Life as a Mennonite

This morning Pastor Phil Waite of College Mennonite Church preached a sermon on Love and Marriage. It ranged from illustrations from the Jerry Seinfeld TV show to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-32 and 19:2-11 , and ended with owning the need for grace.  You may click here to hear the sermon. (Scroll twenty nine minutes into the service to begin the sermon.)  The sermon roused in me a need to reminisce.

At age 10 l was baptized. I don’t remember a word the baptizing bishop said, but according to custom, he surely conferred on me a privilege and a duty. I was to give counsel and receive counsel, two continuing obligations not limited by age. The bishop’s charge keeps dogging my steps at my 88th year, and gives me the courage to write as I do.

Fourteen years later, at age 24, I was ordained for two tasks:  (1) preach the gospel and (2)  pastor a church. (According to my father, preaching the Gospel is the highest calling on earth and being a pastor is to be an “assistant bishop.”)  I found the two tasks to be counterproductive. Boundaries set by rules limit the liberty of the Gospel.

Ten years later at age 34, I was ordained bishop of a district. In the following two decades the Mennonite Churches around me explored new ways to relate. It was a decade of learning. By consensus we created a quasi-conference without a capital “C.” The new structure did not have bishops, and did not intrude in the affairs of a congregation. We called our gatherings conventions. I was employed as General Secretary of the convention and became a bishop on call.

Changes swept the congregations and conferences in the sixties and seventies. Scriptures were reinterpreted and practices altered to fit the norms of society. Many women took off their coverings, cut their hair and chose to wear jewelry and pants. Men took off their plain suits and replaced them with fashionable suits and neckties. Divorce was frowned upon, but even remarriage after divorce was tolerated. Congregational singing was continued, but some congregations enhanced their worship with a piano or organ.  I visited the congregations regularly, but served in the usual responsibilities of a bishop only on call.

When the Mennonite Church reorganized itself in the early seventies, it gave such quasi-conferences as our convention the powers of a Conference with a capital C. This ended my work as a bishop on call, and I became a full-time general secretary of the convention. Later, my time was divided between serving as the general secretary of the convention and as secretary of congregational life.  In 1986 the convention decided to call itself a conference. In 1991 I retired from Conference Work.

In these retirement years I have tried to be faithful to the baptismal charge to “give and receive” counsel in the church. That’s what I try to do on this website.

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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2 Responses to Life as a Mennonite

  1. Mary Bew says:

    Convention – conference. I needed this history. Thanks!

  2. Marilyn Slabach says:

    What a journey! So fortunate you came to Florida. When I moved from Goshen area to Sarasota (first in Pinecraft) in 1952 when I was 18, I experienced cultural shock. But I managed. Parents, grandparents, extended family DO provide us with good basic values and skills, don’t they. In the Southeast early on, such events as teachers workshops at various locations, Proclamation with individual church reporting, Project Timothy and meetings at Lakewood and other locations were steps to becoming a “conference.” Your leadership and perception of this process was always very important. And I got to work in that setting! Of course, your work goes on and on. Thank you, Martin, for “Life As A Mennonite,” and for staying involved in today’s world.

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