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Catholic-Mennonite dialogue focus of 2006 Menno Simons Lectures

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A long-time leader and educator in the Mennonite church in Canada will deliver this year’s Menno Simons Lectures at Bethel College, Oct. 29-31.

Helmut Harder, Winnipeg, Man., professor emeritus of theology at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, will speak on the overall topic “Mennonites and Catholics Conversing on the Way.”

He will give the four lectures Sunday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m.; Monday, Oct. 30, at 11 a.m. (Bethel College convocation) and 7:30 p.m.; and Tuesday, Oct. 31, at 7:30 p.m. All lectures are in Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center and are free and open to the public.

The titles of Harder’s individual lectures, in chronological order, are “Sharing Our Stories,” “Integrating Our Peace Witness,” “Comparing Our Theologies” and “Healing Our Divisions.”

Harder’s professional career has included 28 years teaching at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (which joined with two other Mennonite educational institutions in 1998 to form CMU) and nine years as general secretary of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. He represented Canadian interests during negotiations from 1989-99 that led to the integration of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church into Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA. He co-chaired the inter-Mennonite Confession of Faith Committee (1987-95) that developed the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

Harder was also co-chair of the international Mennonite-Catholic dialogue (1998-2003), in which representatives of Mennonite World Conference and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council met annually, in France, Italy, Germany and the United States, to discuss the centuries-old relationship between Anabaptist-Mennonite peoples and Roman Catholics.

The Mennonite history of martyrdom, sometimes at the hands of Catholic officials, dates from the 16th century when Anabaptism began in central Europe, and is firmly imprinted on Mennonites’ collective memory. As a result, Mennonites have historically been suspicious about, or at least ambiguous toward, the Roman Catholic Church. The purpose of the dialogue was to promote better understanding of the positions on Christian faith held by each side and to contribute to overcoming the prejudices that have existed since the 16th century.

In 2003, Pandora Press published the report of the Mennonite-Catholic dialogue, Called Together to be Peacemakers. The report includes the stated hope that individual congregations will study it and add their commentary on the issues raised.

In addition to being a major contributor to Called Together to be Peacemakers, Harder is the author of numerous books, including Guide to Faith (Faith & Life Press, 1979), The Biblical Way of Peace (International Mennonite Peace Committee, 1982), Accountability in the Church (Conference of Mennonites in Canada, 1985) and Understanding the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (CMBC Publications and Faith & Life Press, 1997).

Harder grew up on a fruit farm in Vineland, Ont., and taught elementary school there before continuing his education at McMaster University (B.A.) in Hamilton, Ont., Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., (M.Div.) and the Toronto School of Theology (Th.D.). His wife, Irma, is a voice and piano teacher. The Harders have three grown children and three grandchildren.

The John P. and Carolyn Schrag Kaufman family established the Menno Simons Lectureship Endowment to promote research and public lectures by recognized scholars relating to Anabaptist-Mennonite history, thought, life and culture, past and present. Since 1997, the family of William E. and Meta Goering Juhnke has also contributed substantially to the endowment. Both families have their roots in the Moundridge area.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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