Mennonites at EMU Lancaster

PeaceUnfamiliar with Mennonites? Mennonites are distinctive among followers of Christ in being among the group of “historic peace churches,” along with the Church of the Brethren and Quakers.1

While some EMU Lancaster students have a Mennonite faith or family background, most students come from other denominations and faith groups, or come with no religious formation. Regardless of their faith or heritage, students do “normal” college things here.

A focus on peace

As befits its Mennonite foundation, EMU’s main campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia, is known internationally for having cutting-edge graduate studies in peacebuilding and conflict transformation and restorative justice and for its emphasis on humanitarian service and assistance via all fields of study. EMU alum Leymah Gbowee was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2011.

EMU alumni are hard at work all over the globe within the core of service organizations like World Vision, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Mennonite Central Committee, and Heifer International. Several EMU Lancaster faculty and staff have lived and worked internationally with Mennonite Central Committe, the Peace Corps, and other service organizations, serving those in the margins. Others have served nearby, staffing and working with Christian camps, churches and organizations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.

Things you won’t find

People in very conservative branches of the Mennonite traditions often wear distinctive clothing – for women, head coverings and dresses and for men, white shirts and dark, loose slacks with special suit coats, especially on Sundays. Some even use horse and buggies in order to remain “separate from the world.”

EMU, however, is an institution of Mennonite Church USA, whose members cannot be identified by their appearance. Most live in modern homes, drive fuel-powered vehicles, and pursue higher education and professions as do other Americans. Here’s a breakdown of the Top 10 Amish and Mennonite myths.

You may occasionally see an old-style-clothed Mennonite on campus. For that matter, you may occasionally see a female Muslim student fully covered except for her face (and, very occasionally, a Muslim student who only reveals her eyes). EMU attracts students from around the world.

Plainer dressing and “EMU-style” Mennonites do share common 15th century Anabaptist roots and values, including a commitment to nonviolent peacebuilding and forgiveness, as evidenced by the Amish community’s powerful response to the tragic shooting of several school girls in Nickel Mines, Pa.2

Things you will find

Technology and media

Digital Media and Photography Studies at EMUWhile the use of technology is limited in plain Mennonite communities, it’s not here. You’ll see students listening to iPods, working on laptops, and studying computer technology with top-quality equipment. Among Christian colleges, EMU is one of the few to offer an undergrad major in photography.

  • Class discussions on policies and issues pertaining to peace and conflict, servant-leadership, environmental sustainability, Godly relationships, care for each other, community service, pledging allegiance to a nation (or not), and ethics in the workplace. EMU is committed to preparing students for life, not just for a job. Spiritual development is taken seriously. Listening respectfully to the viewpoints of others is part of the campus ethos.
  • Students working in the field and getting real-life experience. Field experience and internships are required for many majors.
  • The “name game.” Among the Mennonite portion of campus, students may play an informal “name game” when meeting each other. They discover common relatives, home churches and more. If your last name is a traditional “ethnic Mennonite” name like Yoder, Garber or Swartzendruber, you’ll play the game a lot! Last names are increasingly diverse on campus, however, so everyone can expect to build new connections, regardless of their last name.

Not Mennonite? So what?

About half of all EMU undergraduates are other-than-Mennonite, so you shouldn’t feel excluded. Mennonites at EMU and peace-oriented Catholic and Protestant groups have much in common. Actually, nearly 40 religious groups are currently represented on campus from all over the world.

Just one thing to keep in mind: plainer dressing and “EMU-style” Mennonites do share common 15th century roots in what is called the “Anabaptist” tradition, including a commitment to nonviolent peacebuilding and forgiveness. As an example of how this has been lived out, read about the life of EMU alumnus Glen Lapp.

To learn more about EMU’s supporting denomination, Mennonite Church USA, visit www.thirdway.com/Menno or www.mennoniteusa.org.


1. Historic Peace Churches. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
2. Amish school shooting: Amish community response. Wikipedia.com