Early in my life I sensed that the church required me to humbly submit to it. At age 9 I “stood” to accept Christ as my Savior and at age 10 I was baptized as a member of the church. I began to quietly do what I believed the church required of me.
In March, 1939, a little girl of the Marion Mennonite congregation caught the whooping cough, pneumonia and a gastric infection, in that order. She appeared to be recovering and was learning to play in a hospital oxygen tent when, after 2 years, 8 months, and 22 days of life, according to her parents, “she bowed her little head and died.” The little girl’s parents asked some boys of the church to serve as pall bearers to carry the little casket up the hill from the church to the grave.
I tell you this because it meant much to me. I was ten years old when the little girl was born and just turned 13 when I helped bear her body to the grave. I wonder why she died when she did, and why I have continued to live for 76 more years to age 89. (It might have been otherwise.)
When I carried the casket I wore a plain suit with long trousers for the first time in my life. I wore the suit because my father sensed my need for a new suit for the upcoming funeral, and I asked that it be a plain suit. It was my wish. For the next 30 years I wore a plain suit until the church changed.
According to my count, there are at least 21 conferences in Mennonite Church USA. I grew up in the Franklin County Conference and served as an ordained minister in the Lancaster Conference. The Mennonite congregations in Florida were affiliated with four other conferences or were independent. As a bishop living in Florida I served communion in Amish-Mennonite union services in Pinecraft, and in relatively young urban and rural Mennonite congregations made up of members from many cultures. Now I am retired in the Indiana-Michigan Conference near the Greencroft retirement community.
Throughout life, and here near Greencroft, I have been aware of aging, anti-aging efforts, and the inevitability of death. I am not concerned by the fact that someday I will die, but I am deeply troubled by the dis-ease brought on by the church divisions that harm relationships and limit respect and understanding of the gospel of Jesus by the world.
It seems that death is inevitable, but I think that church divisions are not. Can not the Mennonite Church cast off the sin that so easily besets it?
Please feel free to forward this post to any one you believe to be concerned about division in the church or who is about to join a divisive movement.