This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Conservative Conference considers ‘Rosedale Network’

In a move toward simplicity, a team of Conservative Mennonite Conference leaders has proposed a new name for the denomination: Rosedale Network.

The Executive Board is asking CMC ministers for their response. A decision could come as early as February.

Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, is one of two Conservative Mennonite Conference institutions that bear the Rosedale name. — Rosedale Bible College
Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, is one of two Conservative Mennonite Conference institutions that bear the Rosedale name. — Rosedale Bible College

“The name ‘Rose­dale’ means nothing theologically to anyone in itself, but we think there’s a certain brand people would associate that with in the Anabaptist world,” said Brian Hershberger, executive director of the 12,400-member denomination, in a June 29 phone interview.

The name comes from two CMC institutions: Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, and Rose­dale Mennonite Missions, the conference’s mission agency.

Hershberger said interactions with people at the 2015 Mennonite World Conference assembly and while traveling internationally showed the name Rosedale was more recognizable than Conservative Mennonite Conference.

“You say Conservative Mennonite Conference, there’s kind of a blank look; then you say Rosedale, then a kind of light comes on,” he said.

Hershberger said terms like “conservative” and “Mennonite” were creating confusion due to associations with plain Anabaptists, political conservatism or progressive theology. Additional qualifications would make the name too long.

“If we use ‘Mennonite,’ we have to have another word with it, like ‘conservative,’ to define what kind of Mennonites we are: conservative theologically, evangelical-in-practice Mennonites,” he said.

“If we use one of those words, we have to use other ones. . . . There are some ways in which ‘conservative’ defines us very well. Do we want to let that go? There are some ways in which ‘Mennonite’ or ‘Anabaptist’ defines us very well. That’s what we’re grappling with.”

Some feedback indicated concern “Rosedale Network” communicated too little.

“We’re understanding of the reason of not having a long name, but do we need to have some definition theologically?” Hershberger said. “That’s what we’re wrestling with right now. . . . In the non-Anabaptist world, it doesn’t mean anything that would give people a clear understanding of who we are, but it also doesn’t create any instant barriers.”

A lot to talk about

While a name-change vote won’t happen at the July ministers’ business meeting, Hershberger said there would be additional discussion on whether to go with the “Rosedale” name or come up with an alternative, based on the feedback received so far.

“Feedback has been coming in,” he said. “It tells me that we’ve got a lot to talk about.”

The earliest a vote could take place would be at the February ministers’ meeting. Typically there are 100 to 150 voting ministers at the business meetings, Hershberger said.

Name as an obstacle?

Hershberger wrote in the July issue of the CMC magazine Beacon that serious discussion of a name change began in the 1990s.

“For the next 20 years the idea kept surfacing that our current name was hindering our mission in that it was creating unnecessary barriers and confusion,” he wrote.

In 2015, “Community of Mennonite Churches” was suggested but was met with a lack of enthusiasm by a test group of 30 pastors. After that, Hershberger wrote, CMC leadership decided to work on clarifying their mission and identity in participation with Rosedale Mennonite Missions and Rosedale Bible College.

A survey at CMC’s 2016 annual conference in Greenwood, Del., asking questions about mission and identity drew 1,282 respondents from 83 congregations. Questions asking what CMC should embrace and lay aside yielded calls for a new name.

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