a Mennonite bishop, Martin Boehm, and a Reformed minister, Philip W. Otterbein, met in 1767 in Isaac Long's barn. The former was excommunicated in 1777 and the new church began 1780, and was revived by another ex-Mennonite, Christian Newcomer, at the turn of the century. The Brethren in Christ in Conoy Township, Lancaster County, started about 1780. The Reformed Mennonites came later but officially started in 1812. The Stauffer division occurred in 1845, the Martinite (Old Order Mennonite) in 1893, which in turn suffered the Joseph Wenger division in 1926. The Reidenbach division in the Stauffer group occurred in 1946.

Semiannual conferences were held at the Mellinger meetinghouse in the fall and at one of the three Rohrerstown meetinghouses in the spring as far back as records are extant, about 1740. (Beginning in 1953 the latter was moved to East Petersburg.) Here all Conference decisions were made and approved or rejected. This was the practice up to the early 20th century, with no long meeting of the Bishop Board prior to the session, at which the actual decisions are made for the Conference, with only nominal ratification by the total conference body. In the 1950s the bishops met monthly or oftener for a day or more before the meeting of Conference.

The moderators of Lancaster Conference in order were Hans Herr, Hans Burkholder, Hans Tschantz, Bentz Hirschi, Christian Burkholder, Jacob Brubaker, Samuel Nissley, Peter Eby, Jacob Hostetter, Benjamin Herr, Jacob N. Brubacher, Benjamin Zimmerman, Benjamin Weaver, Noah L. Landis, W. W. Graybill, and Henry E. Lutz. By 1912 Peter R. Nissley became the first secretary. The officers in 1956 were H. E. Lutz, Moderator, Noah W. Risser, Assistant Moderator, Amos S. Horst, Secretary, Richard Danner, Assistant Secretary, and Mahlon Witmer, Treasurer. Until the mid-20th century the senior bishop in order of service served as moderator. Henry Lutz was the first elected moderator.

The Conference with more than 150 preaching points in 1956 included within Lancaster County 78 churches from Blainsport to Oak Shade, from Churchtown to Elizabethtown, with 640 and 621 members in the two largest, Weaverland and Mellinger, both distinctly rural. Then there were eight in Lebanon County, three in Cumberland County, ten in York and Adams, five in Dauphin, three in Berks, seven in Juniata, Snyder, and Union Counties, with many more scattered (see missions below).

These are divided into 19 bishop districts in 1956. Weaverland, the largest, had 18 preaching points, 1,897 members, 17 Sunday schools with an enrollment of 3,012 and an average attendance of 2,520, and 19 summer Bible schools with 2,925 and 2,477 respectively, and two young people's Bible meetings with 183 in attendance. Bishop J. Paul Graybill was assisted by 20 ministers and 10 deacons. The total membership in 1954 was 15,166, with 23 bishops, 193 ministers, and 102 deacons.

The Spring Conference in 1871 sanctioned the Sunday-school movement and in 1956 in 148 schools, there was an enrollment of 22,706 and an attendance of 18,175. Following the first (1927) summer Bible school at Norris Square, Philadelphia, the movement grew until in 1953 there were in the Conference 165 with 26,116 enrolled and an average attendance for the ten nights of 23,312. The young people's Bible meetings started in the early 20th century and the number slowly increased, with 6,724 attending, meetings customarily held on Saturday evenings.

In 1956 this, the largest and second oldest conference, close communion was observed with unfermented wine. Adult baptism by pouring was generally held in the meetinghouse. Anointing with oil was a bit more prominent than a few decades earlier. Divorce was not sanctioned and weddings within the church were encouraged; in either home or church they were to be held with simplicity. The holy kiss was still practiced. The devotional covering was conscientiously and continuously worn. A distinct garb, both for the men and women, was strongly advocated and observed by most in the 1950s. The plain garb was required of the women for membership, and of the men for active participation in church work, though not for membership.

The ministers have other vocations; formerly they were all farmers. They received no salary and frequently no support. In the 1950s there were five ministers who could still preach German; the transition to English was at its peak by 1900. For two centuries the types and figures and the sufferings of our Lord were rehearsed at communion time. At the semiannual counsel meeting, Matthew 18:1-22 was the Scriptural basis of the sermon. At preparatory services, generally on the Saturday before communion, Matthew 6:1-18 was used; at the ordination of a deacon Acts 6:1-7, of a minister Luke 10:1-20, and of a bishop John 21:15-17. The ministers were chosen by lot in the established congregation, unless there is but one candidate. When the votes are to be taken, the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, etc., for the office were stressed. The congregation was given the opportunity to present their choices to the bishops present. One vote for the offices of deacon and minister and five for the bishop placed the recipient in a class for examination. The ordination then followed in two to seven days.

After October 1905 a revival meeting was held annually or biennially in each congregation. At Elizabethtown in early 1906 there was a class of 130 converts. There were numerous large classes, but the largest were in the first two decades. While the number in classes was low generally by the 1950s, the revival did much to revive a congregation and was an additional blessing to our ministers.

The Mission Movement beginning in the mid-1890's received real impetus from this Conference. With John Mellinger and the Paradise district we had not only what was necessary to crystallize and establish local and foreign missions here, but as a spur into other areas. With the organization in 1916 of the mission board (Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities), the earlier missions in many cases took on new life, but the work also spread, so that in 1956 there were six missions in central Maryland, a large field developed on the Alabama-Florida border, three missions each in Tampa (Florida), New York, Philadelphia, and Reading, two in Coatesville, one each in Lebanon and Harrisburg. In addition to the eight in and around Lancaster, there were numerous other missions in and within driving distance of the central county. Some were also in prospect in central and northern Pennsylvania and rural New York. In 1934 the first foreign missionaries were sent to Tanganyika (Tanzania), in 1948 to Ethiopia, in 1950 to northern Honduras, in 1951 to Luxembourg in Europe, and to Somalia in Africa in 1953. On 1 January 1954 there were 86 missionaries attached to the foreign mission fields and about 67 stations with 360 missionary workers in America, besides the established congregations and their work.

In the early day the children were given all their schooling in their homes. At the turn of the 18th century the school and church were often under one roof. Our home township had four of these—Landis, Lehn, Rudy, and Frick. Then with the enactment of the public school laws in 1834 and 1836, the Mennonites were opposed to sending their children to such schools, for the blessings of education in their schools under their own supervision would be lost. At Erisman, Risser, Hammer Creek, Stumptown, Cross Roads, Bossler, Chestnut Hill, Metzler, and Weaverland, the school was then placed on the adjoining grounds. Again in the 1950s with the school far removed geographically and spiritually from the church, there was a retrenchment in the Christian Day School movement. The first school of this kind was opened at Locust Grove in 1939. By the mid-1950s there were 19 in the area, exclusive of Old Order Amish and the Shaeffer Private School, with 45 teachers and about 1,228 pupils.

Although requested in 1922, the first Ephrata Winter Bible school was held in 1938, and after five terms the Lancaster Mennonite School opened in the fall of 1942, with a special Bible term added in 1953. It is a full high school, operated by a board of trustees appointed by the conference. The enrollment in 1954-55 was 303, with a faculty of 18. Some of the above elementary schools have ninth and tenth grades. In Tanganyika (Tanzania) there were 60 bush schools with a thousand pupils, with some primary and middle schools started.

The winter Bible schools were placed at pivotal points in the Conference, beginning in 1943, meeting Tuesday and Thursday evenings for six weeks in January and February, until by 1956 there were 13 such, with an additional day school of two weeks at Millwood. These reached 2,200-2,500 of our constituency. They included book study, the Bible, missions, Christian education, Christian ethics, theology, and pedagogy, using chiefly our own literature as texts. Like the Sunday school they reached all ages.

By the 1950s there were three old people's homes in this Conference. Oreville in 1903 was the first. The Welsh Mountain Mission (1898) gradually developed into the Good Samaritan Home. In 1953 the Philadelphia Colored Home was opened. Together about 185 were provided for within these three institutions. A girls' home for Mennonites working as domestics in Reading served for many years. A children's home in Millersville in 1911 began to invite unfortunate children of all ages into its sphere, with Levi Sauder serving as superintendent until his death in October 1940. 1,215 children had received physical and spiritual nurture here by 1956.

In loving appreciation of what God through the Dutch Foreign Relief Committee accomplished in bringing the Mennonites to America, they aided wherever possible, not only in the early years when it was a case of mutual survival, but throughout the years. In the 1870's and 1922 they did their part in settling the Russian Mennonites on this continent. Following World War I Orie O. Miller, the Myers, Zimmermans, and others served in France and Near East Relief. The MCC has been a channel for immigration and relief funds from the Conference since 1920, aggregating in 1949-1952 alone more than $224,500. The Conference has always had a member on the MCC, first John Mellinger, and later Henry F. Garber. The sewing circles were a substantial aid in giving materials in kind over the years. The movement began in 1895 in the Paradise district, developing into a general circle by 1911. Many tons have moved out from and through the Ephrata Clothing Depot, into overseas relief distribution. The Mary Mellinger cutting room at Paradise in 1948 served an ever-enlarging constituency and service both local and world-wide.

Through itinerant evangelism and Voluntary Service, by the mid-1950s the summer Bible schools not only spread over the southeastern states, central Maryland, and northern Pennsylvania, but exceeded the Sunday-school figures by 3,400; they reached the unreached, not only in isolated places, but in migrant work camps the year round and among the Puerto Ricans in the Lancaster County area and established missions and congregations.

The Peace Problems Committee, earlier the Bishop Board, helped to steer the church through the war years, promoted nonresistance teaching, provided for the pastoral care of men in Civilian Public Service and I-W service, and represented the church in its peace testimony.

The Lancaster (Mental) Hospital opened in 1952 on the north edge of Mt. Gretna, with a maximum capacity of 35 patients, with one doctor, two nurses, and numerous helpers. A large farm was attached. It was called Philhaven.

The historic German Martyrs Mirror (1748), with the Ephrata prints of Ernsthafte Christenpflicht of 1745, 1770, 1785, and 1808, and the 1769 Christliches Gemüthsgespräch, following the English translation (1727) of the historic Dordrecht Confession, adopted by the 1725 Conference, were the known extent of our Mennonite publications for this century. But in the next 15 decades this changed. The Ernsthafte Christenpflicht appeared in Lancaster in 1826, 1841, 1852, 1862, 1868, 1875, 1876, 1892, 1904, and 1927, and the Gemüthsgespräch there in 1811, 1836, 1869, and 1892, English 1857, 1870, 1878, 1892, and at Union Grove in 1921. The Ausbund was reprinted at Lancaster eight times, 1815, 1834, 1846, 1856, 1868, 1880, 1908, and 1912. The Unparteyisches Gesangbuch (1804-1923) appeared in 17 editions as the official conference hymnbook. The Ehrenfried Martyrs' Mirror was published in 1814 and the Lampeter edition of I. D. Rupp in 1836. Menno Simons' Fundamentbuch appeared in German at Lancaster in 1794, 1835, 1853, and 1876, in English in 1835, 1863, and 1869. Christian Spiritual Conversation in Saving Faith (1857, 1870, 1878, 1892, and 1921), a translation of Christliches Gemüthsgespräch, included Christian Burkholder's Counsel for Youth, a translation of Anrede an die Jugend, which appeared in two editions in Ephrata in 1804, and was added to the Gemüthsgespräch in its editions of 1839, 1848, 1868, 1869, and 1873, but had a separate edition at Allentown in 1829. The Wandering Soul, which appeared in 8 German and 10 English editions in Pennsylvania 1768-1919, appeared in English in Lancaster in 1874. In 1787 the Froschauer New Testament was published in German at Ephrata.

One of the first original writings known aside from Christian Burkholder's was a series of three Question and Answer Booklets for the Sunday School, prepared by Amos Herr and other leaders with John F. Funk in 1880 and 1881. Earlier was the Conference Meeting Calendar in 1854, prepared by Abraham Martin. The other Calendar editors for the century were Abraham Brubaker, John W. Weaver, and after 1940 Ira D. Landis.

The Rules and Discipline of Lancaster Conference was put into a printed leaflet in 1881 and has appeared since in numerous revisions, the last in 1954. In the same decade (1880) appeared Jacob N. Brubacher's Brubaker Genealogy and in 1896 John Hess's second Hess Genealogy. In 1902 A. D. Wenger's Six Months in Bible Lands was published and in 1931 Martin G. Weaver's Lancaster Mennonite Conference, the first conference history attempted by any Mennonite.

After 1924 the Missionary Messenger was the official organ of the Mission Board and after 1941 the Pastoral Messenger of the Conference. The Mennonite Youth Service (1951) was a monthly, Victory Calls (1949), an annual, and by the 1950s many congregations had weekly or fortnightly bulletins.

The Christian Nurture Committee revised the weekday Bible school manuals of the late thirties, so that by 1955 there were be new courses from kindergarten I to grade VIII, with two for high-school grades. This committee prepared Youth Faces Life and Making Our Homes Christian, two smaller publications for religious education. It had a ten-year program of Bible Memory work for school and Sunday school, and a Bible reading program for family altars, beginning with the whole New Testament in 1954.

The Hershey Genealogy by Henry Hershey appeared in 1929, the Missionary Movement Among Lancaster Conference Mennonites in 1937, Faith of Our Fathers on Eschatology (1946), The Landis Family Book, Sections I-IV (1950-54), and I Must See Switzerland (1954) by Ira D. Landis. Africa Calls (1936) by Catherine Leatherman and Ada Zimmerman, Africa Answers (1951) by Merle Eshleman, Noah Mack, His Life and Times (1952) by Graybill, Landis, and Sauder, and Christian Manhood (1948) by Eshleman and Mack were other publications by Lancaster authors.

The Conference has had outstanding leaders in Hans Herr (1639-1725), Benedict Brackbill (1665-1720), Bentz Hirsche (1697-1789), Christian Burkholder (1746-1809), Peter Eby (1766-1843), Jacob Hostetter (1774-1865), Jacob N. Brubacher (1838­-1913), and layman John H. Mellinger (1858-1952). With their foundations and links in co-operation with every member in the 1950s, on nonconformity, including apparel, the Conference was conservative, on nonresistance officially solid, considerably opposed to Calvinism and eternal security, but slightly colored by fundamentalism and pietism.   -- Ira D. Landis

1990 Update

Lancaster Mennonite Conference, the largest conference of the Mennonite Church (MC), shifted from the relative uniformity of religious thought and expression of the 1950s and extended borders geographically, ethnically, and numerically. Membership in 1950 numbered 14,061 in 18 bishop districts, all but one in Pennsylvania. Membership in 1986 was 17,033 in 30 districts with approximately one-third outside Pennsylvania, from Maine to Florida. In 2005 there were 17,496 members in 186 congregations in 26 bishop districts.

Increased involvement in foreign and home missions and in higher education led to formation of more bishop districts, which decentralized the authority of the Bishop Board. Congregations developed greater autonomy and formal organization, dropped specific membership requirements, and tolerated more diverse patterns of religious thought and expression, such as instrumental music, open rather than close communion, charismatic influences, increased employment of professional staff members in greater divisions of labor, and the appropriation of prevailing cultural values (acculturation). Preference still existed for team ministry.

Several schisms developed in response to these compromises. In 1960 nine ordained men withdrew to form the Mennonite Christian Brotherhood; some of them eventually associated with the Fellowship Churches. In 1969 the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church was organized in the wake of differences over general trends and specific issues related to divorce and remarriage, television, and relaxed dress requirements. In 1975 approximately 200 members formed the Conservative Mennonite Churches of York and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania.

Despite repeated invitations and limited fraternal ties, Lancaster Conference did not officially join the Mennonite Church (MC) general conference (general assembly) until 1971. In 1977 it reorganized with a structure parallel to the Mennonite Church (MC). Instead of all committees and boards responsible to the Bishop Board as previously, the Bishop Board still served as the executive board of the conference but was assisted by a Conference Coordinating Council, which coordinated four program boards: Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, Board of Education, Board of Brotherhood Ministries, and Board of Congregational Resources. Four other agencies served the conference: Leadership Council, Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Women's Missionary and Service Commission, and Finance Committee. Lancaster Conference News began in 1981 as the semimonthly successor to Pastoral Messenger and Newsletter. It provides news and interpretation of conference programs and needs. -- Carolyn C. Wenger

Original Bibliographies

Graber, Robert Bates. "An Amiable Mennonite Schism: The Origin of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church." Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 7 (October 1984): 2-10.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 608.

Kraybill, Donald B. "Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren in the Modern Era." Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 10 (April 1987): 2-20.

Landis, Ira D. The Missionary Movement Among Lancaster Conference Mennonites. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1938.

Landis, Ira D. The Lancaster Mennonite Conference History and Background. [Lancaster, Pa.?] : Christian Nurture Committee of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, 1956.

Weaver, Martin. G. Mennonites of Lancaster Conference : Containing Biographical Sketches of Mennonite Leaders, Histories of Congregations, Missions, and Sunday Schools, Record of Ordinations, and Other Interesting Historical Data. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1931.


Author(s) Brinton Rutherford
Date Published September 2013


Cite This Article

MLA style

Rutherford, Brinton. "Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2013. Web. 26 Dec 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Lancaster_Mennonite_Conference_(Mennonite_Church_USA)&oldid=117021.

APA style

Rutherford, Brinton. (September 2013). Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 December 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Lancaster_Mennonite_Conference_(Mennonite_Church_USA)&oldid=117021.




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