How to celebrate 500 years

Faith and Life Commission workshop explores how to observe 2025

By Gordon Houser

Leaders from other world communions brought ecumenical greetings in plenaries. PHOTO: Merle Good

Leaders from other world communions brought ecumenical greetings in plenaries. PHOTO: Merle Good

Mennonite World Conference held its first assembly in 1925 – the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Anabaptist movement. With the 500th anniversary only 10 years away, many people are wondering how MWC plans to commemorate it.

A workshop 24 July 2015 at the MWC Assembly in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania., addressed that question. “From Reformation 2017 to Anabaptist 2025: How Should the Global Church Commemorate a 500-Year Birthday?” provided some hints of what may happen.

Hanspeter Jecker, Astrid von Schlachta and John D. Roth convened the workshop. They asked for suggestions from those in attendance and explained the context of this question.

In a word, the answer to how to commemorate this is, “carefully.”

“How we commemorate our beginnings helps us understand who we are today,” said Roth. He cautioned against exuberance. “We are celebrating a church division.”

Schlachta noted that the first MWC Assembly emphasized renewal, being Christocentric, the danger of materialism and the church being the first object of mission.

Roth pointed out that renewal is also of keen interest now. Back in 1925, there were few Anabaptists; now there are 1.9 million.

He said the planners of any events want to be in conversation with the 103 groups that belong to MWC as well as groups that are not members but related, such as the Amish, Old Colony groups and free-church groups in Germany.

Jecker said that any commemoration should reflect our theological commitments, ecumenical partnerships and our global reality. He presented a set of proposals that include a decade-long commemoration that runs from 2017 to 2025/27.

Tentatively called RENEWAL 2025, it would include a regional event for each of five continents held every two years. A possible schedule includes a meeting of commissions in 2016, General Council meeting in 2018, the next MWC Assembly in 2021 in Indonesia, another General Council meeting in 2025, and an MWC Assembly in 2027, possibly in Switzerland.

Goals could include intra-Anabaptist relations, ecumenical relations, global witness and self-understanding.

The Faith and Life Commission welcomes suggestions for how to proceed.

Gordon Houser is editor of The Mennonite, the publication of Mennonite Church USA.