10 years later ...
As co-chairs of the integration committee, Dorothy Nickel Friesen and John C. Murray played key roles in the process.by Everett J. Thomas
Ten years ago, delegates to General Conference Mennonite Church (GC), Mennonite Church (MC) and Conference of Mennonites in Canada (CMC) gatherings voted to create Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.
John C. Murray and Dorothy Nickel Friesen. Photo by Vada Snider.
The process leading up to this vote—first called “merger,” then “integration” and finally “transformation”—was coordinated by the Integration Committee. Pastors Dorothy Nickel Friesen and John C. Murray co-chaired the committee, which did its work from 1995 to 1999. A decade later, we asked these leaders about that process and where Mennonite Church USA, in particular, finds itself now.
During most dimensions of the merger process, church politics required dual leadership on such committees. Nickel Friesen was GC, at the time senior pastor at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio. Murray was MC, at the time pastor of Emma Mennonite Church in Topeka, Ind. But each had a long history of conference and denominational leadership before being tapped for the Integration Committee.
Nickel Friesen, originally from Mountain Lake, Minn., served as a pastor in several congregations and an administrator at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., beginning in 1982. From 1983 to 1989, she was a member of the GC Commission on Home Ministries and served as its chair the last three years. She preached at churchwide conventions in 1993, 1999 and 2003 and taught seminars at the 1983, 1986, 1989, 2007 and 2009 conventions. Prior to her work on the Integration Committee, she published eight articles in The Mennonite’s predecessor publications, Gospel Herald and The Mennonite (GC).
Nickel Friesen is now retired. But after her stint with the Integration Committee, she moved to Newton, Kan., where she served as conference minister for Western District Conference from 2003 to 2010. She is married to Richard Friesen; they have two adult children and two grandchildren. She says her hobbies include reading, seeing movies, eating chocolate and “taking afternoon naps—especially on Sunday.”
Nickel Friesen is quick to point out that the decision to form Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada came to fruition after decades of work.
“One of the historical notes [for] newcomers,” she says, “is the ongoing, intentional dialogue regarding integration that the Integration Committee inherited: Integration Exploration Committee (after Bethlehem ’83), the two-country structure committees that worked during 1997-1999. … There were many consultations. … In short, [the] Integration Committee had many groups working and reporting and planning and proposing. My stack of Integration Committee papers is over a foot tall.”
Nickel Friesen uses a metaphor to describe the nature of the Integration Committee: “I compared the Integration Committee to the antennae of a caterpillar, the head of the caterpillar as the general boards and then all the segments of the caterpillar as various parts of the church moving at their own pace. The Integration Committee surveyed the landscape and kept moving to a new reality, and other parts of the church sometimes followed but at slightly different angles and speed.”
John Murray, originally from Kouts, Ind., has been in pastoral leadership since 1982. He served as president of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference from 1991 to 1994 and preached at the churchwide convention in 1999. He also had published four articles in Gospel Herald before beginning as Integration Committee co-chair and was an occasional chapel speaker at Mennonite colleges.
In 1999, at the end of the Integration Committee assignment, John moved to Hesston, Kan., where he continues to serve as lead pastor at Hesston Mennonite Church. He has also taught several classes and been a guest lecturer at Hesston College. One of his passions is Menno Clinic in Andra Pradesh, India, where John is a charter member of the board of directors. John is married to Krista A. Miller Murray, and they have three children.
John is quick to point out that he and Nickel Friesen may have been the co-chairs of the Integration Committee, but they were not afforded much leadership authority. He describes their role as facilitators to let changes happen while others made decisions.
Read a Q&A with Dorothy and John here.
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