Leading up to and following Mennonite World Conference’s assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., Anabaptists are taking part in Assembly Scattered learning tours and events around the country. One tour led by Wilmer Martin and John Ruth began July 14 in New York City and headed south, finishing in Harrisburg for the assembly July 21.
Our tour group arrived in New York City July 14 for our pre-Mennonite World Conference tour: “Windows to the Past, Bridges to the Future: Mennonites in America,” with TourMagination. We have a very interesting group from the Netherlands, Canada and the United States. John Ruth, our storyteller, keeps us engaged with interesting history and stories of our people.
We enjoyed a local guide, James, on our six-hour city tour. At the United Nations Plaza we looked for the flags of our home countries. James told us that Mr. Rockefeller donated the land for the United Nations Center. John Ruth informed us that Dutch Mennonites settled and farmed in Manhattan in the 1660s. We know that a Peters family farmed where today Wall Street and the Trump Tower stand.
At the Rockefeller Center we enjoyed walking in the plaza to see where the Christmas tree stands and where they have the ice-skating rink. There were tables there at this time of year, with persons enjoying food and conversation.
It is a little overwhelming. Rockefeller built these 19 buildings, all offices that attract workers and industry. James told us that Manhattan is the smallest of the five boroughs that make up New York City. Its population is 1.6 million residents; however, up to 8 million persons come here to work. Onijdes Sijtsma, a Mennonite historian from Berlikum, Friesland, Netherlands, said as we stood on Times Square, “I’m not sure I feel comfortable here. Berlikum, with its 2,500 people is more to my comfort zone.”
We all enjoyed having 90 minutes to enjoy free time on Times Square getting our supper, shopping, watching people or whatever we wanted to do. It seemed there were people everywhere. James told us that 55 million visitors come to New York City each year. It is not hard to believe him. The city is very clean and the New York City police were very friendly and seemed to be everywhere.
On July 15, we drove three hours to Philadelphia. John told us Philadelphia was founded and named by William Penn. He was granted the land by the King of England, this paid a debt owed by the King to the Penn family. His vision was a Quaker settlement. The name came from the book of Revelation.
We enjoyed our lunch in the Reading (Pa.) Market. Persons sampled many different foods. It is interesting watching the locals. John told us many Mennonites came to Philadelphia and this market. There are still many familiar names.
At Independence Square we enjoyed learning the history of the United States receiving its independence. Our guide was very informative and made history interesting. The Liberty Bell today is inside a building. Its ring was heard around the world by radio as it rang seven times signaling the end of World War II. It was used across generations calling for liberty and peace. Wilmer asked the guide how protestors can now sit under it, sing and pray, as they did during the civil rights movement. She said today they sit outside on the lawn. They recognize it’s a powerful freedom symbol, a message of hope.
At Germantown Mennonite Church we were welcomed by the executive director of Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust, Alison Shiloh Wear. They are so pleased to welcome Mennonites from around the world. Our group needed to sign the guest book. John Ruth reminded us this is the oldest Mennonite church in North America. The congregation has outgrown this historic meetinghouse and meets in a much larger building two blocks to the north.
In the following days, we look forward to visiting Valley Forge, John will introduce us to his community in Franconia, we’ll visit the nation’s capital, head to Lancaster for history and a Mennonite worship service. We plan to ride a steam train from Strasburg to Paradise, Pa., through Amish country, and after stopping for lunch, we’ll travel to Harrisburg to join the Mennonite World Conference Assembly Gathered.
Wilmer Martin is the owner and president of TourMagination, and served as a tour leader on this tour with John Ruth. The tour is part of Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly Scattered.