Wenger Mennonites

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*taken from Wikipedia, Old Order Mennonites

Groffdale Conference (Wenger) Mennonite Church is the largest Old Order Mennonite group to use horse-drawn carriages for transportation.  Their black carriages distinguish them from the Amish, who use gray ones.  They are mainly rural people, using steel-wheeled tractors to work small farms. Along with the automobile, they reject most modern conveniences, while allowing electricity in their homes. Initially concentrated in eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, they resided in eight other states as of 2002.

Belief and practice

The Groffdale Conference arose in 1927 at the conclusion of a seventeen-year disagreement within the Weaverland Old Order Mennonite Conference over use of the automobile. Half of the Weaverland conference, five hundred of the more traditional members, formed this new group in order to retain horse-drawn transportation. The name of the conference comes from the Groffdale churchhouse where Joseph O. Wenger led the first worship services.

Church members use modern self-propelled farm machinery and lawn mowers that have been refitted with steel wheels. Starting in the 1970s, some farmers used rubber belts and blocks to give wheels more traction, provide a smoother ride and reduce damage to public roads. This practice caused considerable debate within the community, which was resolved in 1999 with a compromise that allows limited use of rubber in the structure of steel wheels.  Hard rubber or pneumatic tires are allowed on bicycles and machinery not requiring a driver, such as walk-behind equipment and wagons. Use of steel wheels ensures tractors are not used as a substitute for automobiles to run errands or to make more extensive trips than are convenient with horse-drawn carriages. The steel wheel rule prevents large agricultural operations, reinforcing an emphasis on small farms that provide manual labor for all of the family members.

The German language is used in worship services and Pennsylvania German is spoken at home. They meet in plain church buildings to worship, but do not have Sunday schools. Practicing nonresistance like other traditional Mennonite groups, during World War II they advised young men not qualifying for a farm deferment to accept jail terms instead of Civilian Public Service, the alternate used by other Anabaptist conscientious objectors

Demographics

In 1954 the group consisted of 1,200 members.  As of 2002, the conference has grown to 49 congregations with 8,542 members and a total population of 17,775.  The population has an annual growth rate of 3.7 percent, doubling about every 19 years.  About half live in Pennsylvania, with additional congregations in Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.

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