AS I WAS WRITING THIS BOOK, an unexpected phenomenon occurred. The list of women whose stories needed to be told grew by leaps and bounds. Whenever I described the project, people invariably began asking or telling me about specific women. Was she in the book? Would her story be told? Did I know about their mother? Their Sunday school teacher? The church planter? The networker? The evangelist? It soon became apparent that there were dozens of Lancaster Mennonite women whose stories belonged in this twentieth-century review of women in leadership.
Some of the women described to me labored patiently behind the scenes for many years, giving Lancaster Conference-related congregations the best part of their many-layered lives. Some were overshadowed by better-known husbands. Some sought fulfillment in other careers, working as nurses, teachers, and small business owners. Some left the conference, finding open doors in other denominations and other Mennonite Church conferences. All were part of the greater narrative of women in leadership.
Many additional women leaders continue to fill pastoral positions in Lancaster Conference churches. Some are recognized, some not. A few have deaconess credentials; many others are content as lay leaders. Women with and without credentials bring blessing and hope to the countless people who enter the doors of mainstream and far-afield Lancaster Conference congregations. Along with male counterparts, these women extend Gods grace and love to their own people and the world, conveying the churchs promised ministry of healing and reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
Among contemporary Lancaster Conference leaders are four women in addition to Lena Horning Brown (see chapter 10) whose names were submitted to the Bishop Board for ordination during 1998Nadine Smith Bulford, Mercedes Gonzalez, Theda Good, and Ruth Wenger. At the 1998 Fall Conference Meeting held at Weaverland Mennonite Church, the three bishops who represented these women stood and gave impassioned pleas for the Conference to resolve its position regarding the ordination of women. The bishops requested permission to ordain the women, each of whom actively serves in a pastorate directed by the Lancaster Conference.
Monroe Yoder, the bishop of the New York City district, spoke for both Mercedes Gonzalez and Ruth Wenger. He named Mercedes and told her story. In 1979 two of her sons-in-law were serving as pastors of Iglesia Unida de Avivamiento in Brooklyn, one of nineteen Mennonite churches in New York City. Mercedes agreed to become a church-appointed missionary, assigned to make regular home and hospital visits.
A gray-haired grandmother with a fire for evangelism and the work of the church, Mercedes said yes when several people she was discipling asked her to pastor a small, independent Pentecostal congregation in the neighborhood. The pastor had gone to Puerto Rico for several months. When the pastor returned, the congregation pled for Mercedes to remain in leadership because she had mothered them into the church.
Due to her connections to Avivamiento, Mercedes approached the Lancaster Conference Mennonites for help making the decision. Monroe negotiated a settlement with the Pentecostal leaders, and a Mennonite church planting was born. Located in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, Iglesia Cristiana Valle de Jesus ministers to about 100 people, many of them neighborhood children and young people. The New York Council of Mennonite Churches recognizes Mercedes as pastor of the congregation, and the Lancaster Conference calls her a church planter. Her congregation has requested that she be given pastoral credentials.
Freeman Miller, bishop of the Philadelphia district, spoke for Nadine Smith Bulford. With her husband, Charles, Nadine pastors New Mercies Mennonite Church in the East Falls section of Philadelphia. A fifth-generation woman pastor, Nadine holds ministerial credentials in the Church of God in Christ, the United Holy Church, and the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God. Since coming to the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, she and Charles have focused on planting a kingdom congregation, calling people into right relationship with each other. Nadine is also director of North Philadelphia Works, an employment and education career center that helps people make the transition from welfare to work.
Harold Reed, bishop of the Lancaster City district, spoke for Theda Good, a member of the pastoral team at ACTS Covenant Fellowship. She and Ruth Wenger, pastor of North Bronx Mennonite Church, both come from more traditional Mennonite backgrounds. The congregations requesting their ordination, however, are far from traditional Mennonite churches. Each has a passion for the poor and for bringing people into the presence of God who might not feel at home in old-style Mennonite country churches.
The tension between the city churches each of the four women represent and the rural Mennonite leaders to whom they look for credentials echo stresses evident earlier in the twentieth century. Some of the struggles these women face are a mirror image of the search for understanding that emanated from the Philadelphia Home Mission in the 1910s and 1920s, the Tanganyika Mennonite Church in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Diamond Street Mennonite Church in the 1940s and 1950s.
Just as their forebears prayed for the women of the
Philadelphia Home Mission, the church in Tanganyika, and
the people at Diamond Street, women and men in
todays Lancaster Conference also pray for
Gods direction and wisdom to touch both the women
leaders and those who must make the difficult decisions
about ordination and the church of tomorrow. By design,
this book has no concluding chapter. That chapter will be
written by others as God continues the all-consuming work
of regeneration and renewal around the question of women
in leadership. Perhaps the few stories told here will
become a jumping-off point for scholars and researchers
to discover women leadersboth young and oldin
Lancaster Mennonite Conference and beyond.
Copyright © 1999 by Herald Press and used by Pandora Press U.S. with Herald Press permission