Drinking Anabaptist Tea and Other Tales of Integration
by Peter J. Dyck
The road to Integration/Transformation has been a long
one. Herald of Truth editor John F. Funk, who helped Russian
Mennonites migrate to the prairie states and provinces in the
1870s, hoped the immigrants would join MC conferences. They didnt.
MCs and GCs cooperated in sending relief supplies to India during
the great famine of 1896-97. When sending food and money led
to sending missionaries to India, GC leaders asked MC leaders
whether they could cooperate. MCs said no. Mennonite Central
Committee, however, was inter-Mennonite from its beginning in
1920. MCs and GCs worked and prayed together during Civilian
Public Service (CPS), 1941-46. Goshen Biblical Seminary (MC)
and Mennonite Biblical Seminary (GC) affiliated to become Associated
Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Such shared experiences led to the
formation of dually affiliated congregations 129 by 1995.
Peter and Elfrieda Dyck know about this journey from personal
experience, as the following vignettes illustrate.
Elfrieda and I had been serving with the Mennonite Central Committee
(MCC) in Europe for almost ten years when we met with the executive
committee in the old Atlantic Hotel in Chicago. The year was
1949 and we were terminating, at least for the time being, in
order to finish my college education. During a break, Rev. J.J.
Thiessen, a great leader and wonderful Christian the man
who had ordained me a few years earlier took me aside
for a serious discussion. Was it true, he wanted to know, that
I was going to attend Goshen College?
I told him that what he had heard was true. I also shared
with him that the major reason for this was to hear Prof. Harold
Bender lecture on Anabaptism. Thiessen was not pleased. He attempted
to dissuade me, giving one reason after another why Goshen was
not a good choice. Why not go to Bethel or Bluffton College?
I will always remember his final comment (given in all seriousness),
that as a General Conference member, not a teenager but already
thirty-four years old, I was setting a bad example for the youth
of the General Conference.
We went to Goshen. We had barely unpacked our suitcases and
registered when I was called into the office of President Ernest
Miller. He welcomed me warmly, chatted about this and that, and
finally came to the point. You are older than most students,
he began. You have served many years with MCC. You are
ordained. You and Elfrieda have gained visibility in our churches
when reporting on the refugee movement. He paused, and
I had no idea what he was leading up to. Finally he asked, Because
of all this, do you expect to receive some financial consideration
from Goshen College a discount perhaps, or a scholarship?
We had no money and the idea of a discount sounded very good
to me. It would mean less to borrow. However, had I expected
it? My answer was No. Miller was visibly relieved,
and proceeded to explain that the college could not give me financial
aid, since I didnt belong to the "Old" Mennonite
Church. Giving me aid could be interpreted by the General Conference
as wooing one of their members away from them.
I believe it was in 1952 when Harold S. Bender and I were visiting
in his living room. He asked whether my brother, C.J., who was
then serving with MCC in South America, was also going to attend
Goshen College as I had done. Jokingly, I said it was enough
for one in the family to make that mistake! Then more seriously
I talked of my good experiences and said that I coveted that
for many of our General Conference young people.
We continued the discussion about GC-MC cooperation in education,
especially on the seminary level. Finally we agreed to invite
some brethren, no more than four from each of the two conferences,
for an informal discussion. I was to invite the GC representatives
and Bender was to invite the MC people. I remember his suggestion
that we meet in his home and that Elizabeth would serve tea.
"Nobody can fault us for getting together and drinking Anabaptist
tea," he said.
The meeting did take place. Brother Bender asked me to introduce
the subject. That took me by surprise, but I began. I said something
about my own good experience as a General Conference student
at Goshen College and Seminary. I said I hoped we might explore
ways of moving closer together in our separate programs. I was
by now attending the GC/Church of the Brethren Seminary in Chicago.
There were some questions, a few concerns, and one or two
cautious, but positive, statements. I was disappointed. I guess
I had expected too much from this meeting. Orie Miller was the
first to leave, having said very little. As he left, he simply
said, "Thanks for the tea." For some time afterward,
I referred to that meeting as the thanks-for-the-tea meeting.
But the ball had started to roll. More informal meetings followed
and more people participated. Usually these meetings were in
connection with other meetings, such as the MCC annual meeting
in the Atlantic Hotel in Chicago. And then one day the conversations
became official and minutes were kept. The rest, as they say,
In 1967 MCC transferred us from Europe, where we had been serving
for another decade, to Akron, Pennsylvania. After attending the
Akron Mennonite Church (MC) for a while, we decided to become
members. That turned out to be more difficult than we had anticipated,
because we wanted dual membership. First the pastor and then
a committee told us that we couldnt have dual membership.
We suggested that perhaps the time had come for the entire congregation
to belong to both the MC and GC conferences. That fell on deaf
Ultimately they relented and said we could have our primary
membership in the Akron congregation and a secondary membership
in the GC Eden Church, Moundridge, Kansas. We objected. We asked
for equal and full membership in both conferences. In subsequent
discussions we were asked if we belonged to both the GC and MC
conferences, were we intending to subscribe to both The Mennonite
and the Gospel Herald? Were we going to double or halve our giving?
Would we attend both the MC and GC general assemblies?
A final argument, intended to persuade us of the folly of
dual membership, was that of statistics. Suppose we all
did that. Just look how that would mess up our membership statistics:
overnight the church would have doubled, because we would all
be counted twice once by the GCs and again by the MCs.
Someone suggested that the trouble with Elfrieda and me was that
we had been too long with MCC.
But then it happened, praise the Lord! A few years later the
Akron church voted unanimously to become a dual-conference church.
Yes, and we did subscribe to The Mennonite and the Gospel Herald.
We did attend both assemblies. The church did and still
does contribute financially to both MC and GC mission
boards, colleges, etc. It was a bit of a hassle and on the surface
it didnt make much sense. But we did it because everybody
believed that this was a temporary inconvenience on the road
to full amalgamation. Basic to all of this was the desire to
strengthen our witness in the world, to heed the prayer of Jesus:
that they may all be one
so that the world may
believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21)
And then came the Bethlehem 83 assembly where GC moderator,
Jake Tilitzky, and MC moderator, Ross Bender, stood to welcome
delegates. Two podiums had been placed at opposite ends of the
stage. The moderators picked up the podiums and moved slowly
toward each other, dialoguing as they went. Finally they met
in the middle, shook hands and embraced. The applause was overwhelming!
What began as a simple pragmatic procedure became a prophetic
symbolic move. We were all ready to become one conference. God
was breathing a new Spirit into our churches.
Other joint assemblies came and resolutions were passed. Wichita
95 delegates said, Lets do it. Orlando
97 assemblies chose a name and a periodical. At St. Louis
99 fifteen resolutions were passed, but we stumbled on
the membership question and fell apart at the 49th parallel.
Must we have casualties on the way to integration? May God help
Peter J. Dyck was born in Russia, moved
to Canada with his parents at age 12, and graduated from Goshen
College and Bethany Theological Seminary. He served as pastor,
but most of his life was spent in service with the Mennonite
Central Committee. He is married to Elfrieda Klassen. They have
two daughters and five grandchildren. Peter is now in active
retirement in Scottdale, Pennsylvania and with Elfrieda attends
the Kingview Mennonite Church.