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Lutheran-Mennonite dialogue planned for Bethel College

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A long overdue conversation between Lutherans and Mennonites is planned for 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 119 N. Elm, McPherson. The meeting, hosted by Trinity Lutheran Church and First Mennonite Church of McPherson, is the brainchild of Jim Juhnke, retired history professor at Bethel College in North Newton. "For decades the Swedish Lutherans around Lindsborg and Marquette and the German/Swiss Mennonites from Moundridge and Inman have lived together in McPherson County. But seldom have they taken time for serious discussion of religious ideas and church practices. This conversation is long overdue," Juhnke says.

The conversation coincides with an official ecumenical dialogue between Lutherans and Mennonites scheduled for Oct. 17-19 on the Bethel College campus in North Newton. Four scholars and church leaders will represent each denomination for the fourth of five meetings, which have taken place during the last couple years. The final meeting will be held next March in Valparaiso, Ind.

The main goal of the dialogue, according to Juhnke, has been a "healing of memories" arising from the 16th century Reformation, when Lutherans and Anabaptists were bitter enemies. The Augsburg Confession of Faith, which remains the authoritative doctrinal statement for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, includes condemnations of the Anabaptists. One issue for the official dialogue is the status of those condemnations as understood by 21st century Lutherans.

The dialogues have included discussion of theological issues and church practices. The October meeting in Kansas will focus on baptism. Lutherans practice infant baptism. Mennonites practice adult baptism. "One concern is whether a Lutheran who joins a Mennonite church should be required to be baptized as an adult," Juhnke says.

The ecumenical dialogue at Bethel College will include four Lutherans: Paul Schreck from Chicago, Ill., David Truemper from Valparaiso, Ind., Janyce Jorgensen from York, Pa., and Russell Meyer from Lakeland, Fla. The four Mennonites are Tom Finger from Chicago, Ill., Gayle Gerber Koontz from Elkhart, Ind., John Roth from Goshen, Ind., and James Juhnke from North Newton.

The Oct. 17 public meeting in McPherson will include a report from the official dialogue teams, and there will also be opportunity for small group exchanges between those who attend.

"It’s important for us to talk with others about what we believe and to find areas of commonality," Juhnke says. "I hope this is just the beginning of the discussion for many folks."

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