In the waning days of 2019 a religious analysis gathered much attention in the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church camp. The well-crafted, sensitive, forty-one page paper was written in response to an Eastern bishop’s request for the reason so many solid Eastern families were leaving the Eastern fold. The writer took three years to complete the assignment. The title “Losing the Trust” alluded to the highly-acclaimed title Keeping the Trust which the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church had published in 2013. The paper, penned with obvious anguish, placed its diagnostic finger on seven reasons why so many families were leaving the Eastern fold.
Without arrogance or judgmentalism the paper laid out the following seven reasons:
1. Deceptive and manipulative ordination procedures
2. “A man ought not to cover his head,” referring to required hat-wearing as part of formal attire for men
3. “Stand by thyself, come not near to me, I am holier than thou,” focusing on Eastern exclusivity
4. There will be no changes, highlighting a desperate, deliberate attempt to mislead the unsuspecting, trusting members of the congregation
5. Using bishop statements to overthrow the Conferring Fellowship, throwing light on intentional violations of written rules and procedures
6. When people can’t talk, pointing out that loss of trust amplifies itself in a climate of fear and intimidation
7. Why the bishops? In essence baptismal vows have morphed into promises to support the bishop board decisions in the effort to promote the growth and unity of the EPMC
The paper insisted that as individuals the bishops were not bad at heart; their problem, they feared each other at the expense of fearing God. They needed to help God make right things happen. The paper portrayed the bishops as The Emperor Who Had No Clothes. Such is the consequence when leaders lose the trust of those they lead. Understandably, the version that circulated had no signature, even though the public was led to understand the author had identified himself to the bishop who had given him assignment.
Leo Tolstoy said it well, “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
History continues to unfold…
Aaron Shank’s choices in leadership example spared his part of the flock from such treatment. He chose servanthood leadership that expressed vision, wisdom, and Christ-honoring leadership long before 2019. He paid a high price for his courageous leadership during the formation of the Pilgrim Mennonite Conference and he kept repeating, “There should have been a better way…” He did not need to experience the final painful consequences, because he was trusted by his people throughout his life. He trusted Christ first and understood by faith that eventually Christ and His Way is blessed indeed.
Chester Weaver January 28, 2020