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When hope meets history: Salford celebrates 300 years

10.30. 2017 Written By: Cassy Zetts 347 Times read

Photo: Tori Jones Long and Mary Jane Hershey celebrate Salford Mennonite Church’s 300th anniversary. 

Cassy Zetts is a member of Salford Mennonite Church, Harleysville, Pennsylvania. 

I started attending Salford Mennonite Church in 2014 and became a member on February 21, 2016. This September, I got to be a part of its 300th anniversary.

Salford used this time not only to celebrate its past, but to reflect, laugh at and challenge itself moving forward. Our celebration was centered around the theme “when hope meets history.”

Salford began its celebration by inviting author and theologian Brian McLaren to speak on September 10. He reminded our congregation that the lives of those who founded this church 300 years ago were probably more like the original disciples than like ours. We have developed so much over the past 300 years and we have adapted our lives, as Mennonites and Christians, to a new normal. He also challenged us to recognize that the people who will celebrate 300 years from now will have a completely new normal, too.

A common joke throughout the two weekends of celebration was that Mennonites fear change, but when we look to the past, we realize that we have changed. And we will continue to change as we move forward. McLaren predicted that if someone from our future congregation could talk to us now, he or she would say “First, don’t be afraid of change. Second, maintain your focus on formation for mission. And third, it would be – you can’t anticipate what is coming, but you can address the realities of today.” During this celebration when we were all looking backwards, it was a beautiful reminder to have courage in the present.

We continued celebrating Sept. 15-16. One of the weekend’s highlights was attending “These Are My People: Reflections of Salford at 300,” a play written by Ted Swartz of Ted & Company, in collaboration with congregation member Brent Anders. The play was performed brilliantly by Ted and a cast of Salford’s own members.

As a new member, I not only loved the play because it gave me insight into a history I was not completely familiar with, but also because I felt represented. Early in the play there is a scene called “The Mennonite Name Game,” in which the cast pokes fun at the thing that inevitably happens when you are greeted in a Mennonite context – everyone starts asking you what your last name is and making guesses about who you are related to. With a last name like “Zetts,” I’ve seen my fair share of befuddled facial expressions when I introduce myself.

My husband and I are not easily placed in the Mennonite family tree: he grew up in a Presbyterian church, I grew up Southern Baptist, and our first forays in the Mennonite world didn’t take place until college. After college, when we got married, we settled at Salford. Despite not being “culturally Mennonite,” we were immediately welcomed and embraced. Members invited us to meals, and as they got to know us, we got to know Salford.

The theme of hope and history fits Salford, not just on its 300th anniversary, but all the time. The congregation not only invites new members to be a part of its present, but they bring them into the fold through conversation partners, table fellowships and membership classes. In membership classes, new attendees learn about Salford’s history and Mennonite history more broadly.

Although I have only been Mennonite for a few years, through Salford, my connection stretches back 300 years. And even though I still have to play “the name game,” when I venture into a new Mennonite experience, now I have a good answer. “Hi, I’m Cassy Zetts. I go to Salford.” My connection to Mennonite history has been established. Salford has become my “Mennonite name.”

I was asked to help put together a photo booth for the big 300 year celebration on Saturday, Sept. 16, and while I hung up those big, metallic gold balloons that Millennials across the nation use to celebrate important birthdays (ours just happened to say “300” instead of “21”), I watched a cemetery tour taking place across the parking lot. At that moment, I was struck by Salford’s theme of “when hope meets history.”

I am continually impressed by Salford’s ability to celebrate the past and embrace the present. This is a tradition that they are also passing on to future generations. Children were embraced all throughout the celebration. They were given tours, joined the bands playing on Saturday, and during our service on Sunday, September 17, Dwight Alderfer presented them with small wooden acorns that he and his son, Dietrich, made from a nearly 300-year-old oak tree on Salford’s grounds.

Using the oak tree as a metaphor for Salford, the acorns represent all the new life being born out of our history. The 300th anniversary was a reminder to the congregation that we are all individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences, but we are all grounded in a shared and solid foundation of history and hope. At Salford, our roots run deep, but our acorns are just as important.
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