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Fall 1994 · Vol. 23 No. 2 · pp. 57–62 

Mennonite Brethren Networking with Other Mennonites

Marvin Hein

In 1943, long before MBs had heard about BOMAS or MBM/S, the President of the United States, through the Selective Service System (SSS), ordered me as a conscientious objector (CO) to report to CPS #67 in Downey, Idaho. I was assigned to a camp operated by MCC. All work was deemed to be of national importance and was supervised by agencies such as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), Public Health Service (PHS), National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Reclamation (BR) and others. Overall administration was provided out of Washington, D.C. by the National Service Board for Religious Objectors (NSBRO).

Sometimes “Yes” and sometimes “No” to networking.

My initiation into the inter-Mennonite world and its accompanying maze of acronyms reached its heights the night of September 31, 1943. For the first time in my life I was forced to become friends with OM’s, GC’s, EMB’s, MBC’s, KMB’s, BIC’s and others. When four of us who arrived on the same train in Downey were ushered into an old army barracks building, which would be our home, I almost turned tail and ran. The only occupants in the barracks were a dozen black-clad, bearded Amishmen, all seated on their beds weaving rugs for Mama or Mary. It was an ominous beginning to what would be a wonderful, life-changing experience in inter-Mennonite networking. {58}

In a sense, that night in southeastern Idaho I was ushered into a new world that would send me to every continent on the face of the earth. That night I began a journey that would involve me in an inter-Mennonite publishing endeavor (HPC and MWR) over several decades. That night I began to be immersed in networking that would lead to 17 years of active involvement in MWC General Council work. That night would eventually lead to working with Leland Harder, J. Howard Kauffman, and two others on the study now known as Anabaptists Four Centuries Later. That night I was ushered into a world that would send me to a Chicago motel many Decembers for an annual meeting of COMS. That night was a rather brash introduction into a world made rich with stretching experiences as I was nudged out of my comfortable MB nest, not by my own choosing but with grudging acceptance of a government decree.

What follows is a rather simplistic explanation of observations I have made about Mennonite Brethren networking with other Mennonites.


The Mennonite Brethren’s reticence toward inter-Mennonite networking often arises out of an improper historical perspective. J. A. Toews suggests that our attitude toward General Conference Mennonites in particular is still influenced, perhaps unconsciously, by the painful experiences of 1860. 1

My own experience corroborates Toews’ assertion. Knowing nothing negative about other Mennonites prior to 1943, I admit to an accumulating prejudice during those first CPS days when I listened to profanity and observed some lifestyles from non-MB’s foreign to my conservative Oklahoma background. I was quickly brought back to reality, however, when I learned that the latest fiasco in camp—the literal “tarring-and-feathering” of the camp director when he visited a sidecamp—was perpetrated by an MB/GC duet. Other but similar misperceptions still exist among MBs, as illustrated in the belief by some that all MC/GC churches are unevangelistic and only preach peace. The truth is that in many of those congregations, evangelism and church planting are very much alive, from which MBs would do well to learn.

Conference leaders often network with inter-Mennonites more often and more eagerly than laypeople because they have personal acquaintance with other Mennonites. J. A. Toews states that “some of the most exciting and enriching experiences in my public ministry of more than thirty-five years have come in inter-Mennonite endeavors.” 2 He goes on to explain that this was the result of frequent and prolonged working relationships with members of other conferences. Unfortunately, only a few Mennonite Brethren have that privilege. {59}

Misperceptions of other Mennonites and lack of positive relationships with them no doubt contribute to an attitude described as “the tendency to withdraw from other Mennonite groups [which] is characteristic of M.B.’s throughout North America.” 3

Mennonite Brethren generally are more willing to network with other Mennonites in service projects that do not have direct theological or doctrinal implications. Consequently, we often find it easy to participate in MDS or MCC relief services, but we often retrench in cooperating in curriculum development projects, hymnal publication, CPT, or even MCC Peace Section actions when they become rather aggressive.


(Dates represent year of founding)

AIM     African Inter-Mennonite Mission (formerly Congo Inland Missions, 1911)
AMP Association of Mennonite Psychiatrists, 1986
BCBC Believers Church Bible Commentary, 1981
BIC General Conference of Brethren in Church Churches, 1780
BOMAS Board of Foreign Missions (forerunner to MBM/S), 1984
CBC Columbia Bible College, Clearbrook, BC
COMS Council of Moderators & Secretaries, 1973
COTB Church of the Brethren, 1708
CPS Civilian Public Service (COs in World War II), 1940
CPT Christian Peacemaking Teams, 1987
EMB Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church, 1865
GC General Conference Mennonite Church, 1860
HPC Herald Publishing Company (MWR), 1920
KMB Krimmer Mennonite Brethren (merged with MBs in 1960), 1869
MADP Mennonite Association of Disability Providers
MB General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1860
MBC Former Mennonite conference (1883) now known as the United Missionary Church
MBM/S Mennonite Brethren Missions/Service, 1966 (formerly Board of Foreign Missions, 1896)
MC Mennonite Church, 1683
MCC Mennonite Central Committee, 1920
MBCI Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute in Winnipeg, MB, 1945
MDDS Mennonite Disability Development Services, 1974
MDS Mennonite Disaster Service, 1950
MEDA Mennonite Economic Development Association, 1953
MEI Mennonite Education Institute in Clearbrook, BC, 1944
MHA Mennonite Health Association, 1952
MHS Mennonite Health Services, 1947
MIBA Mennonite Industry Business Associates, 1977 (merged with MEDA, 1981)
MMA Mennonite Mutual Aid, 1945
MRT Mennonite Retirement Trust
MWC Mennonite World Conference, 1925
MWR Mennonite Weekly Review (Newton, Kansas), 1923
OM Oft-used reference to the MC (Old), 1683 {60}

There are exceptions to the above statement. Just now we find ourselves in full cooperation with other Mennonites in the JUBILEE curriculum project, but I suspect we will find it difficult to sell the materials to our laypeople. Our reluctance to cooperate in doctrinal enterprises was illustrated, even among leaders, by our negative reaction to the Normal, Illinois study conference in 1989, sponsored by the three largest Mennonite bodies. MBs generally remain basically suspicious of our inter-Mennonite brothers and sisters in matters of theology.


Mennonite Brethren find great value in inter-Mennonite networking on an individual or special interest basis. Among us are many persons who network regularly in issues such as peace, library and archival services, and Habitat for Humanity-type building projects. While it may be difficult to rally the larger conference or whole groups of people to network with inter-Mennonites, interested individuals find great joy in networking. There is heavy involvement of MB entrepreneurs in MEDA and MIBA Other examples include doctors and nurses organized under MHA, mental health hospitals under MHS, disability services under MDDS, and MADP, AMP, Council on Media, Council of Mennonite Artists, China Educational Exchange: and the list, along with its catchy acronyms, no doubt goes on and on.

MBs have a much better record where they can either do their own thing or when it involves networking for economic reasons. Our scholars do not hesitate to participate in writing volumes for the BCBC, nor are we reticent to use the advantages of MRT to insure adequate retirement living. It would be interesting to know how much of the $4,000,000 invested in the new MMA mutual fund in the first four months of its existence came from Mennonite Brethren.

Another example of one congregation’s participation in an inter-Mennonite project in the absence of conference involvement is the College Community Church (MB) in Clovis, CA. That one church probably had more persons involved in the formulation of the recent Hymnal: A Worship Book (GC/MC/COTB) than any congregation in the sponsoring conferences.

MBs have a very poor record in education, especially at the present time, so far as networking is concerned. The only major cooperative endeavor presently is Columbia Bible College in Clearbrook, British Columbia, where MB’s and GC’s cooperate in a very positive fashion. There may be a few current cooperative schools, but they are infrequent. J. A. Toews points out that in the past there has been inter-Mennonite {61} cooperation on a more local level such as Immanuel Academy (Reedley), Lustre Bible Academy (Montana), Salem College and Academy (Oregon), MEI (British Columbia), and MCI and Steinbach Bible Institute (Manitoba). 4 On regional and national levels we have, except for CBC, a very poor record.

MBs have an equally poor record in networking as local congregations. There are a few positive illustrations of networking with inter-Mennonites, such as the Point Grey Fellowship in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Manhattan, KS Mennonite Fellowship, but the list is very brief. It is only fair to say that many congregations and the conference as a whole have several times cooperated in larger undertakings such as Probe 72 and presently in Canada Vision 2000.


Mennonite Brethren abroad sometimes find it easier to network than do we in North America. MB’s in South America, along with immigrant groups of GC’s and EMB’s, have worked together closely in the difficult pioneer days in Paraguay, and such practice still persists. At times even united mission organizations have been formed by such inter-Mennonite groups. In Europe, MB’s generally have not cooperated with other Mennonites, due probably to their immigrant mindset. In general, MB’s have been very supportive of MWC, but one national conference (Japan) has stated its reluctance to become involved in this networking. MBM/S has for years cooperated with other groups in AIM enterprises.

Other Mennonite groups have generally been more willing to include us than we have been willing to be included. Perhaps the simple fact that GC’s and MC’s generally are more ecumenically-minded accounts for the fact that we are often invited to projects in which we choose not to participate. We have been asked, and we have agreed, to participate in projects like the Foundation Series curriculum project and have been given privileges that were very generous. We have sometimes declined to participate in initial stages of a work (example: Jubilee curriculum) but were welcomed gladly later when we wished to participate in the benefits. The other groups have usually not penalized us for our skepticism about networking with them.

MBs will find it increasingly difficult to network on at least a national level in the future. With the current cultural trend toward localism and a disregard for the larger conference entities, exemplified by the boomer/buster generations, we will not find it easy to rally the forces for cooperation at the denominational level. While it may well be an uphill struggle, we will need to press for an attitude that is pro-global, even though the current {62} opinions lean to the pro-local. Paul Kraybill has said it well:

The theological, cultural, social and geographical diversity of Mennonites brings into tension several elements of Mennonite polity and tradition. On the one hand, there is the question of faithfulness to one’s conscience, biblical understanding and tradition. In the noncreedal pattern of Mennonite ecclesiology, the congregation is essentially autonomous, and the authority of the district or region is limited. On the other hand a strong sense of community and interdependence, also arising out of the Anabaptist heritage, requires a commitment to one another as individuals, congregations, and districts, and indeed at all levels of church life with a semblance of unity and well-defined identity. “The tension between autonomy and community, between individual freedom and mutual responsibility will continue to influence the relationships among Mennonites. 5

We would probably do well not to forget the words of J. A. Toews when he suggested, in broad strokes, three reasons for continuing our inter-Mennonite networking:

  • The preservation of a common heritage.
  • The propagation of a common faith
  • The promotion of a worldwide brotherhood 6


  1. J. A. Toews, “Mennonite Brethren in International Endeavors,” People of the Way (Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1981), p. 190.
  2. J. A. Toews, Ibid., p. 189.
  3. J. Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (Herald Press, 1975), p. 183.
  4. J. A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church (MB Board of Christian Literature, 1975), p. 382.
  5. Paul N. Kraybill, “Inter-Mennonite Cooperation,” The Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. V (Herald Press, 1990), p. 449.
  6. J. A. Toews, “Mennonite Brethren in International Endeavors,” People of the Way (Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1981), pp. 193-6.
Dr. Marvin Hein is the Executive Secretary for the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.

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