It’s an exciting time to be a Mennonite history organization. Interpreting the past, and making stories available for today’s conversations, builds a better world for everyone. A name change to Mennonite Life is one way we welcome new communities and generations into the Mennonite history movement.

Communication Changes

As we daily meet the public and engage with Mennonites and others, there’s often a misperception that “Society” means a closed group of insiders. To the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society founders in 1958, a society meant shared interest and collective action.

Our name change and rebrand is a renewed commitment to clear communication. We are open to everyone.

Mennonite Life improves our visual impact and is easy to remember. It smooths the way for digital and print communication that shines. It gathers history, storytelling, and contemporary conversations under one bright umbrella.

A Broad Welcome

Mennonite Life conveys the warmth of diverse communities and feels accessible to new generations. If you’re alive and you’re interested in what it means to be Mennonite, Mennonite Life is for you!

The new logo is a simplified mark that uses both vibrant and staid colors, representing a full range of expressions. Each piece is connected to the whole, while there is also “breathing room” between them. Some of the pieces look similar to each other, and some have their own unique flair. It is a multi-hued whole with space to flex.

A star orients and guides; it is a reference point on a journey to new vistas.

The logo also makes visual reference to textile arts and quilting traditions. Did you know quilting arts span many different countries, cultures, and traditions?

Our popular fall 2018 event, Piecing Together Traditions: African American and Amish Mennonite Quilting Fest (see photos), reminded us that what we sometimes see as Pennsylvania German niche has a much larger story. It’s exciting to examine comforting traditions and realize they are actually bridges to new learning and relationships.

Now, What’s What?

The Mennonite Life campus on Millstream Road in Lancaster offers a Visitors Center, formerly called Mennonite Information Center, which introduces guests to Mennonites and hosts the Biblical Tabernacle Experience. In our Collections building, you can enjoy the Mennonite Life Museum or research using our Archives and Library.

Our museum in Willow Street has gone by many names, starting with “The Hans Herr House.” Realizing the house was built by Christian Herr, and there was no definitive documentation on whether Christian’s father, Hans, ever lived there, the name changed more than a decade ago to 1719 Herr House & Museum. 1719 Museum simplifies the existing name.

At the 1719 Museum, you can immerse yourself in18th century life through a guided visit to the 1719 Herr House. You’ll also learn about the history and cultures of the first and longest inhabitants of Lancaster by experiencing a full-sized replica of an Indigenous longhouse, interpreted by your guide.

A Bright Future

The future of Mennonite Life builds on a richly varied past that, with your partnership, we conserve and share to welcome a bright future.

Our vision

is diverse communities connecting across boundaries, by knowing and valuing their own and each others’ stories of life, faith, cultures, and histories.

Our mission

is to hold, honor, and share items and stories featuring the lived experiences and faith values of Lancaster Mennonites and interrelated communities.

For Mennonites in Lancaster, loving your neighbor means welcoming new neighbors who recently immigrated. It’s just what we do. Every Lancaster congregation I’ve been a part of has proactively welcomed and helped immigrants resettle in Lancaster.

I remember the day in our high school Sunday school class when we met the two high-school-age daughters of the Ukrainian refugee family who had recently moved to the U.S. It was the late 1980s, and they had just moved into a ranch house the church-owned adjacent to the meetinghouse in East Peterburg. Elena and Oksana, their five other siblings and parents, found support, employment, assistance with learning English, and friendship in our 250+ person congregation.

For more than a decade my congregation in Lancaster city rented one of its housing units to a family that fled Liberia. And we volunteered in 2016 to welcome a refugee family to be resettled with the assistance of Church World Service. We were lucky the Syrian family matched with us made it to the U.S. just days before then-president Trump cut off immigration from majority Muslim countries.

This New York Times feature deftly weaves together a focus on food, immigration, and Mennonites’ contributions to a culture of welcome in Lancaster. If you read closely you’ll find a quote from Maher Almahasneh, the father of “our” Syrian immigrant family.

During 2017, Lancaster city took in 20 times more refugees, per capita, than any other city in the U.S.

In the four years since the Syrian family moved to Lancaster, my congregation has welcomed four additional refugee families, all from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 20+ family members between them. Supporting the school-aged children during COVID-19 school shutdowns took particular creativity and practical help.

Mennonites settled permanently in what became Lancaster County in the 17-teens. A home built by a Mennonite family in 1719 is the longest-standing residential dwelling in Lancaster, and you can tour it at our 1719 Museum. These Mennonites were able to survive in Pennsylvania due to the assistance of Indigenous communities and by being connected to trade routes and sharing resources with other families in their group.

It is fitting that Mennonites continue to express their faith in God and love for neighbors by welcoming and supporting immigrants and refugees.

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A Caring Revolution

Civilian Public Service (CPS) workers lived in camp settings...

Active Peacemaking

From violent debacle to active peacemaking . . ....

Mennonite Artists

Beyond folk arts, Mennonites contribute significantly to visual, language,...

Beyond folk arts, Mennonites contribute significantly to visual, language, and musical arts. Learn about Mennonite artists Warren Rohrer and Jane Rohrer, whose work was recently featured in a Penn State University’s Palmer Museum of Art exhibition “Field Language.”

Warren Rohrer, Field: Language 8, 1991, oil on linen, 54 x 54 inches. Collection of Paul W. and Judy S. Ware

Civilian Public Service (CPS) workers lived in camp settings and labored in assignments considered “matters of national importance” by the U.S. government. Some volunteered as human subjects for medical testing, some worked in the Forest Service fighting forest fires, some provided agricultural services such as milk testing for dairy farmers, and many workers served as staff in mental health institutions.

Thousands of Mennonite men who were drafted during World War II chose to participate in the war department’s alternative service program, Civilian Public Service, to fulfill their draft obligation. The men were classified as conscientious objectors to war. Mennonites teach that killing is wrong and understand every person to be a child of God.

Amish and Mennonites, alongside members of other peace churches, such as the Church of the Brethren, Quakers, United Zion, and the Brethren in Christ, stepped out of their relatively bounded communities and were plunged into another kind of bounded community in residential mental health settings. They witnessed patients treated as sub-human, with violence and neglect regular features of the mental health system. With their faith communities and families’ prayers buoying them, CPS workers provided care for years inside mental institutions called state hospitals and also in “training schools” for people with mental disabilities.

More than 3,000 Mennonites served two- or four-year terms in 26 state hospitals across 22 states. They contributed stories of what they experienced and witnessed to Life Magazine for its May 6, 1946, investigative reporting story “Bedlam 1946, Most U.S. Mental Hospitals Are a Shame and Disgrace,” which shocked the nation with an inside look at the horrors that people with mental illness endured in the system.

Conscientious objectors working in mental health settings had been educating their congregations throughout their service term, and when the war was over there was broad interest in Mennonite settings to help effect positive change in mental health treatment. Mennonites began mental health organizations all across the U.S. and helped to lead a caring revolution in how people experiencing mental illness are identified, supported in the community, treated in the clinical setting, and socially accepted.

Philhaven, begun in 1952 by Mennonites in Lebanon, Lancaster, and surrounding counties, was part of this caring revolution. Opened as a 26-bed inpatient facility that also provided community education and outreach, it grew to provide community mental health services at 27 locations. Wellspan purchased Philhaven in 2016,  Wellspan Philhaven continues to meet mental health needs.

From violent debacle to active peacemaking . . .

Anabaptism emerged in 16th century Europe under the same conditions that gave rise to the Peasants’ War, and many people showed sympathies for both.

Charismatic Anabaptist evangelists and inspired spiritual leaders popped up in many different places. Some emphasized Scripture, or the outer word, as the key to following Christ while others insisted the inner word – listening to the voice of the Spirit – mattered most. Activity in Switzerland, in South Germany/Austria, and in North Germany/the Netherlands loosely created the Anabaptist movement in the 1520s and beyond. Anabaptist means “re-baptizer” because these groups baptized adults on confession of faith. Every person had been baptized as an infant, so this was their second baptism.

Living under significant social and economic distress, many people believed they were facing the end times as described in Revelation. Anabaptists gripped in end-times fervor gained elected political control of a German city, Munster, declared it New Jerusalem, and called other Anabaptists to join them! In 1534 and 1535, as people poured into the city, leaders made bizarre laws supposedly received through heavenly visions. Everything went downhill fast!

The city’s expelled Catholic bishop returned with an army and lay siege that lasted more than a year. This harrowing episode in Anabaptist history ended with city residents starving and, finally, a two-day bloodbath that left thousands of Anabaptist dead.

Shortly thereafter, Menno Simons, a Catholic priest in nearby Witmarsum, Netherlands, left the priesthood and shepherded a group within the chastened Anabaptist movement. While other leaders continued to consider “the sword” a useful tool, in response to Munster, Menno called those following Christ to lay down violence and take up mutual, practical care for one another – within the community of faith and beyond. It is from Menno Simons that Mennonites get their name.

A significant way Anabaptist ideas have survived over 500 years has been through Mennonite communities teaching the “gospel of peace,” a way of understanding Jesus that features and doesn’t fringe peacemaking.

Even as Mennonites constantly struggle to live up to their own peacemaking ideals, they call all Christians to active peacemaking as followers of Jesus.