The Lancaster Conference had supervision over the Virginia Mennonites in the 18th and early 19th centuries, although very little is known about this arrangement. Apparently in times of crisis at least, and probably also for the ordination of ministers, the Virginia members called in Lancaster leaders for assistance.
It was not until 1835 that the more progressive leaders of the Virginia Mennonites took steps to establish a conference of their own. The first meeting was held at the Weavers church in that year. The minutes of this first Virginia conference in German have been preserved and have been published in English translation in the Minutes of the Virginia Mennonite Conference. The conference was divided into three bishop districts in 1837, which in the 1950s had the names Northern (for northern Rockingham County), Middle (for western Rockingham County), and Southern (for the churches in Augusta County). With the expansion of the Virginia Conference in the late 19th and 20th centuries other districts were added, the principal ones being Warwick, Norfolk, Tennessee, and Sonnenberg in Ohio.
No records of the Virginia Conference were kept 1836-1859. Informal meetings of the Virginia church leaders were likely held during this period. The so-called Burkholder Confession of Faith was translated into English and published in 1837. A committee was appointed to select hymns for an English hymnbook, which was published in 1847 under the title A Selection of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs as the first English Mennonite hymnal in America.
The first attempt to compile the minutes of the Virginia Conference was made in 1883 when a committee of five was appointed, who published their work in 1884 under the title Proceedings of the Mennonite Conferences in the Valley of Virginia. It was also decided by the conference at that time to print the minutes of each successive conference. A second compiling committee was appointed in 1910 when a summary of all the minutes of the Virginia Conference was published in booklet form, together with some biographical sketches of early leaders, under the title A History of the Mennonite Conference of Virginia and Its Work. A third compilation was issued in 1939, when all the minutes of the conference were published under the title Minutes of the Virginia Mennonite Conference, Including Some Historical Data, A Brief Biographical Sketch of Its Founders and Organizers, and Her Official Statement of Christian Fundamentals, Constitution, and Rules and Discipline.
The records show that district meetings were held following the semiannual state conference, at which meetings the resolutions of conference were presented to and ratified by the congregations. In 1884 it was decided that resolutions of conference should not be published as being accepted until they were ratified by the congregations. How general these district meetings were is not known. For the Middle District numerous references to these meetings have been preserved. No records are extant for the Northern and Southern districts, but it can be assumed that they were also held. It was thought that these meetings helped the officials of the church apply the resolutions of conference. These district meetings to ratify conference resolutions were discontinued in the 1920's; the reasons for this are not clear. In time the resolutions passed by the conference were simply regarded as decrees "for to keep," not needing ratification by the membership.
The organization of the Virginia Conference was very simple at first. The offices were moderator and secretary. The moderators were usually ministers, but in the mid-20th century bishops served in this capacity. The list includes Michael Shank, Joseph N. Driver, Samuel Shank, Christian Good, L. J. Heatwole, A. B. Burkholder, J. S. Martin, John L. Stauffer, and Truman Brunk. For many years lay brethren served as secretaries. This practice was discontinued in the 1930's. It was thought advisable at that time to have members of conference act in this capacity. A roster of the secretaries includes David H. Landes, Emanuel Suter, C. H. Brunk, S. M. Burkholder, C. D. Wenger, E. J. Berkey, H. D. Weaver, J. R. Mumaw, Ward Shank, and Linden Wenger.
At first the lay members did not attend the conference sessions. It was just a matter of the Virginia ministers meeting semiannually to talk over their common problems with the subsequent passing of resolutions that might be helpful. Somewhat later the lay members of the church were invited, and by the 1950s a certain number attended. All the bishops occupied the bench behind the long pulpit; they took turns addressing the opening session of the conference. Then there were testimonies from all the ministers and deacons. Following this the regular business of the conference was considered.
A number of changes have been made in the organization and procedure by the 1950s. The bishops discontinued the use of the pulpit; their opening admonitions were replaced by a conference sermon; the testimonies were limited to a few visitors. Bishops served as moderators. Closed or preliminary sessions of conference were held in which problems facing the conference were discussed. This body then decided what subjects should be presented to the open conference for discussion and possible action. Since 1911 the semiannual conferences have been replaced by annual conferences.
Resolutions, some conservative, others progressive, have been formed and adopted. A number of conference actions have dealt with the subject of pride and the drift toward worldliness. To check or to prevent the entrance of doctrinally liberal thought into the church doctrinal statements were drawn up by the conference which were accepted almost without change by the Mennonite General Conference in 1921. In keeping with the conservative emphasis resolutions were passed which asked the members of conference to discontinue the use of musical instruments in their homes, and the use of the radio was made a test of membership for a number of years. One Virginia bishop advocated the establishment of a General Conference fifty years before it was organized. Then when General Conference did come in 1898 the Virginia Conference held aloof from it until 1911. Sunday schools were permitted in 1869. The conference was slow in working with the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, but it sanctioned the establishment of a local mission board which continues to function. One illustration of change in the history of the conference was the removal of the ban on the use of radios and musical instruments. As a result of this and subsequent actions, the Virginia Conference became the home of Mennonite Broadcasts, Incorporated.
The work and organization of the Virginia Conference greatly increased in the first half of the 20th century. Illustrations of this included the Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities for city, rural, and even foreign work, the Property Aid Plan, the Automobile Aid Plan, the organization and supervision of highland churches, and the establishment of Eastern Mennonite College as a conference school. In 1958 the Virginia Conference had a baptized membership of 4,741, with 32 organized congregations and 52 unorganized mission congregations. There were 9 bishops, 90 ministers, and 20 deacons. -- Harry A. Brunk
In 1987 Virginia Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church) was made up of 77 congregations scattered throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Two were Afro-American. One was Hispanic. There were 10 clusters of congregations called districts. Their combined membership was 5,893. In 2006 there were 66 congregations with a total membership over 8,800.
The conference had some sizeable losses in the 1970s when 12 congregations (559) members) withdrew to form the Southeastern Mennonite Conference (1972). Three congregations in Florida (431 members) transferred in 1975 to the new Southeast Mennonite Convention (Conference after 1986); and the Sonnenburg congregation (216 members) joined the Ohio Conference (1976).
The Virginia Conference had eight agencies in 1987: Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions, Virginia Mennonite Auto Aid, Virginia Mennonite Property Aid, Pleasant View Homes (for the handicapped), Virginia Mennonite Conference Center, Eastern Mennonite High School (transferred from Eastern Mennonite College governance in 1982), and Family Life Resource Center. Eastern Mennonite College and Seminary was released from conference governance in 1984 to operate under the Mennonite Board of Education (MC).
Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions (VMBM) began its first overseas work in Sicily, Italy, in 1951. Later it expanded to Jamaica (1954), Guyana (1969-1972), and Trinidad (1971), all located in the Caribbean Sea. Since 1977, the Jamaica Mennonite Church has functioned without the full-time presence of missionaries and is recognized as a fraternal conference. Between 1950 and 1987 VMBM was also involved in planting 40 new congregations in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio.
The conference publicizes the activities of its agencies through a weekly broadcast, "Missions in our Changing World"; a monthly paper, The Bridge; and a bimonthly magazine, Missionary Light.
After the 1999 restructuring of Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Conference of Mennonites in Canada into Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, the Virginia Mennonite Conference became part of Mennonite Church USA, voting to join in January 2002.-- Paul L. Kratz
In 2010 the following 67 congregations were members of the Virginia Mennonite Conference:
|3:16 Christian Community Church||Hickory||North Carolina|
|Asheville Mennonite Church||Asheville||North Carolina|
|Beldor Mennonite Church||Elkton||Virginia|
|Big Spring Mennonite Church||Luray||Virginia|
|Calvary Community Church||Hampton||Virginia|
|Calvary Community Church Chesapeake||Chesapeake||Virginia|
|Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship||Durham||North Carolina|
|Charlottesville Mennonite Church||Charlottesville||Virginia|
|Christian Conquest Fellowship||Washington||District of Columbia|
|Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship||Christiansburg||Virginia|
|Community Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Concord Mennonite Church||Fairview||North Carolina|
|Crest Hill Community Church||Wardensville||West Virginia|
|Crossroads Mennonite Church||Broadway||Virginia|
|Durham Mennonite Church||Durham||North Carolina|
|Family of Hope||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Fellowship of Christ||Rocky Mount||North Carolina|
|First Mennonite Church of Richmond||Richmond||Virginia|
|Gospel Hill Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Grace Mennonite Fellowship||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Greenmonte Mennonite Church||Stuarts Draft||Virginia|
|Greensboro Mennonite Fellowship||Greensboro||North Carolina|
|Harrisonburg Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Hebron Mennonite Church||Fulks Run||Virginia|
|Hickory Hmong Mennonite Church||Hickory||North Carolina|
|Huntington Mennonite Church||Newport News||Virginia|
|Iglesia del Evangelio Completo Alpha y Omega||Germantown||Maryland|
|Immanuel Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Knoxville Mennonite Church||Knoxville||Tennessee|
|Lambert Mennonite Church||Belington||West Virginia|
|Lindale Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Lynside Mennonite Church||Lyndhurst||Virginia|
|Manantial de Vida||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Mathias Mennonite Church||Bergton||Virginia|
|Mount Clinton Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Mount Pleasant Mennonite Church||Chesapeake||Virginia|
|Mount Vernon Mennonite Church||Grottoes||Virginia|
|Mountain View Mennonite Church||Lyndhurst||Virginia|
|Mountain View Mennonite Church||Hickory||North Carolina|
|New Beginnings Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Northern Virginia Mennonite Church||Fairfax||Virginia|
|Park View Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Powhatan Mennonite Church||Powhatan||Virginia|
|Providence Mennonite Church||Newport News||Virginia|
|Raleigh Mennonite Church||Raleigh||North Carolina|
|Rehoboth Mennonite Church||Scottsville||Virginia|
|Ridgeway Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Riverside Mennonite Church||Harman||West Virginia|
|Springdale Mennonite Church||Waynesboro||Virginia|
|Staunton Mennonite Church||Staunton||Virginia|
|Stephens City Mennonite Church||Stephens City||Virginia|
|Stuarts Draft Mennonite Church||Stuarts Draft||Virginia|
|Trissels Mennonite Church||Broadway||Virginia|
|Valley View Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|Vietnamese Christian Fellowship||Falls Church||Virginia|
|Warwick River Mennonite Church||Newport News||Virginia|
|Washington Community Fellowship||Washington||District of Columbia|
|Waynesboro Mennonite Church||Waynesboro||Virginia|
|Weavers Mennonite Church||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|West Liberty Mennonite Church||West Liberty||Kentucky|
|Williamsburg Mennonite Church||Williamsburg||Virginia|
|Woodland Mennonite Church||Basye||Virginia|
|Word of Life Mennonite Church||Norfolk||Virginia|
|Zion Hill Mennonite Church||Singers Glen||Virginia|
|Zion Mennonite Church||Broadway||Virginia|
Horsch, James E., ed. Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House (1988-89): 82-84.
Smith, Rachel. "Virginia Votes to Join Mennonite Church USA." Connections< 12 (March 2002): 1. Also published online. Accessed 1 July 2006. <http://vmbm.org/connections/2002/march.pdf>
Address: 901 Parkwood Drive, Harrisonburg Virginia 22802-2418
Website: Virginia Mennonite Conference
|Author(s)||Harry A. Brunk|
|Paul L. Kratz|
|Date Published||July 2010|
Cite This Article
Brunk, Harry A. and Paul L. Kratz. "Virginia Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2010. Web. 27 May 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Virginia_Mennonite_Conference_(Mennonite_Church_USA)&oldid=117374.
Brunk, Harry A. and Paul L. Kratz. (July 2010). Virginia Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 May 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Virginia_Mennonite_Conference_(Mennonite_Church_USA)&oldid=117374.
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