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Passing on the Faith: The Story of a Mennonite School

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More than 50 years ago, in 1941, as World War II was gathering momentum and as the consolidated public school movement was changing the educational complexion of the country, Mennonites of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, decided to open their own high school.

Lancaster Mennonite High School has reflected the church's general move from farming to professionalism, from a ...
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Overview

More than 50 years ago, in 1941, as World War II was gathering momentum and as the consolidated public school movement was changing the educational complexion of the country, Mennonites of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, decided to open their own high school.

Lancaster Mennonite High School has reflected the church's general move from farming to professionalism, from a highly concentrated authority to shared leadership, from church services as the focus of social life to a broad range of music and arts and sports events.

A light social history, highlighted with numerous anecdotes and memories of many who studied and taught there.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561480517
  • Publisher: Good Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/1991
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 -- Charting a Different Course: Pre-1940

"Would you let the state clothe your children?" -- John Lehman

A Declaration of War

Local headlines on June 3, 1942, announced an all-night electrical blackout. Lancaster was staging an air raid. On Thursday, June 4, the United States Senate declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Germany, Italy and, of course, Japan, were already on the at-war list. Six months after Pearl Harbor, the war had disrupted everything. Gas, sugar, and steel were tightly rationed. The draft had yanked thousands into active duty. Bombs were exploding in Europe, ships were sinking in the Atlantic, and Lancaster boys were dying. Mennonite conscientious objectors, "conshies," were headed for Civilian Public Service camps. By the end of 1942 over 100 Lancaster Mennonites would be scattered across the country in alternate service projects.

On June 3 and 4, 1942, some 200 Mennonites gathered five miles east of Lancaster to declare war on briars and bramble. With shovels, picks, and saws they attacked a jungle of brush covering the old Yeates School, abandoned for 18 years. A crop of tall weeds had invaded parts of the 85-acre property. At home in the desolation, wasps and squirrels occupied offices and classrooms. Potatoes and mud covered the basement of an old classroom building and tobacco laths littered its attic. Traces of Latin remained on old blackboards. Some buildings were accessible only by crawling through tangled vines in basement windows.

Eighty-year-old contractor Jacob Hershey supervised the work frolic. Bishops dressed in bib overalls chopped down trees while youth on tractors pulled out stumps. Despite wartime shortages, Lancaster Mennonites were forging ahead with plans for a four-year high school. Cleanup efforts continued throughout the summer. Some repair jobs had to await the end of wartime rations. But, ready or not, the school welcomed its first students on September, 14, 1942.

Why were Pennsylvania Mennonites opening their first high school in the worst of times -- with restricted travel, scarce supplies, and limited labor? Lancaster County already had 38 public high schools scattered across its fertile farmland. Hearing of the proposed Mennonite high school, a newspaper editorial bluntly asked, "What's wrong with our public schools?" Who were these folks? And why were they starting a high school in 1942?

Mennonite Roots

Mennonite roots reach back to Reformation times in Europe. Dismayed by the pace of the Protestant Reformation, a small group in Zurich, Switzerland, baptized each other as adults in 1525. Already baptized as infants in the Roman Catholic church, they were dubbed "Anabaptists," or rebaptizers, by their opponents. Adult baptism was a daring step -- a capital offense punishable by death. The young radicals argued that the Bible, not civil authority, was their supreme authority. Taking the words of Jesus literally, they believed that following him in daily life meant living peaceably with others -- even enemies. Turning the other cheek, going the second mile, loving enemies -- these were the benchmarks of love in the kingdom of God embodied by the new movement.
Civil and church authorities mounted a campaign to exterminate the illegal baptizers who threatened civil and religious order. Hundreds of Anabaptists soon faced the dire choice of recanting or dying. Anabaptist hunters stalked the countryside. Embracing their nonresistant faith, thousands burned at the stake, starved in prison, and drowned in lakes and rivers. Others were driven into rural hideaways in Switzerland and southern Germany. The harsh persecution fueled the movement as it spread throughout Europe and etched a sharp line of separation between Anabaptists and the larger world. Eventually many Anabaptists became known as Mennonites -- named after a Dutch Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons.

Although many of the early Anabaptists were university trained, they blamed much of the corruption in the Catholic church on the "higher" learning of priests and pastors. In the Anabaptist view, these medieval shepherds had led their innocent flocks away from the practical teachings of Jesus. Disdaining formal theology and emphasizing simple biblical authority, Anabaptist congregations ordained pastors for the ranks of their own members. Such leaders served the community without training or pay. This distrust of formal theological education, the experience of stinging persecution by educated authorities, and living in rural areas for decades fostered a suspicion among Mennonites toward advanced education.

Early Schools

Searching for religious freedom, South German and Swiss Mennonites began arriving in Lancaster County by 1710. They tilled the soil, established churches, and over the years found their place alongside other "plain" groups with similar origins. Mennonites, like many of the immigrants, embraced practical education in colonial times. In fact, Mennonites established some of the first, if not the very first, schools in Lancaster County. Like those of other religious groups, Mennonite meetinghouses often served as schools. In other cases, schoolhouses stood adjacent to meetinghouses. One historian claims that every Mennonite meetinghouse was either used as a school or affiliated with one. Church and school blended together as Mennonites taught their own children and others from the neighborhood.

By 1834 some 4,000 private schools, organized by a variety of religious groups, dotted Pennsylvania's countryside. Built by volunteer contributions, these one-room operations were often crude, cold, and dismal by today's standards. They were, however, noble efforts to educate the young without the benefit of state direction or public taxes. Mennonites, as well as others, operated these small village schools for youth from various religious backgrounds. Looking back to the early 1800s, Mennonite minister Henry Garber nostalgically described these educational efforts. "The church and school house stood side by side, Christianity and education went hand in hand. The pastor often was the teacher and the Bible was one of the textbooks."

[continued]

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Table of Figures
Introduction
Chapter 1 -- Charting a Different Course -- Pre-1940
Chapter 2 -- Staking Out a Middle Ground -- 1940-1942
Chapter 3 -- Safeguarding the Church -- 1942-1943
Chapter 4 -- Drawing the Lines of Faithfulness -- 1943-1953
Chapter 5 -- Expanding the Vision -- 1953-1967
Chapter 6 -- Setting a New Direction -- 1967-1972
Chapter 7 -- Professionalizing the Program -- 1972-1983
Chapter 8 -- Partnering Together -- 1983-1991
Chapter 9 -- Celebrating Jubliee
Appendices
Appendix A, Educational Staff -- 1942-1992
Appendix B, Principals and Assistant Principals -- 1942-1992
Appendix C, Board of Trustees -- 1942-1992
Appendix D, Yearbook Dedications -- 1946-1987
Appendix E, Commencement Speakers -- 1943-1991
Appendix F, Titles of Class Songs -- 1943-1991
Appendix G, Class Mottos -- 1943-1990
Appendix H, Class Gifts -- 1943-1991
Appendix I, Alumni -- 1943-1991
Endnotes
Sources
Primary Sources
Interview Sources
Files of Correspondence
Bibliography
Index
About the Author
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