Highlights of the Mennonite Church General Assemblies,
by J. Ron Byler
The following actions and highlights of the fifteen Mennonite
Church General Assemblies were given as the Mennonite Church
General Board Staff Report to the delegates of St. Louis 99.
In 1971 the Mennonite Church General Assembly replaced the former
organization known as Mennonite General Conference, which was
founded in 1898. At St. Louis 99 the final session of the Mennonite
Church General Assembly was held, making way for the new Mennonite
Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.
These actions and highlights were largely excerpted from the
introductions of the Assembly Proceedings booklets. They are
offered not as an attempt to include every action and activity
of the General Assembly, but simply as a way to help us remember
the flavor of our work together and the commitment of this body
to follow the way of Jesus.
Kitchener, Ontario (1971). The 74-year-old Mennonite
General Conference met for its last session in August 1971 at
Rockway Mennonite School. A constitutional assembly adopted new
bylaws and the first meeting of the Mennonite Church General
Assembly immediately followed. Five regions and five program
boards were established and the General Board was asked to arrange
for the Board of Congregational Ministries, the Historical Committee
and the Council on Faith, Life and Strategy to organize and begin
Harrisonburg, Virginia (1973). At Assembly 73 at Eastern
Mennonite College, delegates worked to understand their role
in seeking consensus on the decisions and issues facing the church.
Major blocks of time were spent discussing two issues -- "Amnesty"
and "the Role of Women in the Church." The assembly
heard a message and findings from a cross-cultural theological
consultation. The centrality of the congregation and the mission
thrust of the Mennonite Church were affirmed.
Eureka, Illinois (1975). Attendance at Assembly 75
exceeded expectations and severely taxed the facilities at Eureka
College. After vigorous discussion, summary statements on "Abortion,"
on "Biblical Understandings of Women and Men in the Church,"
and on "Amnesty" were adopted. A Jubilee Fund was established
to liquidate the debt of the General Board and the Board of Congregational
Estes Park, Colorado (1977). The churchwide gathering
in Colorado at the YMCA of the Rockies was a combination of the
biennial session of General Assembly delegates, an inspirational
convention meeting, and a youth convention. Two statements on
"the life of the church" were adopted by the Assembly
- one on "the Holy Spirit," and a second on "Biblical
Interpretation." Two ad hoc reports on urban concerns and
social justice were approved by this Assembly.
Waterloo, Ontario (1979). The Mennonite Church General
Assembly gathered for Waterloo 79 at Conrad Grebel College on
the campus of the University of Waterloo. The Assembly adopted
a resolution on urban concerns. Statements, one on "Affirming
Our Faith in Word and Deed" and the second on "Militarism
and Conscription," were also adopted. A "Message to
Sister Churches Overseas" asked for prayer "that we
may resist the many temptations to compromise our witness through
materialism, accommodation to militarism, and conformity to the
Bowling Green, Ohio (1981). During Assembly 81 at Bowling
Green State University, delegates appointed a committee to conduct
a ten-year review of the new Mennonite Church organization. Two
statements - one on "Leadership and Authority in the Life
of the Church, and a second on "The Use of the Law"
- were passed by delegates. A "Resolution Concerning Security
and the Current World Arms Race" was also approved. Assembly
81 concluded with a reaffirmation of "our desire to continue
in and witness to the nonresistant and simple faith in Christ,
looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the
great God and our Savior Jesus Christ."
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1983). Bethlehem 83 on the
campus of Lehigh University was a time to celebrate 300 years
of Mennonite life and witness in North America. It was also a
time for the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite
Church to become better acquainted through joint worship and
fellowship, though delegates met for business separately. MC
delegates approved a statement on "Inter-Mennonite cooperation
in North America" and a second on "Justice and the
Christian Witness." A "Vision for Witness" statement
was affirmed, as was a resolution on "Central America,"
and another on "Mennonite Tricentennial." A "Call
to Faithful Stewardship" was adopted for study for the next
Ames, Iowa (1985). Iowa State University was the site
for the 1985 General Assembly. Ten year goals were adopted, goals
that later became known as Vision 95. The goals gave specific
encouragement for growth of the church in number, witness and
giving. A committee to work with the General Conference on a
new confession of faith was approved. A resolution in response
to the farm crisis was also approved, as was a proposal to give
priority to the allocation of budget funds for minority education.
The "Central America" resolution of the previous Assembly
West Lafayette, Indiana (1987). Purdue 87, held on
the campus of Purdue University, has become closely linked with
what we now call the Purdue statement: "A Call to Affirmation,
Confession, and Covenant Regarding Human Sexuality." The
1987 Assembly also passed a "Resolution on South Africa"
and adopted a statement on "Growing in Stewardship and Mission
in a Militaristic World." Many area conferences enthusiastically
reported progress toward the Vision 95 goals.
Normal, Illinois (1989). The children, youth and adults
attending the Normal 89 gathering of the Mennonite Church and
the General Conference Mennonite Church were a living demonstration
of the convention theme, "Many Peoples Becoming God's People."
Three resolutions, the first on military tax withholding, the
second on confronting racism, and the third on environment and
faith issues, were passed by delegates. A recommendation on "Exploring
MC/GC Integration" was adopted. "We must pursue the
work of God," concluded the incoming moderator. He urged
delegates "to learn from the past but to yearn for the future."
Eugene, Oregon (1991). At Oregon 91, in the Eugene
fairgrounds and convention center, United Native Ministries Council
was recognized as an associate group of the Mennonite Church.
Delegates also asked the General Board to discern how the Mennonite
Church can give priority to peace leadership. A resolution "On
Observing 1992" was passed. Delegates spent time discussing
four issues - lifestyles for Christian disciples, a congregational
peace education initiative, unity and diversity, and priorities
for the future. Churchwide agencies, conferences and congregations
were asked to mark progress toward the Normal 89 statement on
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1993). For Philadelphia
93, we gathered for the first time in the downtown of a major
city. We adopted resolutions on "Health Care in the United
States" and on "Male Violence Against Women."
The statements, "Peace in Our Time" and "A Commitment
to Christ's Way of Peace," were approved for study and discussion
in our congregations and conferences, and a "Call for a
Peacemaking Task Force" was approved.
Wichita, Kansas (1995). Wichita 95 was the third joint
gathering of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite
Church. A "commitment to move toward integration" captured
much time and attention. Just as significant was the adoption
of a new "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective"
and the forward-looking "Vision: Healing & Hope"
statement with six accompanying priorities. The statement, "Agreeing
and Disagreeing in Love," was commended for use in decision-making
and in managing conflicts among us.
Orlando, Florida (1997). In the introduction to the
Orlando proceedings, I comment that the actions of this assembly
"have the effect of looking back at the 'historic' actions
of Wichita 95 and looking forward to what promise to be substantive
changes in the structure and integration of the Mennonite Church
and the General Conference Mennonite Church." In Orlando,
delegates overwhelmingly approved integration votes on name,
time frame and periodicals. In other activity, delegates adopted
the Mennonite statement on violence, "And No One Shall Make
Them Afraid," as well as resolutions on global mission,
congregational youth ministry and immigration.
To complete the summary of assemblies, the following comments
from St. Louis are added.
St. Louis, Missouri (1999). We thank God for the Mennonite
Church General Assembly during these past 28 years.
Five strong program boards and four able associate groups have
given faithful witness to God in word and deed. 21 area conferences
have nurtured and encouraged our congregations, and have generously
supported the work of the denomination.
The Mennonite Church General Board and this General Assembly
body have helped lead the church in its mission and witness.
But we are changing once more and we are eager to see what God
will do among us as a new Mennonite Church.
We invite your reflection and counsel as we move forward together
with our General Conference brothers and sisters.
J. Ron Byler is associate general secretary of the Executive
Board of the Mennonite Church USA, and is a member of Eighth
Street Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, April 2000