Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites

To Mennonite Blog #8Alex Bouwman

by Alex Bouwman, West Philadelphia Mennonite Church

It is not easy separating the noun “Mennonite” and the verb “to Mennonite.”  I think it is because the terms are not mutually exclusive.  Those of us who identify as Mennonite, ethnically or culturally, and practice a Mennonite faith are likely already Mennoniting.  Here are a few examples that come to mind that demonstrate the close relationship between our beliefs (as Mennonites, the noun) and our practices (as we Mennonite, the verb):

  • We have taken to heart Jesus’ call from the Sermon on the Mount to be peacemakers.  Much of our identity involves nonviolence, yet peacemaking is a verb.
  • We believe in maintaining a close relationship with God, praying, and striving to do God’s will.  But what does the Lord require of us?  I read about the verbs acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
  • We believe in living in right relationships, not as individuals on our own, but remaining connected to one another.  We follow the practical Ten Commandments as well as Jesus’ explanation of the greatest commandments.  Here we are told to love God wholly and our neighbors as ourselves.  Love is a verb.

I am proud (wait, can I say that?) of the ways we lovingly Mennonite all over this world for peace and justice.  Any of the verbs mentioned above are worth their own blog entries.  I would like to share just two simple examples from our church of Mennoniting, or doing community, together.

Last fall our youth group hosted another Mennonite youth group from Lancaster County for a day.  They rode the train into Philadelphia and transferred to the trolley, which dropped them off right at our church’s doors.  We cleaned up trash at one of our parks, enjoyed lunch together, and did a long two or three mile scavenger hunt walking tour of our neighborhood.  This fall we plan to make a trip to their church to enjoy the neat aspects of their rural community, something we city-folk don’t often experience.  I sense the Holy Spirit moving as we intentionally get together with those we otherwise might not, finding points of commonality, and learning about the benefits of both city and rural living.

A few years back our church had a meeting to discuss various possibilities for new small groups.  Out of that meeting came the desire for more frequent potlucks.  We enjoy our monthly church fellowship meals, but this would be a casual weekly meal.  There were other small groups that involved bible studies, book clubs, or discussion topics. That involves preparation and a necessary commitment.  We wanted something a little different.

Thus our Togethering small group was formed.  We meet every Tuesday evening for a potluck meal and fellowship in one of our homes.  In the beginning a core of us (probably 8 or so) met weekly with various families joining for a week to check us out.  At one point we had over 20 coming!  We now consistently have about 10-12 each week.  It’s a great way for someone who is visiting for the first time to get connected with a smaller group of people without the pressure of long-term commitment.  It is a wonderful gift to share with each other about what is going on with our lives and in the world.

I don’t believe I’m going out on a limb when I say every Mennonite church has ways of doing community, loving God and neighbors as themselves, and working for peace and justice.  The way I see it, whether we do them as part of our identity as Mennonites or the way we put our faith into action—or some engrained combination of the two—what matters is that we are living our faith in the real world with love, justice, mercy, and humility.

Next week, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, will share his experience of Mennoniting through community discernment.  How do you “Mennonite”?  Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.

Who am I?  (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)