A summary of and links to all the blogs in our summer series, “What does it mean To Mennonite? Respond with your own stories, lingering questions, and reflections….
I remember the puzzled look on Ellen B. Kauffman’s face as she tried to place me in her social geography of biological relationships. “Who are you parents and grandparents?”
As a junior high kid at the annual Winter Bible School for the Mennonite Churches of Greater Johnstown (Pa.), I gladly told her my parents and grandparents names. I don’t think it helped either of us to navigate our relatedness together as my family had only recently joined a Mennonite congregation. We were on our own, it seemed, to build a relationship together, to co-construct our Mennoniting.
In the past week, Muslims around the world ended their 30 days of fasting for the month of Ramadan. It was around this time of celebration, five years ago, that I realized that I am a Mennonite.
The church I pastor, Philadelphia Praise Center in South Philly, officially became part of Franconia Mennonite Conference in the middle of 2007. The leaders and I were still learning to know more about Mennonites that year and what our membership in the Conference might mean.
Pondering what it may mean “to Mennonite” reminds me of a friend who leads a state agency serving persons with disabilities. Just returned from Washington, D.C., he reported a grim picture: the likelihood that a divided Congress won’t get its act together to release funds his agency relies on. Any cuts will hurt people with faces I cherish, because my friend has come to lead this agency as an outgrowth of love for his own children with Down Syndrome.
I found our conversation chilling. Has it come to this? Are we so divided we can’t find common ground even to support persons with disabilities?
I was baptized after an emotional week of revival meetings with a tearful preacher in an old store-building at the young Finland Mennonite mission in the hills above “The Ridge” nine miles from the Lower Salford farm of my birth. I was all of eight years old, and in third grade. Other boys from Salford Mennonite families made fun of me, calling me, “Chun the Baptist.”
When Bishop Arthur Ruth of Line Lexington arrived at Finland for the service, and asked me some introductory questions, I felt I was flunking. I knew from Sunday School and family worship that we were saved because “Jesus died on the cross,” but I couldn’t answer the bishop’s follow-up question, “How do we know that?” The bishop helped me out: “The Bible tells us.”
I’ve been a follower of Jesus in the Mennonite tradition for many years. Therefore, for me “to Mennonite” is to instinctively follow the many rhythms and routines that express my core beliefs about Christian discipleship. I engage in particular rhythms of corporate worship and private devotion, action and reflection, exercise and rest, (lots of) work and (sometime too little) play, (too much) speaking and (too little) listening, communal discernment and personal choice. I could expand on each of these routines but I have chosen to address only the last of these several pairs.
I define myself as a disciple of Jesus who is part of the Mennonite family and uses the Anabaptist theological glasses by which I read the Scriptures in a particular way: using the historical Jesus as the paradigm for personal and social ethics for Christian living; participating with God and my community of faith in the formation and transformation of individuals and societies; discerning in community our mission or reason for existence here and now in our particular context; making disciples in order to keep expanding the kingdom of God.
I believe the communal Christian life is like a boat that continuously moves back and forth from the river to the pond. When the boat is on the river of the Spirit, it brings life, newness, challenges, and hope for the future. In the river, we take the risk of being led by the flow of the Spirit and many times we end up in wonderful places and situations where we never expected to be. On the other hand, when we are on the still waters of the pond of tradition, we are like a lighthouse that guides those who are traveling in this world with no direction and purpose in life.
I was born into a Mennonite family with lineages that go back many generations as Mennonites in Europe. I was raised in a Mennonite family and went to a Mennonite church all my life. I was taught in Mennonite schools by Mennonite teachers. I have been an ordained leader in the Mennonite Church for more than forty years. I am glad to be a Mennonite most of the time.