Lancaster City, PA / Wikimedia

Case Study of Habecker Mennonite Church

A Wall-less Church

How to plant indigenous churches or revitalize churches has been a subject of discussion for some time in the Mennonite Church as it has been in other denominations that have an interest in church planting and church renewal. Church planting movements in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference were sometimes more successful overseas than at home. Research shows that churches are aging and, as in other denominations, their days are numbered.

There is an exception to the rule. Habecker Mennonite Church has been considered one of the oldest Mennonite churches and one of the culturally and ethnically most homogeneous and traditional congregations in Lancaster County, but it has experienced significant renewal within the last few years. A discouraged group of a few older traditional members of Swiss-German descent became a thriving multicultural congregation within less than a decade. What were the factors of this amazing transformation? The answer is threefold:

  1. A church that sees its walls not as a way to protect itself from the influence of the stranger but as a refuge for the stranger.
  2. A people who are willing to see the past not as a stumbling block but as a stepping stone and invitation for the new thing God wants to do.
  3. A leadership that values the Word of God and the vision of God who is on a mission.

A discouraged group of a few older traditional members of Swiss-German descent became a thriving multicultural congregation within less than a decade.

The Context

Habecker Mennonite Church
Habecker Mennonite Church

Happy, chattering voices of young children, singing in strange languages, old and young relating, people gathering together from various backgrounds, smells of Asian cuisine, and God’s Word spoken through translation are some of the things one experiences at Habecker Mennonite Church. What is strange about it is not the international flavor of a Mennonite congregation or its diversity in age or ethnicity, but the setting. The setting is not the inner city of Philadelphia or New York, as one might expect, but cornfields in the heart of Lancaster County. No more than forty Anglos and approximately three times as many immigrants from Myanmar, who came to Lancaster through Church World Service, gather together for worship, prayer, listening to the Word of God, and sharing life over meals. This happy, vibrant, upbeat, and diverse setting is a far cry from what one would have found even three or four years ago. This congregation consisted of a small group of older people feeling rejected and defeated and ready to close its doors.

What happened? How could the church experience this kind of renewal within such a short time? This case study will retell the story of its three hundred year existence focusing primarily on the last century in three parts: (1) the walls come down; (2) gathering and dispersal; and (3) a new beginning.

The Habecker Story

Habecker Mennonite Church, with its three-hundred-year history, is one of the oldest Mennonite churches in the United States. The web archives state the following:

This Mennonite church was built on a plot of land purchased from Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn, in 1724. This was twenty-five years before the Habeckers immigrated to America from Switzerland. The original deed states that the land was to be used by the Anabaptists for a place of worship, a school, and a burial ground. The first church structure was a log cabin with no lights or heat, but this was replaced with a brick building in 1820. Until the later part of 1945, the church family met every other week for Sunday worship and the ministry was shared with Masonville and Mountville congregations. However, in the early 1960s, each of the three congregations obtained a minister ordained specifically for that congregation.1

1. The Walls Come Down

First Steps in Inviting the Stranger

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? (Isa. 58:6)

In the early 1950s the Charles family reached out to immigrants from the Ukraine, who were displaced after WWII. Miriam and Arthur, then only a few years married, opened their home, sponsoring a family of four. In 1952 they took in yet another couple. Miriam remembers in her memoirs, My Offering of Thanks2, that “they went along with us to church and the church community responded warmly to the ‘strangers in our midst’ with clothing, food and invitations to their homes.” With tears in her eyes she recalls the fruit of their labor of love, when one of the women they hosted made a commitment to Jesus.

Even though Miriam thinks that the congregation was helpful in the way they supported the immigrant families, she acknowledges that she and her husband were an exception to the rule by taking this kind of interest in outsiders. She says, “We were a bit different and I don’t know why.”

Spiritual Awakenings

Another important as well as controversial development occurred in 1952 when a small group of three families began to gather at Miriam’s house for prayer early on Sunday mornings with the purpose of studying the Word and learning how it applies to situations in life.3 These gatherings were part of a larger movement which came to be known as “The Fellowship.” The Holy Spirit was emphasized in these meetings and prayer for receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit was offered.

She says that there was a period of time when church leaders opposed them. Leaders would come and be there with them without affirming them or “scolding them.” But as Miriam puts it, “there was a wall between us.” Nothing was said directly but they could “feel it.” The deacon’s wife was the only one who would openly question them. She spoke to Miriam expressing her concern that they did something wrong behind their back. She cautioned them that this might lead to a church split. “They thought we are starting another church,” Miriam remembers.

That was not their intention, however. On the contrary, in spite of the opposition they grew in their love of Jesus and for the church. When asked about the difference between the teachings they received at “The Fellowship” versus the teachings at the church services, she said that both preached the Bible but the church ministers were very much rule-oriented. In contrast she describes “The Fellowship” as a “Holy Spirit movement.”

Times of Gathering and Scattering

In the following years, the congregation went through much upheaval. Karen Sensenig, a soft-spoken pastor in her mid-fifties, remembers accounts from the older people in the congregation. These were stories of much emotional pain and even division. Specifically, she heard members from her congregation share with her about Bishop Ben Eshbach, a church leader in the 1960s. He denied communion to members who wore ties or violated the “dress code” in some other form. A more liberal branch of the congregation eventually left the church. Those who remained still did not live up to the bishop’s expectation. Eventually Ben Eshbach left with a group of those he considered faithful and started a church on his own.4 He left behind a tiny group of forty dejected church members. Ivan Lehman followed as bishop and was a man who cared deeply. Miriam describes him as warm and gracious. She stretched out her arms in a welcoming gesture to indicate what he was like.

2. Gathering and Dispersal

In 1990 a new pastor, Randy, joined the church. He was very missions-minded and instilled this passion into his four children. His son, then a teenager, was influential in bringing his classmates into the congregation. A coffee house ministry called “The Arch” was started. Miriam recalls, “There were many baptisms of young people whose parents were not believers. The church grew!”

However, many of the new youth, Karen Sensenig says, came from Manor Brethren in Christ Church. That church was unhappy about the youth ministry. Their church leaders perceived it as “stealing their sheep.”5 Even the youth within the church became divided: those who grew up at Habecker Mennonite Church versus those who were new. These new young people brought a more modern style of worship, which, according to Karen, stretched the more traditional members of the church.6 However, overall the older people accepted and welcomed the young people. “We loved Randy and had confidence in him and appreciated him and supported him because the church was growing. We were thrilled! We were glad to see young people in our congregation.”

Josef Berthold header hands

Then, one Sunday morning during a worship service, Randy announced his resignation. His abrupt departure felt to the congregation reminiscent of the former bishop, Ben Eshbach, who challenged the congregation to make a choice, whether they were with him or not.

A few months later, on May 22, 2005, a number of people left the congregation, scattering to various places. The youth scattered also. Some went back to Manor Brethren in Christ Church. Some never found a church home following that experience. Karen describes that five-year period of rapid and intense growth—and the equally fast and intense dispersal—as a “flash in the pan.”7 Miriam Charles vividly remembers the events after Randy and the young people exited the church on that early summer morning. “How we cried,” she says, still deeply moved. “Here we were again, all the young people gone.”

3. A New Beginning

The years following provided Habecker Mennonite Church with new hope and opportunities. After having an interim pastor for a couple years,8 Karen Sensenig, a former missionary to Africa, accepted an assignment to lead Habecker Mennonite Church as their pastor in 2007.

Karen listened carefully to the concerns of the congregation. She observed the deep sense of rejection of the long-time members. “We are the scum of the earth,” she heard one say.9 Another member said, “We didn’t think anyone would come and love us.”10 Karen’s willingness to serve as pastor in the congregation brought hope for a new beginning.

Part of what brought healing to the congregation was looking forward and outward. They decided to walk alongside eight Presbyterian and Mennonite Churches for several years with a program called “Partnership for Missional Church.”

The following is a description of what they did. The first year was one of “listening.”11 They re-constructed their past through a timeline of events and congregational interviews. Three habits emerged which they decided to carry on into the future: prayer, hospitality and service.

Year two was one of “experimenting.”

During this year, God sent us into the city of Lancaster to extend hospitality and service to the newly-arrived Karen12 people from Myanmar. Every few weeks another family or single person expressed interest in coming to Habecker church. We took risks in going places we had never been before and saw God at work in the world around us. We learned that the church is just as much a church when sent out as when gathered together. We adjusted to many changes in our daily lives and our worship services.13

At first the congregation turned down the request. They did not believe that they had what it took to handle that responsibility.

Karen claims that it was no easy task to become willing to take risks. She recalls how World Refugee Services came to her church asking if they would be willing to sponsor a refugee family of seven from Myanmar. At first the congregation turned down the request. They did not believe that they had what it took to handle that responsibility. The yoke of “being the victims was still bearing down hard on them.” In the words of Miriam Charles, “Our vision was so small. We were so depleted and so lost heart.”

Taking on A New Challenge

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isa. 58:7)

A little while later, God challenged the congregation once again. Due to the economic downturn, fewer congregations were willing to sponsor refugee families at a time when many refugees from Myanmar and Nepal flooded Lancaster County. One particular family, a family of four, was in desperate need for a place to live, at least temporarily. Arthur and Miriam Charles, who reached out to immigrants in their younger years but were now in their eighties, decided to take in the family. The cultural differences (cooking in oil, staying up late at night, etc.) wore on the Charles family. However, the congregation helped with child care as the parents needed to go to various appointments. They also worked on finding suitable housing. After six weeks housing became available.

In Introduction on the church website Karen Sensenig says this: “The story unfolding at Habecker is God’s story, totally unplanned by human strategy. We make mistakes, misunderstand each other, step on each other’s toes, and oscillate between trust and worry. Living with an attitude of ‘yes’ to God brings surprises.”14

The challenge of hosting and caring for a refugee family was a stretching experience and beyond what the congregation deemed possible at this stage of their journey, but God was only beginning to shape the minds and hearts of this little flock to accomplish much greater things to come. The fulfilment of God’s dream did not come without hardship and discipline, however.

Coming to the End of Self

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. (Isa. 47:9 NIV)

When I asked Karen what she considered were the turning points for the congregation she said, “It was at a point of complete destitution. At that point the congregation began to fervently study the Word, in hopes that God could still revive or even resurrect.” There was hope that somehow the eternal Word of God, who breathes life into what is dead and brings order where there is chaos, pertains to them as well. Desperation served as a catalyst for change.

The point of complete destitution was the point of turning to God in desperation.

Cleaning Clogged Pipes

Another action which made change possible is what Karen describes as the process of “cleaning the pipeline.” By that she means that there were dysfunctions within the congregation which needed tending before they could move forward. “One dysfunctional pattern was a faulty way of thinking about ourselves,” Karen says. “We perceived ourselves as victims.” She ascribes that mentality as coming from the days of persecution in Europe in the sixteenth century. This mentality caused Mennonites to be the proverbial “quiet in the land.” She goes on to say, “We cannot just be nice to everyone in a dysfunctional sort of way.”15

The dysfunction of seeing themselves as victims needed tending before the congregation could move forward.

There were people in the congregation who clogged the pipe by exercising undue control over others, including those in leadership. Karen needed to stop pleasing in order to create an environment in which the congregation could move forward. This required telling the truth in love, and it required setting up boundaries where people exercised undue control.

A New Vision of a “Wall-less” Church

“As a new person in the congregation in November 2007, I presented my view of what a missional church looks like,” Karen said. She held up a cardboard box, which she flattened out. “‘This,’ I said to the congregation, ‘is what the church ought to look like—a church without walls.’”16

Karen continued to use this kind of language for the next six months. In the Mennonite Weekly Review, Karen says it this way: “When people have something to focus on besides their own pain, they begin to heal. The new focus helps them to redefine their lives in a way that brings new life, because their lives are no longer defined by what happened in the past.”17

New Leadership Style

“What I brought to the congregation was the idea of an open ended, wall-less church,” Karen said. “But we also needed a wall-less view of leadership.”18

Someone told her that if you want to change anyone, you need to trust them. At this point in the interview, Karen lowered her voice, as if embarrassed, and admitted, “I needed to trust myself.”

“Trust comes through spending time with people,” she said. “I went to their work place, established relationships one on one, and they began to trust me.” Pastor Sensenig’s leadership style is not top down. Instead, she leads by example. With a joyful gleam in her eyes, she tells stories of person after person who seemingly had a hard time changing. One time, a woman in the congregation did something somewhat unusual. Karen complimented her for stepping out of her comfort zone, to which she replied, “Karen, you have shown us how.” Example is a powerful thing, Karen indicates, but it takes a willingness to do the hard stuff.

Spiritual Practices

One thing that prepared the congregation for change was a new spiritual practice. The congregation started to dedicate itself to a spiritual discipline called dwelling in the Word, otherwise known as Lectio Divina. This is an early church practice of reading the Word in a contemplative way. For a whole year, they meditated on the passage in Luke 10 where Jesus sent out the seventy-two. This practice centered the congregation in God’s Word and shaped their understanding of missions and their call.

“And Then They Came”

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Isa. 58:8)

The sense of destitution, the teachings, the new leadership style, the pipe cleaning, the studying of scripture—all contributed to a new identity. But there is one key turning point which accounts for much of the new found life in the congregation.

“After the split, we felt we had nothing to offer anyone,” said Jonathan Charles, a long-time church member and son of Miriam and Arthur Charles. “Then they came! They accepted us! We feel like we are living a New Testament experience. We prepared a banquet table, and someone has accepted our invitation.”19

The church needed the refugees as much as the refugees needed the church.

In essence, Jonathan Charles is saying that his church needed the refugee community as much as they needed the old-timers of Habecker Mennonite Church. One would expect to hear the words, “They accepted us!” from the stranger, not the host. It was the realization that the hosts were in need of the guests as much as the guests were in need of the hosts that awakened the congregation to new life. It was in reaching out to the stranger that God reached out to them as well. It was in the losing of their lives that they gained life.

Becoming Equals

Karen remembers when the mother of a family of four stood up during the announcement time at church and, in her own language, invited the entire congregation to a Burmese Christmas party. The congregation graciously accepted. The Burmese people prepared goat meat and fried crickets—their native food. They also shared gifts, which they handed out personally. It was not just the gifts, but also the way they were presented, which left a lasting impression on the old-timers of the congregation. Each gift was presented with a handshake. Then they made eye contact and spoke a blessing over the receiver.

Karen describes this moment as a turning point in the life of the congregation. The Habecker church community recognized, with excitement, that this was exactly what Luke 10 had called them to. The people of peace hosted them.

It was also a significant moment for the Karen people in how they perceived themselves. The reversal of roles—from being the guest to becoming the host, from being on the receiving end to becoming the givers—closed the gap of inequality and brought the entire church to greater unity.

A New Way of Seeing the Spirit at Work

Karen said that one of the challenges they were facing was how not to get caught up in issues of the future. The congregation continued to ask, how can we be faithful in the moment, and are we willing to step out of what is familiar and comfortable to us? Are we willing to let Jesus mess up our lives? Karen recalls how one of the older persons of the congregation affirmed her and the new direction of the congregation by saying, “It is not my cup of tea, but I love you and I am not going anywhere. I am not getting in the way of what God wants of us.”

A New Vision

There is a new vision, which God has birthed in the hearts of the people of Habecker Mennonite Church in the last few years. Their vision reads:

Jesus is the center of worship and mission at Habecker Mennonite Church. God’s peace and joy expand as the church engages in cross-cultural challenges. All language groups sense a call to the importance of praying together. Prayer, hospitality and service are an on-going pattern drawn out of the history of this 300-year-old congregation. The missional challenge guides us forward “to develop a culture of relational hospitality within the congregation and to expand that culture into the community.” Dwelling in texts such as Luke 10, Philippians 4, and Acts 6, forms us as a unified congregation for diverse people groups, helping each other to become more of what God has created us to be. New believers and long time members seek new ways of following Jesus in our current context.20

The new vision dovetails with the original dream of the founder who bought a piece of property three hundred years ago for the purpose of worship and exercising hospitality to the people in the land. In spite of the good efforts of the first Mennonite settlers, the Indians were eventually driven out and many killed. Sensenig believes that by allowing them to reach out to Asian people, God is giving them another chance to fulfill that dream.21

The church failed to show hospitality to Native Americans many years ago; God was giving them another chance through the Burmese refugees.

Experiencing Fruit

The vision of a church without walls, in combination with studying scripture, captured the imagination of the congregation and at the right time the congregation experienced the amazing blessing of being renewed by the very people they served. It was the realization that the older folks at Habecker needed the immigrant population as much as the newcomers needed them that created a bond, overcoming cultural barriers. Both were a rejected people. It was a mutual neediness that put them on equal ground.

As Jonathan Charles, Miriam’s son, once said, “Finally someone accepted us.” It is not hard to imagine that this is how the Karen people, who lived in refugee camps all their lives, must have felt. Ironically, the era emphasizing the Holy Spirit and missions, beginning in the 1990s, even though apparently at the expense of nurturing the traditional community, might have prepared the ground for this kind of openness. Now the older folks were used to different expressions of worship. When the immigrant community joined, they were prepared for change and ready to give up on cultural preferences for the sake of extending the kingdom. It seems that Habecker Mennonite Church has found a way to become a community in mission, using its walls not to protect against the stranger but as a refuge for the stranger. In turn renewal began to happen.

The numbers bear witness to the renewal the church has experienced. The church recently conducted a special service for Mother’s Day with 270 people present. The majority are people who joined the congregation within the last few years.

Challenges Ahead

What is happening at Habecker Mennonite Church is unprecedented in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference and possibly in the Mennonite Church U.S.A. With this forging of new ground come significant challenges. In my interview with Pastor Sensenig, she listed a few of these challenges which need to be met if the people of Habecker are to become one functioning body in Christ.

Leadership and Structure

Karen encourages new leadership to emerge among the Burmese people. There are various teams that give leadership to the church: a Fellowship Committee, a Worship Planning Team, a Mission Team, and an Administrative Team. Among all the teams, only one Burmese person is involved on the Ministry Team. Pastor Karen laments this; however, she is intentional about involving people in worship planning. In addition, she gives people up-front visibility. One time a Burmese family of ten sang a song during worship. It quickly became a regular practice in the worship services. Also, the Burmese community takes complete charge of the monthly fellowship meal.

Bridging the Ethnic, Linguistic and Generational Gap

Every service is done in two languages. Besides the ethnic and linguistic gap, there is also a generational gap. Most Karen people are age thirty and under. The old-timers at Habecker are mostly older than sixty.


One of the missional challenges is how to share the gospel with the gathered community. It cannot be assumed that all are Christians. In fact, recently a Muslim and a Buddhist family joined them. Some come because it is a way to encounter the American culture in a safe way. Others come because they are receiving practical help or are sponsored by the church. Karen says that sharing stories with the children helps with communication and it keeps things simple.


Becoming like Jesus is at the heart of the church’s vision statement, but what does discipleship in a church like Habecker look like? Some time ago, an unmarried Burmese couple went up front and confessed that they had been impure in their relationship and asked the congregation for forgiveness. Karen was displeased with the way it was handled. Shouldn’t the couple have told her first? What did the process communicate to the congregation? (You can sin as long as you confess it to the church afterwards?)

Karen is addressing issues like these whenever there is a teachable moment. At a recent wedding, she talked about the need to shed our old clothes of greed, alcoholism, and hatred and put on new clothing appropriate to our new life in God.

Dealing with Wounds from the Past

While Habecker Mennonite church has to deal with the fallout of rejections from the past, which created deep wounds in the souls of the old-timers, there is much unresolved trauma that the Myanmar immigrants are carrying as well. Post traumatic stress has created a problem with alcohol and sometimes angry outbursts. At one time, Karen had to intervene when a Burmese man, in a drunken stupor, threatened the life of another. Karen intervenes, teaches and listens. Listening from a heart of mercy has been her gift to both peoples in their journey of getting well.


One question a Lancaster County church like Habecker always has to ask itself is if the location of the church is conducive to meeting the missional and incarnational challenge they feel they must follow. Should they move into the city where all the Burmese people live and all of the newly arriving immigrants are being placed? Karen struggles with that question. So far, the people have enjoyed traveling out to the countryside because this is reminiscent of their home in Myanmar.

Staying Faithful to the Anabaptist Core Beliefs

Can they sustain what Pastor Sensenig calls “hospitality of the heart”? This kind of hospitality means “holding on to what is valuable to us and, at the same time, being willing to reach out to the other without fear of compromising ourselves.”22 It takes discernment to understand what is at the biblical core of Mennonite faith and what is just a cultural expression.

Final Observations and Summary Analysis

We began with the question: What were the factors accounting for this amazing transformation? The answers this study gives are threefold:

(1) A church that sees its walls not as a way to protect itself from the influence of the stranger but as a refuge for the stranger. 

Clearly the church could have gone its expected course of completely dwindling until there was no more energy or resources left. Revival happened when they envisioned themselves as a wall-less church. They were not limited by their age or their small numbers. They realized that holding on to their Mennonite identity was an obstacle, not a guarantee, for their survival. Many Mennonite churches in Lancaster County are forced to make the choice to open up in radical ways to the world beyond their walls. Their historically understandable need to keep the stranger at bay for the sake of preserving their cultural and spiritual identity needs to be re-envisioned in light of God’s kingdom, which calls us to abandon ourselves. This church, by extending itself to the world has re-discovered the purpose for its existence.

(2) A people that see the past not as a stumbling block but as a stepping stone and invitation for the new thing God wants to do. 

The church experienced much rejection in its 300 years of existence. Just within the last few decades they were abandoned twice by their spiritual leaders. Instead of giving up hope they were willing to allow their pain to be transformed as they began to minister to another abandoned and traumatized people. Interviewing Karen and reading about the history of this three-century-old congregation leaves me astonished by the endless creativity of God in displaying the kingdom of reconciliation by bridging the gaps between culture, race, ethnicity and age.

As different as the Karen people are from this traditional Mennonite congregation, there are also striking similarities that yoke them together. Both groups have experienced persecution and suffering. Both groups have been foreigners, having to leave their home in hopes for a better future, and both groups worship the same Lord (or are at least on a journey to discover Him). Habecker Mennonite Church recognized these similarities and utilized them in building trust. It is evident that both groups in the church are a vulnerable people, in great need of one another. The refugees are in need of acceptance, practical help, community, and physical and spiritual nurture. Habecker Mennonite Church needed their guests to help them rediscover their roots of hospitality, service, and missions.

Sensenig says it this way:

The gift of what the Burmese presented to us is to keep the main thing the main thing: God’s love for us. As we are able to accept God’s love to us, we are able to extend ourselves to others. This did not come without a price. We had to be willing to take risks. We had to say ‘yes’ first in order for God to show up. We had to say ‘yes’ for that one step without seeing the whole picture. We like to know what lies ahead because we like to control the outcome, but we need to learn to live with an attitude of ‘yes.’23

For Pastor Karen Sensenig, it is all about the kinds of questions you ask, in all situations, good or bad. The question she has been asking all along on this journey is, “What is God’s invitation to us out of this situation?” The answer to this question might be the key to renewal for the Lancaster Mennonite Conference family of churches.

What transformed this church? The optimism and faith to believe that a community of older wounded people in the cornfields of Lancaster County was capable of being a blessing to the nations.

(3) Leaders who value the Word of God and the vision of God who is on a mission.

The excellent leadership, in particular Karen Sensenig, set the stage for this movement of the Spirit. Since it goes beyond the scope of this case study to take a closer look at the processes and principles applied by the leadership of Habecker, only a few factors that contributed to the astonishing transformation and growth of this congregation will be named: The optimism and faith to believe that a community of older wounded people in the cornfields of Lancaster County is capable of being a blessing to the nations. Re-encountering the calling of God in light of God’s Word and vision for the world. Communicating the vision of a wall-less church in creative ways. The courage to “unclog” channels, even at the risk of losing members. Including everyone in the community as equals in God’s mission and a willingness to receive from one another.


In conclusion, I wish to say that it is in the small beginnings that God has been doing his work, notwithstanding opposition. Open hearts and hands in the post-war period towards displaced refugees paved the way for an influx of refugees in this century. The willingness of only one family to take in the stranger in the 1950s was a seed which came to full bloom six decades later. Could it be that it only needs a seed and a bit of fertile ground for congregations in Lancaster County to be restored, to be Spirit-filled, discipling communities with their hearts turned towards the mission of God in the world? If so, there is hope for our dying but beloved denomination.


1 “History,” Habecker Mennonite Church,, (accessed April 8, 2014).
2 Miriam Ebersole Charles, My Offering of Thanks (Lancaster, PA: Cooper Printing, Inc., 2006).
3 These meetings were led by Erma Maust from Goods Mennonite Church, who was inspired by the East African revival.
4 This became Blue Rock Church.
5 Karen Sensenig, interview by author, Lancaster, PA, November 29, 2011.
6 Sensenig, interview.
7 Sensenig, interview.
8 Between 2005 and 2007, George Zimmerman served as an interim pastor.
9 Sensenig, interview.
10 Sensenig, interview.
11 Sensenig, Karen, “Partnership for Missional Church” (report to the congregation, Habecker Mennonite Church, Lancaster, PA, April 2009).
12The name of the Myanmar people group “Karen” which joined the congregation and the name of the pastor of the church “Karen” Sensenig are merely incidental.
13 Sensenig, interview.
14 “Who We Are,” Habecker Mennonite Church, history, (accessed April 8, 2014).
15 Sensenig, interview.
16 Sensenig, interview.
17 Laurie O. Robinson, “With Burmese Refugees, Congregation Born Again,” Mennonite Weekly Review, (accessed November 20, 2011).
18 Sensenig, interview.
19 Robinson, “With Burmese Refugees, Congregation Born Again.”
20 Sensenig, “Partnership for Missional Church.”
21 Sensenig, interview.
22 Sensenig, interview.
23 Sensenig, interview.

Works Cited

Charles, Miriam Ebersole. My Offering of Thanks. Lancaster, PA: Cooper Printing, Inc., 2006.

“History,” Habecker Mennonite Church. Accessed April 8, 2014.

Robinson, Laurie O. “With Burmese Refugees, Congregations Born Again,” Mennonite Weekly Review. Accessed November 20, 2011.

Sensenig, Karen. “Partnership for Missional Church.” Report to the Congregation, Habecker Mennonite Church. Lancaster, PA. April 2009.

Sensenig, Karen. Interview by author. Lancaster, PA: November 29, 2011.

“Who We Are,” Habecker Mennonite Church. Accessed April 8, 2014.

3 thoughts on “Case Study of Habecker Mennonite Church”

  1. Thank you Josef. A fascinating narrative of intersections, no doubt requiring an attitude of ‘yes’ from many, and with a retelling wonderfully-colored by the perspective of your own journey.

  2. Your story of the growth of Habecker Church is inspiring to groups of all faiths. I am actually related to Christian Habecker who is my patriot who fought in the Revolutionary War creating the initial freedom that I enjoy today. I am about to tell parts of your story to a group that I belong to on Thursday night in Plano, Texas. Then I am going to find a way to tell the story to my United Methodist Church in Plano.

    Thanks be to God for Habecker Church and John Habecker!
    Carolyn Frost

  3. I am related to Christian Habecker and John Habecker. My husband and I once stumbled on to the Habecker Mennonite Church when visiting Lancaster County. I am now presenting a program this week on my patriot Habecker family who sailed to America from Switzerland in the 1700’s. Their footprints across PA, to Ohio and Illinois, and last to Texas are an inspiration. Finally their name was embedded in the Kline family of which my paternal grandmother was a part and a child long ago. Elizabeth Biller Kline was my great grandmother and from there the name changes upward to the Habecker line are Johnston, Kline, Biller, Ulrey, Hawbecker, Habecker, Habegger, Erisman.

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