Lancaster Mennonite Conference is a 300-year old organization of more than 170 congregations with rich diversity, many complexities, and a culture that is ever-changing. This long history has been graced with God’s faithfulness in successes and failures as we attempt to be a faithful community of God’s kingdom. In this respect, we are diverse people of Christ’s peace. The first meetinghouse for Lancaster Mennonites was the 1719 Herr House.
Origin of “Mennonite”: Many of these various Anabaptist groups eventually took the name “Mennonite” from an early Dutch leader Menno Simons. Menno was a Roman Catholic priest who abandoned his Catholic faith, and through rebaptism, joined the Anabaptists. He was one of the few early leaders who eluded capture to die a natural death. As a result, he left behind a large number of writings that shaped and continue to shape the movement. The Swiss-German Anabaptists who immigrated to what became Lancaster County were already known as “Menonists” when they arrived in Philadelphia in 1710.
16th Century European Origins of the Anabaptists: The origins of Lancaster Mennonite Conference churches stem from several waves of European immigration to the New World in the 18th century. These immigrants were Anabaptists of primarily Swiss-German heritage who sought religious tolerance, fled persecution, and desired economic betterment. “Anabaptist” literally means “to rebaptize,” as these Christians rejected infant baptism and began a practice of rebaptizing those from the Catholic and Protestant churches in 16th century Europe during the early years of the Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptists were Christian reformers who rejected the Roman Catholic church-state system and the Protestant church-state attempts at reform, which the Anabaptists concluded fell far short of what was necessary in light of the New Testament texts. Their lack of conformity to either Catholic or Protestant groups and their willingness to confront both groups with a different reading of the Gospel resulted in severe persecution and martyrdom for two centuries in Europe.
The Amish. Pennsylvania is also the home of a variety of Anabaptist groups including one called the Amish. The Amish emerged in Europe through a church split among the Swiss Anabaptists led by Jacob Amman in 1693. These Amish immigrated to the New World separately beginning about 1734. They originally settled to the north of Lancaster County in what is today Berks County. While both the Amish and Mennonites are Anabaptist in their historical and theological origins, they are distinctly different groups today.
Other “Herr Houses”
21st Century Focus: Today, the 170 churches from New York City to Washington D.C. make up Lancaster Mennonite Conference. In addition, Lancaster Mennonite Conference has planted churches in New York, New England, and the South. Since the twentieth century, Lancaster Mennonite Conference churches embrace a host of new immigrant groups including Hispanic, Asian, and African cultures. Through the ministry of Eastern Mennonite Missions, the missions agency of the Conference, fraternal relationships exist with Mennonite churches in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America.
Come, walk with us through Lancaster Conference’s rich and varied story.
Ven, camina con nosotros a través de la historia rica y variada de la Conferencia de Lancaster.