The Chortitzer Mennonite Conference, with 10 congregations in western Canada, has chosen a simpler name.
At their annual meeting in Steinbach, Man., on April 18, delegates voted to be called Christian Mennonite Conference.
The 60 delegates voted by majority for the new name over two other options: Evangelical Anabaptist Conference and Gospel Mennonite Conference.
Bishop David Reimer said the choice was “quite decisive” and reflects the thinking that “we’re simply Christian, and we happen to be Mennonite.”
Delegates began considering a name change at their 2013 meeting. They voted to change it in 2014. Members were strongly in favor of dropping “Chortitzer,” according to Reimer.
“One of the challenges has always been that people see it and wonder how it’s spelled, and how it’s pronounced [CORE-teet-zer] and what it’s supposed to mean,” he said. “A name is supposed to help identify, and it created more questions than answers.”
Reimer said the April 18 vote was quick and mostly a formality, with a little discussion about the options. Most discussion happened in 2013 and 2014.
He described the options before the vote in the conference magazine, The Chronicle.
“Names are very short, but I am encouraged that all three of the names say something about what we believe and also about how we will put that belief into practice,” he wrote.
His sense is the people in the 1,500-member church are happy to have made the change. There was very little opposition.
“Even our historians knew that it needed to happen,” he said.
The church began with Mennonites who came to Manitoba from Russia in 1874. Chortitz (now Randolph) is the town where the bishop of the group lived and went to church. As a result, they became known as the Chortitzer church.
Reimer said the question also came up in 1997, but a motion to change the name did not pass.
The current generation is even less connected to the history than previous generations. And considerations were different this time, he said.
“There’s often been a conversation: ‘Why do we have to be Mennonite? Why do we have to be evangelical? Why do we have to have some kind of a label? Can’t we just be Christian?” he said.
These questions informed the Name Change Committee as it narrowed the options to three.
Many of the options they considered were already in use.
“[It was] interesting that ‘Christian’ was available,” Reimer said.
Reimer was surprised to learn that members preferred to keep “Mennonite.”
“We don’t identify as Mennonite like we once did, but when it comes to changing the name, that’s just who we are, and that came out pretty strong,” he said.
Often, he said, a name change reflects some other changes.
“If we are active as an evangelical church in our community, then why are we still living with an ancient name, with a Russian name?” he said.
He hopes the name helps them continue being active and looking forward.
“Obviously it’s not hugely futuristic, the name,” he said. “But I’m hoping that it says something to our congregation — we don’t have to be anchored in the past, that we’re willing to take a step out into the current world.”