Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA
The Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church (Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA after the merger of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church) had its origins in the Ohio Mennonite Conference (1843; some accounts trace the origins of the conference to 1834) and the Eastern Amish Mennonite Conference (1893). These two conferences merged in 1927 to form the Ohio Mennonite and Eastern Amish Mennonite Joint Conference, later shortened to Ohio and Eastern Mennonite Conference. In 1978 another realignment occurred when the eastern congregations, located largely in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and New Jersey, formed the Atlantic Coast Conference of the Mennonite Church. The remaining Ohio congregations then formed the Ohio Conference by the present name.
In 1986 the conference had 11,136 members (80 congregations) and 164 ministers. The congregations were located in Ohio except for four in western Pennsylvania, one in Michigan, and one in Kentucky. The main settlements of these congregations were in Holmes County, Wayne County, the area around the town of Archbold, Stark County, the area around the town of West Liberty, Logan County, and Columbiana County Some small, rather isolated, rural churches were established in the late 1940s and 1950s. Since then greater effort went into beginning new congregations in urban and suburban areas. In 1987 there were four congregations in Cleveland.
The Kidron community in Wayne County served as a base for many of the conference's programs. Here are located the conference offices with staff serving in administration, youth ministries and nurture, and peace and service work. In the late 1960s a full-time conference minister along with overseers replaced the traditional Mennonite bishop system of pastoral oversight to congregations. Camp Luz, a Mennonite-affiliated youth camp, is located near Kidron, as is Central Christian High School (founded 1961). In 1987 the latter was a 200-student secondary school. The bimonthly periodical of the conference is The Ohio Evangel.
When strong leaders have emerged in the Ohio Conference in the post-World War II period, they have tended to move outside of the conference to where the church-wide institutions are located. For example, the Elida community (Allen County) produced the Augsburger family of leaders (A. Don, Myron, David), and the Oak Grove congregation in Wayne County produced outstanding educational and theological leaders in the Meyer (Albert J.) and Yoder (John H.; Mary Ellen Yoder Meyer) families.
The conference has had theological and social interaction with the three other main Mennonite bodies within the state including joint meetings with the Central District (GCM) in 1984. Four congregations had affiliations with both conferences. Church planting and mission efforts were increasingly coordinated between these two conferences. Various informal contacts with the Conservative Mennonite Conference and the large Ohio Amish population continued.
Several major developments occurred within the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church USA since 1986. The biggest change has been a reduction in size of membership, congregations, and revenue. In 1986, the conference had 11,136 members in 80 congregations, and by 2018 the conference had 6,500 members in 51 congregations. Although the numbers went up and down at various times, the overall trend was clear with corresponding loss of revenue. In 2002, the conference had receipts of $620,000 and by 2017, total income was $320,000. Multiple reasons might be given for this loss, but one was the polarizing relationship to the conference’s parent denomination Mennonite Church USA.
Two critical special delegate sessions were convened, both related to the 2001 merger of two denominations (Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite). With this development, Ohio Mennonite Conference renamed itself the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church USA. This seemingly innocent name change decision became contentious a decade later, mainly over the the issue of same-sex marriages. The first special session was in 2001, when the Ohio Conference congregations rejected a staff and leadership-driven proposal to move into a four-conference merger with the Indiana-Michigan, Illinois, and Central District conferences.
A second special delegate session was held in 2014 to consider a resolution to ask the denomination’s Rocky Mountain Mennonite Conference to reverse its decision to license a pastor who was in a committed same-sex relationship. The failure of the western conference to respond to such request would have meant Mennonite Church USA suspending this conference from denominational membership. The resolution failed to gain a two-thirds majority vote and various compromise resolutions also failed.
The net results of these disputes were that congregations decided to leave or join associations compatible with their marriage norms and biblical interpretation. A few joined the more liberal Central District Conference and most of those leaving joined a newly formed evangelical Anabaptist association called Evana or the Lancaster Conference of Pennsylvania.
Regular attempts were made to restructure the conference to provide a better delivery of services to the congregations and to have those services appropriate to the levels of funding available. Decisions were also made along the lines of greater consolidation into one office at Kidron in Wayne County or disbursement of staff in geographical areas.
Maximum offices and services might characterize the early 1990s with a centralized staff and George Bixler as coordinator at Kidron. Offices included a conference minister, minister of evangelism, Laotian outreach minister, youth minister, Ohio Evangel editor, bookkeeper, and various part-time officers. Overseers (formerly bishops) were to complement the conference minister in resourcing pastors in their ministries and especially congregations in transitions.
By the middle of the 1990s, another model called “New Walk” was adopted with decentralized staff in three regional ministers and the overseers were phased out. By 2002, still another model was introduced with a “Transformation Team.” With this plan the conference adopted a new constitution in 2007, which was organized around teams; a leadership group was in charge of overall policy, finances, and personnel. Other teams had names, such as “capacity building, ministry development, and resource,” the latter seemed to have been a catch-all for any projects.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Conference devolved from ownership and control of three regional enterprises. In 2009 the conference transferred ownership and management of Choice Books of Ohio to Choice Books of Great Lakes with offices at the Conservative Mennonite Conference headquarters in Irwin, Ohio. Second, Camp Luz at Kidron, Ohio, owned by the Ohio Mennonite Camping Association, took a looser affiliation with the conference in order to relate to a wider range of Anabaptist congregations.
And finally in 2017, Central Christian Schools moved from being an Ohio Conference-owned and operated school to becoming a patron school which can include Anabaptist congregations which are not members of the conference. These changes were largely driven by these institutions needing to relate to a larger Anabaptist congregational base than the Ohio Conference could provide. In 2007, the central offices moved from Jericho Road in Kidron to the Kidron Electric Building south of town. Conference minister from the mid-90s until the 2015 was Tom Kaufman.
Through the above changes, a conference continuity was the importance of providing assistance in pastoral transitions. Other issues dealt with were prayer ministries (publication of a periodical called Prayer Prompter), church planting projects, pastoral misconduct, Hispanic ministries, and finally becoming “missional.” The latter was a term adopted from the denominational agencies for outreach, service, and evangelism.
The conference published a history to cover the period from 1969 to 2010 which was to cover the period since Grant Stoltzfus’ Mennonites of the Ohio and Eastern Conference. It was entitled Like a Sturdy Oak; in 2018, the conference workbook stated that its primary purpose was “to cultivate healthy congregations through the equipping of leaders in the areas of worship, faith and witness” (page 3).
In 2017 the following 57 congregations were members of the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church:
|Agora Christian Fellowship||Columbus||Ohio|
|Beech Mennonite Church||Louisville||Ohio|
|Berean Fellowship Church||Youngstown||Ohio|
|Berlin Mennonite Church||Berlin||Ohio|
|Bethel Mennonite Church||West Liberty||Ohio|
|Central Mennonite Church||Archbold||Ohio|
|Chestnut Ridge Mennonite Church||Orrville||Ohio|
|Community Christian Fellowship||Rio Grande||Ohio|
|Crown Hill Mennonite Church||Rittman||Ohio|
|Emmanuel Mennonite Church||Monclova||Ohio|
|Fairpoint Mennonite Church||Fairpoint||Ohio|
|First Mennonite Church of Canton||Canton||Ohio|
|Friendship Mennonite Church||Bedford Heights||Ohio|
|Gilead Mennonite Church||Chesterville||Ohio|
|Good Shepherd Mennonite Church||Archbold||Ohio|
|Huber Mennonite Church||New Carlisle||Ohio|
|Inlet Mennonite Church||Wauseon||Ohio|
|Jubilee Mennonite Church||Bellefontaine||Ohio|
|Kalida Family Outreach Center||Kalida||Ohio|
|Kidron Mennonite Church||Kidron||Ohio|
|Lafayette Christian Fellowship||West Lafayette||Ohio|
|Lee Heights Community Church||Cleveland||Ohio|
|Leetonia Mennonite Church||Leetonia||Ohio|
|LifeBridge Community Church||Dover||Ohio|
|Lima Mennonite Church||Lima||Ohio|
|Lockport Mennonite Church||Stryker||Ohio|
|Maple Grove Mennonite Church||New Castle||Pennsylvania|
|Martins Creek Mennonite Church||Millersburg||Ohio|
|Martins Mennonite Church||Orrville||Ohio|
|Midway Mennonite Church||Columbiana||Ohio|
|Millersburg Mennonite Church||Millersburg||Ohio|
|New Mercies Community Church||Burton||Ohio|
|Oak Grove Mennonite Church||West Liberty||Ohio|
|Oak Grove Mennonite Church||Smithville||Ohio|
|Orrville Mennonite Church||Orrville||Ohio|
|Peace Mennonite Church||Elyria||Ohio|
|Pike Mennonite Church||Elida||Ohio|
|Pine Grove Mennonite Church||Stryker||Ohio|
|Primera Iglesia Menonita||Helena||Ohio|
|Salem Mennonite Church||Wooster||Ohio|
|Salem Mennonite Church||Elida||Ohio|
|Salem Mennonite Church||Kidron||Ohio|
|Salem Mennonite Church||Waldron||Michigan|
|Sharon Mennonite Church||Plain City||Ohio|
|Sonnenberg Mennonite Church||Kidron||Ohio|
|South Union Mennonite Church||West Liberty||Ohio|
|Southside Mennonite Church||Springfield||Ohio|
|Summit Mennonite Church||Barberton||Ohio|
|Sunnyside Mennonite Church||Conneaut Lake||Pennsylvania|
|Tedrow Mennonite Church||Wauseon||Ohio|
|Toledo Mennonite Church||Toledo||Ohio|
|University Euclid Christ New Testament||Bedford Heights||Ohio|
|Valley View Mennonite Church||Spartansburg||Pennsylvania|
|West Clinton Mennonite Church||Wauseon||Ohio|
|Wooster Mennonite Church||Wooster||Ohio|
|Zion Mennonite Church||Archbold||Ohio|
Gospel Herald (5 April 1988): 234-36.
Horsch, James E., ed. Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House (1988-89): 31-33.
Lehman, Celia Gerber. Like a Sturdy Oak. Kidron, Ohio: Ohio Conference Office, 2011.
Miller, Levi. Our People: The Amish and Mennonites of Ohio. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1983.
Stoltzfus, Grant M. Mennonites of the Ohio and Eastern Conference. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1969.
Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA website.
|Date Published||June 2018|
Cite This Article
Miller, Levi. "Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2018. Web. 20 Apr 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ohio_Conference_of_Mennonite_Church_USA&oldid=161022.
Miller, Levi. (June 2018). Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 April 2019, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ohio_Conference_of_Mennonite_Church_USA&oldid=161022.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 650. All rights reserved.
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