Franconia, Eastern District discuss a future togetherBy Emily Ralph Franconia Mennonite Conference
LANSDALE, Pa. — Members of Eastern District and Franconia conferences of Mennonite Church USA met March 29 at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School to continue conversations about a shared future.
The gathering, the first of two forums to be held this spring, focused on developing a deeper understanding of the 1847 split in Franconia Conference that led to the formation of Eastern District Conference.
Although some people think a merger is a done deal, it isn’t, said Ron White, moderator of Eastern District Conference.
Conference leaders are following the delegates’ directive from the 2011 assembly to move forward in exploring and listening, he said in his welcome.
When White asked how many people had attended an event or service in a congregation from the other conference, nearly every hand went up.
“See, we’ve already been working together,” he said.
Jim Musselman of the Zion congregation and John L. Ruth of the Salford congregation, unofficial historians for the two conferences, told the history of the 1847 split, the tensions leading up to it and the fallout in the years following it.
The progressives — a group that broke off to later become Eastern District Conference — were looking for modern administration, freedom in dress and conduct, education for pastors, and the creation of publications, Musselman said. The years following the split were tumultuous for the new conference, with further division as differing theological strains emerged.
“Almost every positive thing that the Eastern District leaders wanted eventually came to Franconia Conference; it just took 100 years longer,” Ruth said. “It would have come sooner to Franconia Conference if they all would have stayed together.”
In the end, Ruth said, both sides lost: “There was not much creativity in finding ways of love and respect for each other.”
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