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Book tells story of Mennonites in two area counties

June 15, 2004|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

GREENCASTLE, PA.

In September 1987, the Mennonite Historical Association of the Cumberland Valley contracted with a writer to produce a history of the Mennonite Church in Franklin County, Pa., and Washington County.

Nearly 17 years later, the book was unveiled Monday evening at the association's 13th annual Benefit Banquet held at the Kauffman Community Center. More than 200 people attended.

Eastern Mennonite University Professor Emeritus Samuel Horst of Virginia worked on the book for 10 years, meticulously researching letters, diaries, old church records, courthouse records and other documents.

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In November 1997, writer and historian Edsel Burdge of Pinola, Pa., joined Horst in research and interviews.

"Building on the Gospel Foundation," which chronicles the area Mennonites from 1730 to 1970, was published recently by Herald Press, a division of the Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pa.

Merle Cordell of Greencastle, chairman of the historical association, said members began talking about such a book 20 years ago.

"This was a marathon, not a 100-yard sprint," he said. "This is the standard by which other works will be measured."

"This is a long-anticipated event after painstaking years of research and writing," Horst said. "It was a labor of love. I love the Mennonite Church."

'Debts we owe' others

Horst said he was baptized into the church 70 years ago, at the age of 15, and that he was glad to have a part in writing some of the church's history.

Burdge said that the book and its unveiling was the result "of a long accumulation of debts we owe other people.

"I made a living writing this for four years, and it was the most enjoyable living I ever did. Everyone we 'met' spoke to us through their testimony in their diaries, their letters and their obituaries," he said.

Burdge said after the event that he has always been interested in history, and that he had both a professional interest in the subject as a historian, and a personal interest as a Mennonite.

"Nothing worthwhile is ever done by one person, but by a community," he said. "We worked with a committee from the historical society. They kept us accountable and kept us on track. They gave us the academic freedom to write what needed to be told and they asked us the perennial question, 'when are you going to get done?' Well, we're done."

When good reviews of the book started coming in from people prominent in the Mennonite church, "it was like balm to a troubled soul," Burdge said.

The book includes information about conflicts and troubles within the church. "We didn't try to make anyone look bad," Burdge said. "But we were concerned if anyone would like us after they read this book."

Editor Levi Miller said that "Building on the Gospel of Foundation" is a major, substantive work. Although people may not read every word of the hardback, 928-page tome, "you will keep it for 100 years and pass it down through your family or church," Miller said.

The book is the largest one for Herald Press this year, he said.

Horst and Burdge autographed books after the event.

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