Mennonite Women USA Looks Back to Enhance Vision for the Future

by Ruth Lapp Guengerich

Mennonite Women USA (MW USA) is looking to the past to enhance a vision for the future. In preparation for a 100th anniversary celebration, MW USA has contracted with Anita Hooley Yoder to research and write an updated history of the organization and its forerunners, Women in Mission (WM) and Women’s Missionary and Service Commission (WMSC).

This project is partially funded by grants from The First Mennonite Church of Christian, Moundridge, Kansas, and from Oak Grove Mennonite Church, Smithville, Ohio. Hooley Yoder is a 2007 graduate of Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana and a 2014 graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary, Richmond, Indiana. She attends Friendship Mennonite Church, Bedford Heights, Ohio, and is a writer for the new Sunday school curriculum Shine as well as for other Mennonite publications.

Hooley Yoder said of this opportunity, “This project will be a valuable record of the history of Mennonite Women USA, something that gazes back and that future leaders can use as they discern forward direction. I want to tell this history in a way that raises thoughts and questions about the purpose and value of this organization and about the fellowship of women in the church in general—thoughts and questions relating not only to the past, but also to the present and future.”

Hooley Yoder will begin research in the archives of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) in both Goshen, Indiana and in Newton, Kansas. She will also interview women leaders and review past written histories in preparation for this new history. “I will draw heavily on the voices and perspectives of women who have been involved in MW USA and its various precursor organizations. I will gather those voices from interviews I conduct as well as publications and other historical documents.”

This research will communicate the strengths of the original organizations, the commitment of women to serve in ways available to them in the church, the vision women had to share their faith, and the persistence of women leaders to remain faithful and serve even when it was unpopular for them to do so.

Hooley Yoder further explained her plan, “I will also talk to more ‘everyday’ church women who participate (or have participated) in MW USA initiatives, giving special attention to diverse voices, including people who did not grow up Mennonite, those from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and women of different ages.”

This narrative history will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the beginnings of the two denominations’ women’s groups, building on excellent histories that were published in the 1980s by Gladys Goering (Women in search of mission: A history of the General Conference Mennonite women’s organization) and Elaine Sommers Rich (Mennonite Women: A Story of God’s Faithfulness, 1683-1983). No comprehensive history has gathered together the important stories of the past 30-40 years. Intended publication date is July 2017 at the MC USA Convention.

Individuals with stories to share related to this project are encouraged to email Anita directly.

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