January 10, 2021

Prelude — My Soul Cries Out, sung by the Goshen College Chamber Choir

Lighting the Peace Lamp — We light the peace lamp this morning with the psalmist’s ancient words:

Remember your word to your servant,
    in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my distress,
    that your promise gives me life.
Psalm 119:49-50

Good morning and welcome to worship. Especially after the troubling events of the past week, it is so good to gather together again before God and to ground ourselves in the midst of these turbulent times. 

This morning, we are beginning a January series around Anabaptist stories and favorite hymns – and that feels so fitting! As others before us have done in chaotic times, we can find courage in hearing the stories of those who faithfully rejected violence in the past through conscientious objection; and we can draw strength from the music that touches us most deeply and helps to undergird our faith today.

This Sunday, we are grateful to Urbane Peachey who will share some background information on alternative service, and also to Milt Lehman who will highlight the collections of songs in various Mennonite hymnals through the years. Favorite hymns will be shared by Sarah Shirk and Laurel Martin. Brenda Sauder and her family will sing a song from the hymnal during children’s time and a coloring sheet has been made available to the children to accompany the song. During the sermon time, Dennis Clemmer and Joseph Gascho will share their alternative service stories. 

This is the second Sunday of the month when we usually celebrate Communion. However, in light of all the other good sharing planned today, we’ll have Communion next Sunday instead. 

Just a reminder to send any sharing requests to Leslie by email to leslie@communitymennonite.org or by text or you can use the chat. Then Leslie will pass these requests on to us all during sharing time.

Now let’s continue with this call to worship based on Psalm 119:50:

Call to Worship

Let’s pray:

We come to worship you, God, 
  and we long for comfort.
In your arms, this morning,
  can our distress subside?
In the name of Jesus,
  you hold us as your children
  and you promise us life,
  life eternal, life with you.
May these promises
  guide our thoughts and our prayers
  this morning. 

(https://carolpenner.typepad.com/leadinginworship/prayers-call-to-worship/, accessed 1/8/21)

Gathering Song & Reflections on Hymns

How Great Thou Art — Laurel Martin
A History of Mennonite Hymnals — Milton Lehman
Children’s Time Brenda Sauder & Family 
Printable coloring sheet for children
Offering —Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. Our budget supports our staff, our building, our congregational care, and our outreach commitments. We are grateful that this community can be a place to seek and give mutual aid and to reach out beyond our community, too. Thanks so much for being the church and giving to the work of the church.

God of grace,
we know you want justice rolling down like water.
Accept these gifts from our hands,
which we cast upon the waters of your love,
a generous ever-flowing stream 
feeding the hungry and
helping those in need.
Accept these gifts for the work of your church.  

(https://carolpenner.typepad.com/leadinginworship/prayers-offering/, accessed 1/8/21)

Scripture— Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Reflections— Alternate Service Background & Stories

Urbane Peachey— Background on Alternate Service

CMCL  Alternative Service, Summary by Urbane Peachey

I know a story about how Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren cooperated in changing a stream of history. They lobbied the U. S. government on behalf of  conscientious objectors seeking alternatives to military service. I served with MCC 1960-1986 in several different positions in Akron and overseas, just to locate myself in that stream. 

There was no provision for CO’s in WW I. CO’s were forced into military camps and worked in civilian jobs but often mistreated. I knew about this in my younger years. The minister who baptized me had been in a military camp and told us how he was dunked head first in a cesspool, until someone yelled, “Pull him out; he is going to drown.”

In the 1930’s Mennonites, Quakers and Brethren consulted frequently and urgently and met with two-thirds of members of congress for CO recognition. After failing to get support in Congress, A Quaker lawyer, Paul Comly French went to the War Department directly where his proposal was approved. He literally walked that agreement back to Congress where it was approved.  

President Roosevelt signed, the Selective Training and Service Act, in 1940 (also known as the Burke–Wadsworth Act.).  The legislation stipulated CO’s could “be assigned work of national importance under civilian direction.” But no one had any plan for that.

General Hershey, from the Selective Service office told Paul Comly French: “You fellows want to make up your minds as to what you want to do and how it ought to be done and then we are in a position to talk intelligently about it.” Peace groups rather quickly formed The National Service Board for Religious Objectors recognized as the channel  between government and peace groups.  Selective Service agreed for the HPC’s to establish  Civilian Public Service camps functioning 1941 to about 1947. 152 camps and units were formed. Canada had similar provisions for CO’s.  

CPS Camps provided alternative service work in land reclamation, work in Mental Hospitals, public health, hookworm control and smoke jumping fighting forest fires and other things deemed to be of “national importance.”

In the six and one-half years of the draft, nearly 12,600 young men were assigned to Civilian Public Service camps to perform “work of national importance.” Of these, 4,665 or 38 per cent were Mennonites. CPS units were phased out by 1947.  

After the war MCC was for  a time the third largest relief agency in Europe. In Germany 1946-1951, 135 North American MCC personnel served in relief work. Relief workers saw a need to rebuild houses for refugees. 

Calvin Redekop and Paul Peachey, MCC relief workers proposed and MCC approved the Pax program as a way to help rebuild post-war Europe. Pax provided housing for 270 German families, as well as a Mennonite Meetinghouse for the community in Espelkamp, Germany.  Pax expanded into Europe,  Africa, Asia, and Latin America in a variety of skills, often high risk frontier situations.  

Pax operated between 1951 and 1976; More than 1200 men served two or three year terms. PAX type work was then assimilated under one relief and development program.  Milt Lehman worked in Peace Section from 1961-1963, dealing with draft board matters.

Teachers Abroad Program

Between 1950 and 1975, more than a dozen African countries gained  independence from their European colonial rulers. Secondary education in Africa had been provided primarily by mission schools. Missionaries left with their respective governments, leaving an educational vacuum.  

In 1961 ff, there was a call from African churches and government ministries for secondary teachers.  Mennonite educator Robert Kreider, took a sabbatical from Bluffton College to study and organize Teachers Abroad Program (TAP). Kreider knew that there were large numbers of teachers graduating from Mennonite and other universities in the US and Canada. 

Over the next two decades, MCC placed 768 teachers in 27 countries through TAP, with the greatest number seconded to Christian and government-run schools in Africa. 

CPS, PAX, TAP and MCC and Mission Board programs generally 
created  an indelible legacy of service programs and institutions like Mennonite mental health facilities,  Mennonite Disaster Service, and more, with a vision for peace and justice across the church. Much of the leadership across the church  from 1940 to the present came out of that history.  
Joseph Gascho
 I was 18 when I started my two years of alternative service as a human guinea pig at Lankenau Hospital, just west of Philadelphia. I had things done to me that I’d not let anyone do to my kids. The biggest project in which I was involved was a 19-day complete bed rest, with human centrifuge rides and cardiac catheterizations before and after. The project was sponsored by NASA; the bed rest was to simulate weightlessness, the centrifuge rides the lift off into and return from space, the catheterizations to see how the simulated weightlessness affected my heart and circulation. The other projects were testing unknown drugs. These required that I have a stable metabolism, and thus I was maintained on a very strict low-calorie diet, (on these diets, I weighed 70 pounds less than now, I was so hungry I’d sneak into the kitchen to eat mustard). We had rice, tomato juice and apple sauce every evening, and that combination is still makes my mouth water. The drug testing included blood drawings. Sometimes we were required to collect all our urine. I had a locker at Temple in which I kept my urinal; I had no milk with my oatmeal in the morning before I did the hour and a half commute to school, so I’d hopefully not have to use that urinal. I had my vital signs taken mornings and evenings. 

Those were the negatives. The positives were that because I did not have 8 – 5 work to do, I could go to school, at least during the time I was not on the bedrest project, and during those two years, I got almost three years of college done. And the two years certainly showed me a lot about medicine, and made me a better doctor, as I could later tell a patient, “I’ve had a cardiac catheterization myself, it’s not that bad.” 

These two years I was at Lankenau were 1965-67, smack in the middle of the Viet Nam conflict. I think the doctors in charge of me were not happy that I was a CO, ducking out of Viet Nam. I was often kept on diets for weeks at a time, no drug testing in sight, and prevented from travel back to Virginia to see the woman I was dating, Barb. 

I served in alternative service because I thought it was wrong to be part of a system whose goal was to kill other people. It seemed to be an obvious choice. I had grown up with parents and a church that strongly affirmed this position. I attended Eastern Mennonite High School and took Bible courses that indoctrinated me in that position. 

And in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where there were many Mennonites, it was easy to put that belief into practice. All I had to do was go to the courthouse and sign my name to the sheet on which I had checked off the “conscientious objector” choice, and I could serve my required military time in alternative service. 

But in looking back I think that things were a more complex than that.

I wonder how informed my decision was. How much of my decision was a consequence of my upbringing? How much of it was a decision of my own? I would guess that less than 1% of all “Christians” are conscientious objectors. I was never introduced in any serious manner to the thinking of that vast majority of serious theologians who did not hold the pacifist position. Had anyone made me read Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who thought it was his Christian duty to asassinate Hitler? Had I been made to seriously consider what my reaction would be to someone threatening to kill a loved?  

And what about those other 18-year-olds who did not have the easy out that I had in the Mennonite mecca of Harrisonburg, Virginia?

And speaking of 18-year-olds—it doesn’t seem right that an 18-year-old should have to make important decisions like this. 

These are thoughts and questions that I still ponder. I thought it was the right thing to be a conscientious objector, and still do. There is not a draft now, our young men (and perhaps it will be young women) don’t have to make the decision to be a conscientious objector. But that time might come again. We as Mennonites have had it pretty easy for the last 70 years or so. We quickly forget the implications of choosing to be a conscientious objector back in the time of WW I. I think we need to more deliberately discuss the issue of conscientious objection. We need to continue to clarify why we think it is such a critical part of our understanding of how we are to follow Christ. 

The older I get, the humbler I become. I realize how much I am a result of the forces impinging on me and how I have been gifted by the grace of God.  
Dennis Clemmer — Sharing about Alternate Service


Songs of ResponseSarah Shirk’s reflection
O Thou in whose presence, HWB #559, sung by CMCL on March 17, 2019Sharing Time—  Email your prayer requests or reflections to susan@communitymennonite.org. They will be sent out by email by Monday morning. In addition to our prayers for those requests mentioned, let’s close now with this prayer by Carol Penner for our country and the world:

Strange Epiphany

It has been a strange epiphany this year, God.
We’ve had sudden insight into how fragile democracy can be.
Many of us are disturbed and shocked by the violence and mayhem
that filled the halls of power in Washington DC this week.
Spaces sacred to government were violated by intruders
carrying weapons and symbols of racism.
We see the injustice of how government responds to protests;
when black people marched peacefully last year
they were met with a massive show of force.
We worry about a president who both refuses to concede
and fans flames of violent protest,
and the many who support him unconditionally.
We pray for peace, we pray for democracy,
we pray for an orderly transfer of power.
And on top of this, God, we are in the middle of a pandemic.
So many people around the world are in lockdown.
As hospitals reach capacity,
and health care professionals are stretched to the limit,
we are desperately waiting for vaccines to be rolled out.
Give wisdom and speed to those working on this problem.
Help us to comfort the grieving,
support those who are financially strapped,
and reach out to those who are isolated and alone.
Thank you for illumination…for moments where we see you working.
Thank you for the resiliency of politicians,
who continued their work even after violent disruption.
Thank you for the courage of all who care for the sick.
Thank you that our congregation continues to function
even when we can’t meet in person right now.
Together this week, in this cold winter season,
we hold onto the promise of a Saviour born to us,
who comes to bring peace on earth,
good news to all people.  

(https://carolpenner.typepad.com/leadinginworship/, 1/7/21)

Closing Hymn God Be with You/Fill Me Now, by the family of Wendell Ressler’s brother: Winfred, Barb, Anna and Sarah Ressler


Hear now this benediction…
Go now in peace. 
May the love of God surround you – 
  at home and everywhere you may go.

 Worship Leader: Jay Martin
Reflections: Urban Peachey, Sarah Shirk, Dennis Clemmer, Laurel Martin
Tech Host: Ken Nissley