Having attended the Baptist World Alliance gatherings in Birmingham, England in 2005, and in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2010, I considered attending the recent one in Durban, South Africa. Due to the lengthy flying time, however, I drove to Harrisburg, Penn., to attend the Mennonite World Conference the same week in July.
The MWC meets every six years; this was its 16th gathering. The BWA meets every five years; this was its 21st congress. The Mennonites’ theme was “Walking with God.” The Baptists’ theme was “Jesus Christ, the Door.”
When I met people at the Mennonite gathering, I introduced myself and added: “I’m a Baptist.” The response was either “How did you hear about this?” or “What are you doing here?”
To the first question I answered: “I subscribe to the Mennonite Quarterly Review and read about it there.”
To the second question, I answered: “Five generations back, my family was Mennonite.” Next came the question about the family name: It was Good, which is like Smith in America.
I arrived early to go on an all-day tour of Mennonite historic churches in eastern Pennsylvania. I was the only Baptist on the bus of 28 people. Our guides were two young men who work at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Penn.
We visited the first Mennonite church in America in Germantown, founded in 1708 in a log cabin. Deep Run East Mennonite Church, which is across the road from the Deep Run West Mennonite Church, provided our lunch.
The two churches split in the 1840s over progressive changes. Both current pastors attended the lunch and answered questions.
Someone asked, “What about beer drinking?” One pastor said, “We alternate.” The other pastor said, “And designate a driver.” They both laughed. The two churches celebrate Thanksgiving together, work on mission projects and share the cemetery.
That afternoon we toured the Indian Creek Church that seats 100 and the Franconian Mennonite Church across the parking lot that holds 1,000.
For dinner we ate at the Norristown Mennonite Church, organized in 1990 from three churches — Hispanic, African American and white. The church has a worship team with three pastors from each of these groups.
On Tuesday, after registering, I attended the first worship service in the arena, ate in the main hall along with hundreds of others, and met my hostess, Anna Predoti, at the shuttle bus. A thousand people stayed in 350 Mennonite homes. Messiah College also housed attendees.
Anna was raised Mennonite. Her husband, Joe Predoti, who came from Italy at the age of three, grew up Catholic. They both attend the Lititz Mennonite Church, and both went to the MWC. Their lovely home is in Brunnerville, a tiny village near Lititz.
From Wednesday through Saturday I attended morning and evening worship services and workshops in the afternoons. The opening worship began with a parade of people carrying banners and singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The preachers did not wear suits and ties. In fact, one wore blue jeans. Preceding the main sermon in the evening, we heard a sermon from one or two Young Anabaptists. The choir, whose members came from different countries, performed at all the services.
I attended a workshop given in two parts: first, the history of the shameful events at Munster, Germany in 1534-1535, followed by “What do we have to understand through the history of Munster?”
In these sessions three Amish men attended, one of whom was a bishop from Iowa. One speaker said that all Christian groups have something of which they are ashamed. I thought about our own Baptist split in 1845 over the issue of slavery.
I also attended these workshops: “Walking with Godly Books,” “Gender Challenges in a Changing World,” “Cultural Chameleons” and “Walking with God in Politics.”
Because of a half-day tour of Gettysburg, led by a Brethren in Christ pastor, I was not able to attend the workshop “Forgiving and Healing: the Amish Experience at Nickel Mines.” Having read the book and seen the movie Amish Grace about the murder of schoolgirls on Oct. 2, 2006, I was interested in the session.
However, I was able to chat with a woman who did attend. She said the mother of one of the girls who died was very articulate in describing the events of that terrible day and its aftermath. Herman Bontrager spoke, along with community members from Nickel Mines.
I met one Southern Baptist who now attends a Mennonite church. I heard that a Quaker and a Catholic also attended the workshop.
On Sunday I worshiped with Anna and Joe at their Lititz Mennonite Church, where I heard a Lithuanian pastor preach with an American woman interpreting. After the service we had a “pitch-in” lunch in the basement that was planned in honor of the visitors to the Mennonite World Conference.
I highly recommend gathering with our cousins in the faith. The next MWC will be held in Indonesia in 2021. BT
By Nikki Stoddard Schofield
—Nikki Stoddard Schofield is a deacon at Speedway Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Ind. She is the author of four Civil War historical novels (civilwarromances.com) and is writing her fifth, titled Confederates in Canada.