[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in November 2005. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

Stories Worth Remembering

John Ruth
John Ruth gestures toward a museum display at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pa.
A Continental Army General buried in a Mennonite Cemetery?

The answer is “Yes.” This was one of a host of fascinating facts revealed on a tour of Mennonite congregations and communities around Franconia, Pennsylvania on November 12, 2005.

The tour was one part of an EMU at Lancaster course – “The Story of Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonites: Meanings for the 21 st Century” – taught this fall by two eminent church historians, John Ruth and John A. Lapp.

For the thirty-five students who enrolled, Ruth and Lapp have woven a rich tapestry of facts, stories, conversations, analyses, and required lots of reading. The highlight of the course was two bus tours, one of Mennonite historical sites surrounding Lancaster, Pa., October 29, and the other around Franconia.

John Ruth led the Franconia tour that started with a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Center at Harleysville. The Center contains a museum, extensive archives and replica of a traditional Mennonite meetinghouse.

Later, as the bus rolled through the winding narrow roads of Montgomery County, Ruth entertained and informed with running commentary. There was the state penitentiary whose advent swallowed eight Mennonite farms. Here was Indian Creek where Ruth suspects an Indian ancestor of his lived.

Lois, Mary Lou, and Doris
Lois Shank Gerber, Mary Lou Houser and Doris Kolb pose behind the grave marker of Christopher Dock, an early Mennonite educator.

There was the Mennonite school organized partly to keep athletics at bay, now enjoying some of the best sports facilities around. Here was a giant oak tree thought to be 600 years old within a hundred yards of historic Mennonite meeting house.

Another prominent feature of the day was walking through old cemeteries, listening to intriguing stories. “Without our memory,” said Ruth, “we wouldn’t know who we are, personally or as a people.” Alternatingly humorous and poignant, the anecdotes and observations rarely stopped.

The tour concluded at Salford Mennonite Meetinghouse where Ruth told the story of his own sudden move back to the area many years ago to give his children roots in the soil where he grew up.

Oh, yes. The Mennonite cemetery where General Nash is laid to rest? That is next to Towamencin Mennonite Meetinghouse. Nash had died nearby from wounds suffered days earlier in a battle with the British. The quiet atmosphere of the large cemetery softened the irony of a military officer’s monument standing next to markers of hundreds non-resistant Mennonites.

The clash of convictions in this life had melded into common humanity before God in the life to come.

-article by Mark Wenger, director of pastoral studies at EMU at Lancaster