LANCASTER, Pa. — From plain to acculturated, uniform to diverse, insulated to global, the Anabaptist movement has changed and will continue to do so.
A panel of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ leaders assembled by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society and the Brethren in Christ Historical Society gathered Nov. 9 at the Lancaster Brethren in Christ Church to discuss shifts in the Anabaptist world community.
Harriet Sider Bicksler, editor for the BIC Historical Society, led a panel composed of Emerson Lesher, chair of the BIC Historical Society board; Samuel López of the Spanish Mennonite Council; Leonard Dow, pastor of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia; and Alain Epp Weaver, director of planning and learning at Mennonite Central Committee.
Each reflected on Anabaptists’ journey over the past 50 years and what it means to be an Anabaptist today.
Fifty years ago, Anabaptists were predictable in their dress and their background.
“In my lifetime we moved from plain to fancy,” Lesher said. “My grandparents were plain. My parents grew up plain. But in their young adulthood they took off the covering and plain coat, and that was never part of my experience.
“I grew up with a minority mindset. If the majority believed something or did something, they were probably wrong.
“We were a separatist people, and that has changed.”
The Anabaptist community — BIC, Mennonite and others — saw a broad change, not just in dress but also in the people coming to church. Dow has seen this shift in the neighborhood around Oxford Circle. Twenty-five years ago, it was predominantly Irish Catholic and Jewish. Now it is a diverse community where 70 percent are immigrants.
This diversity did not come easily. When Mennonite churches were being established in the area, they were not integrated.
“We were part of the same church, but we were separated,” he said.
Even where people recognized they were part of the same faith family, there was a struggle to become more encompassing. López told a story he heard from Ron Collins, who pastored a Spanish Mennonite church in Chicago.
“Some Ohio conservative Amish Mennonites wanted to meet the Hispanic Mennonites in Chicago, so one day he invited them to go,” he said. “After they experienced the charismatic worship, they asked Collins, ‘Are you sure these people are Mennonites?’ But later when the conservative Amish Mennonites left, the Hispanics asked, ‘Pastor Ron, are you sure they are Mennonites?’ ”
Increased diversity was a touchstone of the evening, especially how the growing body of international Anabaptists is reflected by growth among North American Mennonites.
“The Global South is already here in our urban settings and, from what I hear, it’s coming to a county near you,” Dow said.
Alain Epp Weaver echoed the sentiment.
“We have already heard how the growing church in the Global South is the growing church here in the United States,” he said. “Immigrant churches from across the world, they’re in Philadelphia, they’re in Los Angeles. They are not they. They are we.”