On Sunday afternoon, February 16, My Joy and I were invited to drop in to the home of a friend for cherry pie and ice cream. I discovered that the husband of My Joy’s friend likes history, and so I asked over the pie and ice cream, you are all old enough to remember changes that took place in the church, aren’t you? The three women present immediately responded with memories of long skirts, black stockings, long hair and coverings, and changes in the sixties. The husband of our hostess recalled the time when the Ilionois Mennonite Conference was about to be put out of the denomination because pastors were conforming to the world.
We began to discuss the role of Sanford C Yoder in the Mennonite Church. I was introduced to Yoder when researching the beginning of the Mennonites and Amish in Sarasota, Florida. In 1935, Yoder’s son Myron and his wife Elsie moved to Sarasota and were the first Mennonites to live year-round in Sarasota. In 1947, Elsie was recruited by the local school board to be the first principal of an elementary school for Amish and Mennonite children in Pinecraft, Sarasota.
S. C. Yoder again entered Florida Mennonite history when he traveled to Sarasota to marry his daughter Margarite to David Zimmerly. More Yoder and Zimmerly history can be found in my series Roots & Branches, a Narrative History of the Amish and Mennonites in Southeast United States, 1892 – 1992.
According to an internet source Sanford Yoder’s statesmanship and leadership served as a reconciling influence in the Mennonite Church (MC) during the troubled decade of the 1920s and the years following. This is consistent with the memory of his role as moderator of the meeting that was to discipline the Illinois Mennonite Conference because some of its pastors were conforming to the world in dress. Yoder noted that some members of the assembly were not speaking to each other and suggested that before they confer about anything they should kneel in prayer. When the members arose from their knees there was no longer a desire to discipline. A new unity was evident that allowed change to slowly make its way as the Spirit moved from conference to conference.
This Sunday afternoon, February 23, I attended a service honoring a member of the pastoral team of the College Mennonite Church on her retirement. She had served the congregation for 30 years. The meeting room was packed with well wishers and she received gifts and accolades with patience and cheerful dignity. Rosemary Widmer is a beautiful example of changes that have blessed the church.