Franconia Mennonites

The oldest Mennonite body in America, known for their simple living, nonviolence, and strong community ties.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Anabaptist
Founded: 18th century in the Franconia region of Germany
Ended: 2020 (merged with the Eastern District Conference to become Mosaic Mennonite Conference)
Location: United States and Canada (based in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, USA)
Size: 45 churches
Other Names: Franconia Conference, Franconia Mennonite Conference

The Franconia Mennonite Conference, established in southeastern Pennsylvania, is among the oldest Mennonite bodies in America, tracing its origins back to the arrival of its first members near Germantown, Philadelphia in 1683, with the first baptisms occurring a quarter-century later in 1708. This delay in baptisms reflected the community’s emphasis on the importance of authentic church order, a characteristic that defined the Franconia tradition throughout its history.

The conference has a rich history of adapting to new environments while preserving core Mennonite values, such as non-violent witness and Christian faith. Initially, bishops who had immigrated to the American colonies from areas like Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Berks Counties in Pennsylvania, endorsed a “brotherly agreement” in 1725, focusing on maintaining these fundamental issues. Over time, the American Revolutionary War tested the community’s convictions against warfare and oaths, leading to a shift of the geographic center of the conference from Skippack to Franconia in the 1840s.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Franconia Mennonite Conference experienced divisions and reunifications, particularly with the emergence of more progressive elements that led to the formation of parallel fellowships and, eventually, the merger with Eastern District Conference in 2020 to become Mosaic Mennonite Conference. This period saw the transition from a more controlled, traditional church order to a structure that emphasizes congregational initiatives, discernment, and a broader, more inclusive approach to church leadership and membership.

The conference has also been proactive in outreach and establishing institutions, such as a retirement home in 1914, mission boards, church schools, and engagement in international mission outreach, notably in Mexico. The 20th century brought significant changes in church governance and the inclusion of women in leadership roles, alongside a growing acceptance of non-ethnic Mennonites into the church community.

Controversially, in the 1990s, the Franconia Conference faced challenges regarding issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, leading to the removal of Germantown Mennonite Church from its membership in 1997 and tensions with Alpha Mennonite Church of New Jersey over its support for an openly gay pastor, highlighting the ongoing struggles within the conference to balance traditional biblical fidelity with contemporary social issues​​​​.

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