Martin W. Lehman was born in 1926 on a small farm in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, a son of J. Irvin and Ruth (Martin) Lehman, a Mennonite preacher and his wife. He was nurtured in the conservative Anabaptist faith in his home and by the Marion Mennonite Church. He studied for three years at Eastern Mennonite School, received GED credit in lieu of a senior year, and joined his father as a partner on their organic vegetable, berry, and poultry farm, which included an apiary for honeybees.
As a World War II conscientious objector, Lehman was assigned first to do soil conservation in the Civilian Public Service camp at Grottos, Virginia. He was assigned next to the Sierra National Forest Service in North Fork, California, and for four months served alone on fire towers. During those hours alone he sang hymns, read the book of Romans, and pondered the differences among Mennonites and the other faiths he was encountering in CPS. The pondering continued into the third assignment, which was to the public health care service unit at Gulfport, Mississippi. In the deep South he was exposed for the first time to the injustice of racial segregation.
After his release from CPS, Rhoda Krady of
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Lehman were wed in 1947. They built a
cottage on a small piece of land deeded to him by his father. As
members of the Marion Mennonite Church they chaired a committee that
visited in homes, held street meetings, distributed “The Way,” and
sponsored a summer Bible school in a tent in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
In 1961, still young and ill prepared, Lehman was ordained bishop of the Georgia, Peninsular Florida District of the Lancaster Conference. Other younger ministers joined him in creating a bishop district in the Southeast. The district sponsored workshops for Mennonite ministers and developed a camp program. In the fall of 1968, the credentialed and lay leaders of the Southeast gathered for the first time in Tampa to explore the needs of their surrounding world. Lehman became a leader in the development of the Southeast Mennonite Convention, forerunner of Southeast Mennonite Conference.
In 1975, Lehman was named the first General Secretary of the Convention. From 1975 to 1980, this was a part-time assignment as he closed out his responsibilities as bishop and as interim pastor of the North Tampa Mennonite Church. In 1980 the Lehmans moved to Sarasota for Lehman to become a full time employee of the Convention. He divided his time between the roles of General Secretary and Secretary of Congregational Life of the Convention/Conference until his retirement in 1991.
After retirement in 1991, Lehman served a six-week term as a consultant to the Harrisonville Mennonite Church, Harrisonville, Missouri, and a one-year term as interim pastor of the Pinecreek Chapel, Arcadia, Florida. He was certified by the Institute for Motivational Living, New Castle, Pennsylvania, to administer and to instruct others to administer the DISC personality profile. This equipped him to lead team building seminars in many congregatgions both in and out of the Mennonite church. Don Augsburger, pastor of Bahia Vista Mennonite Church, Sarasota, urged Lehman to represent the Mennonites to the Suncoast Evangelical Association, where he serve in various roles.
In 2000, in recognition of their lifetime of service, the Lehmans were invited by the Sunnyside Foundation to live in a garden apartment of the Sunnyside Village, Sarasota, Florida. In 2007, they moved to Goshen, Indiana, where they blend households with their daughter and her husband in the summer months and with their son and his family in Texas in the winter months. They are members of Forks Mennonite Church in Middlebury, Indiana, where their son-in-law is pastor. These volumes of history were written in Sunnyside and Goshen.
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