Friday, February 06, 2009

Menno House 50th Anniversary

Photo by Lowell Brown, used with permission.

Sometimes around Christmas I do a post about the Lessons and Carols service I've organized for my church, Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship (MMF). This year I didn't work on Lessons and Carols. However, earlier in the year I spent months helping to organize the Menno House 50th anniversary celebration. Since I'm chairperson of the Menno House board of directors, I was up to my ears in the planning of this three-day event. That's not a complaint though. As a project manager by trade, I was happy to use my skills on a project that had nothing to do with software used in the financial services industry. I found that projects in the nonprofit sector require a somewhat different approach. But that's another post altogether! What I want to tell you about is the Menno House event itself.

September 19-21 marked the 50th anniversary of Mennonites at 314 E. 19th Street in New York City. The four-story townhouse on this site is currently known as Menno House. Since 1997 Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship (MMF ) has owned and operated Menno House as a home for Mennonite Voluntary Service and Mennonite Central Committee volunteers as well as students, interns, and workers at local service agencies. This continues the House’s 50-year tradition of sheltering Mennonite service personnel.

On Friday night, when the 125 current and former residents began to gather to celebrate the occasion, the House reverberated with the spirit of reunion. Mike Erb of Waterloo, Ontario (2006 resident) provided music which set a festive atmosphere in which to view the recent work of MMF painter Jayne Holsinger, whose paintings of rural Mennonite life were on display.

After a typical New York breakfast of bagels and cream cheese,

Photo by Lowell Brown, used with permission.

Saturday’s events offered a session on the history of 314 E. 19th Street.

Photo by Lowell Brown, used with permission

Saturday afternoon included a luncheon for former Menno House managers, a guided tour of Menno House, and a tour of Anabaptist sites in Lower Manhattan led by Dan Ness (1961-62 resident) of Lancaster PA. At 4 pm attendees reconvened for a rousing hymn sing led by North Bronx Mennonite Church pastor, Ruth Wenger (1977-78 resident). Pianist Francesco Lecce-Chong and violinist Amy Kauffman, regulars at MMF, performed a Brahms sonata.

The after-dinner presentation was the highlight of the Menno House 50th Anniversary Celebration. Singer/songwriter Gina Holsopple (manager 2001-03), performed original songs. Myrna Burkholder, Menno House manager from 1977-1982, was honored with an original calligraphy for her vision in implementing the residential structure that still guides Menno House.

Penn State professor Julia Spicher Kasdorf (resident 1983-85) read selections of her poetry set in the immediate neighborhood of Menno House.

Photo by Kyle Dean Reinford, used with permission

Professor John Rempel of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN, who served as MMF’s first pastor from 1989 to 1999 and led the congregation in the purchase of Menno House, presented the keynote address.

Photo by Kyle Dean Reinford, used with permission

Sunday’s activities started with a morning brunch during which former MMF interim pastor Stan Bohn of Newton KS led the group in reflections on peacemaking in our time,

Photo by Lowell Brown, used with permission.

and Michele LaRue, actress and theater writer-editor, read from the works of Mennonite writer now deceased, Warren Kliewer.

MMF’s 5 pm Sunday service concluded the celebration. Stan Bohn preached and Pastor Shirk Charles offered a touching re-dedication of Menno House.

By all accounts, the weekend was a huge success. On October 6, 2008, Mennonite Weekly Review, an inter-Mennonite newspaper published weekly since 1923, ran a very nice story which I helped to write.

On October 9, 2008, the Town and Village, an independent community newspaper, ran a story on my involvement with Menno House. That story and a big picture of me at Menno House were prominently displayed on page 2! That paper isn't online, but you can see a pdf of the article by clicking on the title below.

On October 21, 2008, The Mennonite, a semi-monthly magazine for members of Mennonite Church USA, also made mention of the event.

I am very pleased to be involved with the Menno House. It has enabled many people to do a lot of good. Planning this event was certainly a huge amount of work, but it was very rewarding. Since this blog is the place where I share such things, I wanted to include, albeit belatedly, the 50th anniversary celebration of Mennonites in 314 East 19th Street.

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
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