Tag Archives: Mennonite

What does it mean To Mennonite?

As our conference grows increasingly diverse, questions of identity come to the forefront.  Who are we and what does it mean for us to be in community together?  Often we get stuck on questions of ethnicity and heritage.

But what if we were held together by shared practice?  What would those practices be?  This summer blog series listened to voices from throughout and beyond Franconia Conference to understand more deeply what we mean when we say that we are “Mennoniting” together.

How do you Mennonite?  Add your own response by emailing Emily Ralph, associate director of communication for Franconia Conference.  Please include your name and congregation.

Who am I?  (Introduction)

“What if we viewed our identities as followers of Jesus who Mennonite?  What if we saw Mennonite not as our identity, but as our practice?  What would the practices for the verb Mennonite be?”

–Emily Ralph, Associate Director of Communication, Franconia Conference

Serving Christ with our heads and hands

“But I know that Christians are not just about what is in their heads. To me, “to Mennonite” means to serve Christ with our heads and our hands, flowing out of the love that is in our hearts.”

–Dennis Edwards, pastor, Sanctuary Covenant Church

Quiet rebellion against the status quo

“Such non-conformity to the standards of culture is only possible if one takes Jesus seriously, not only on Sunday morning but in every encounter and experience throughout the week.”

–Donna Merow, pastor, Ambler Mennonite Church

Mennoniting my way

“And some things I deeply appreciate are not of significant importance for following after Jesus. I recognize that every expression of faith takes on some cultural expression. Mennoniting is partly about discerning what is of Jesus and what is of culture.”

–Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership, Franconia Conference

Generations Mennoniting together

“This promise gives me hope for unity, for integration; for working together as people of God in the same spirit, a spirit in which the older generations share their unfinished spiritual dreams to the younger generations and empower them to accomplish those dreams.”

–Ubaldo Rodriguez, pastor, New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza

Body, mind, heart … and feet

“I am a firm believer in physical rituals to remind us of things that are important.  In taking off our socks, getting on the floor, and actually cleaning someone else’s feet or allowing ours to be cleaned, our body experiences what we train our minds and hearts for as Mennonites.”

–Maria Byler, Community Resources Coordinator, Philadelphia Praise Center

We have much more to offer

“I feel the question of “How do I Mennonite?” is an outstanding one and I appreciate how Mennoniting has led me to good works in the past. But for me, the follow-up question is just as important: And where does my Mennoniting go from here?

–Ron White, moderator, Eastern District Conference

Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites

“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.”

–Alex Bouwman, youth leader, West Philadelphia Mennonite Church

Observing together what God is saying and doing

“For me, “to Mennonite” is to engage in communal discernment about the most important issues in the Christian life. To new leaders eager to make changes in the church, processing often appears as a weakness, if not a downright annoyance.”

–Ervin Stutzman, executive director, Mennonite Church USA

Simple obedience

“Not complicated doctrine but simple acceptance of this mystery and living by it is what church is about.  Not trying to be “realistic” about politics, war and economics, but simple obedience to the great Pioneer of our reconciliation, is what our church fellowship is, by birth and continuing discernment, about.”

–John Ruth, historian, Salford Mennonite Church

To “Mennonite” when we’re each other’s enemies

“Perhaps our most prominent expression of such love has been through conscientious objection to killing enemies in wartime, and this remains a vital Mennonite conviction. Increasingly, however, I wonder if we risk so focusing on enemies out there that we fail to learn how to love the enemies we make of each other.”

–Michael A. King, dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary

On realizing what it means to be a Mennonite

“After I shared my conversation with the leaders and members of the church, no one objected. The leaders and I remembered, though, that we were now part of Franconia Mennonite Conference and we didn’t know if opening our church building would be the right thing to do according to Mennonite values.”

–Aldo Siahaan, pastor, Philadelphia Praise Center

It IS really all about the relating (Wrap-up)

“From their diverse viewpoints, what emerges to me is the sense that it’s our relatedness that is our distinction.   It’s this relatedness that is both our biggest strength and potential as well as our possible Achilles heel.”

–Steve Kriss, director of communication, Franconia Conference

RESPONSES

As one who did not grow up in the Mennonite community I found this series to be helpful, interesting, and insightful. We are wonderfully diverse, and this is an invitation to learn from each other and with each other. To all of our friends who contributed–thank you for sharing your stories.

–Chris Nickels, Spring Mount

I appreciated listening to the variety of perspectives about what it means to Mennonite and yet a central theme of ‘putting faith in action in practical ways’ seemed to emerge.  To Mennonite means to not be content with simply knowing things about God but putting this faith into practice in tangible ways in local and global communities.  We preach not just death but resurrection with our lives.  Putting faith into practice within a diverse discerning faith community reminds me that we put our trust in God’s Spirit and not in ourselves.  We trust that God is at work among us and big enough to shape all of our quirks into something greater than we can fathom. He has risen indeed!  Thanks to all for contributing.

–Angela Moyer, Ripple Allentown

It IS really all about the relating (To Mennonite Wrap-Up)

Steve Krissby Steve Kriss, Director of Communication and Leadership Formation

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.

Over the summer, we’ve had excellent writers reflect on what it means to Mennonite.  To many of us and many persons in the culture beyond Mennonite congregations, we know that it’s about the relatedness.   These blogs evidence this relatedness in refreshing and hopeful ways that give a real glimpse of Mennonite relatedness as Good News.

When my family became part of a Mennonite congregation, we adopted some cultural practices that seem to epitomize Mennoniting in traditional senses.  My mom even took to wearing a netted prayer covering.  We bought milk in glass bottles from the local dairy.  My parents did some communal gardening with people from our church—they even canned and froze vegetables together.  These were all the sorts of things that I’d imagine Mennonites do.  It’s easy, from the outside, to assume these marking practices are what it means to be Mennonite, or to Mennonite, whether it’s a verb or a noun.   What surprises me about our blogs is that there is little conversation, really, about these cultural practices often rooted in agrarian lifestyles alone.

Our writers this summer have pointed toward something beyond practices, beyond even our radical reformation heritage and distinctive acts of footwashing and believers baptism.  From their diverse viewpoints, what emerges to me is the sense that it’s our relatedness that is our distinction.   It’s this relatedness that is both our biggest strength and potential as well as our possible Achilles heel.

Mennoniting, as our bloggers have stated, has to do with how we relate to God, each other, the world, our past, and our future.  It’s not something ever done in isolation.  All of the blogs present authentic encounters and relationship. Some, like John Ruth, Aldo Siahaan, and Ron White, highlight reflective action that pulls us inward to move us outward.  Some, like Noah Kolb, Maria Byler and Alex Bouwman, celebrate our historical practices and pacing.  Other stories by Donna Merrow, Michael King, and Dennis Edwards highlight holy discontent in the world.  Some, like Ervin Stutzman, Emily Ralph, and Ubaldo Rodriguez, are pondering new identities.

What becomes clear is that this Mennoniting thing is about relating—with God in all of God’s interrelated Trinitarian identities (Creator, Redeemer, Spirit), with the world, with our neighbors, with our enemies, with our brothers, sisters, cousins (biological and otherwise).  Mennoniting is knowing we are not in this world alone—there are enemies and friends, there is God and there is a universe called forth into being by God.  It’s a radical response to contemporary individualism and isolation, to “me-ness.”  It’s a witness of love and a response to God’s declaration in Genesis, “it’s not good to be on this good planet alone.”

Sister Ellen was ultimately right; though she couldn’t find the strand of my biological connection that day, she knew that I hadn’t arrived unrelated on this earth (or in her Bible school class).  Ultimately, we are all created to flourish in our relatedness.  Mennoniting, then, seems to be doggedly and joyfully living in those interrelationships between family and strangers, future and past, enemies and friends, the Creator and the created. And in the midst of that to hold a willingness to be transformed by the grace of God, the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

On realizing what it means to be a Mennonite

Aldo SiahaanTo Mennonite Blog #12

by Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center

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.

I am originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, where Christians are the minority.  In Philadelphia among Indonesian immigrants, however, there are more Indonesian Christians than Indonesian Muslims; still, I have Muslim friends.

In the month of Ramadan 2006, knowing the feeling of being a minority, I offered the Indonesian Muslim community the use of our worship space for prayer during their holy month.  I spoke with one of the leaders but she never called me back with an answer.

A year later, Ramadan 2007, the same leader called me and asked, “Aldo, do you remember that last year you offered us your church so we can pray? Is the invitation still open?”  I told her that for me personally the answer would be yes, but that I would need to talk with our congregation’s leaders first.

After I shared my conversation with the leaders and members of the church, no one objected. The leaders and I remembered, though, that we were now part of Franconia Mennonite Conference and we didn’t know if opening our church building would be the right thing to do according to Mennonite values.

In conversation with Conference leadership, I asked carefully, “Is opening the church building to Muslims a Mennonite way?”

Steve Kriss, our conference minister, responded, “Aldo, that’s what Mennonites do. We build relationships with people, our neighbors, even other faiths.  We forgive.  We share what we have.”

I realized that that this was Mennoniting—following Jesus’ command to love one another (John 15:17).

Next week, Franconia Conference Director of Communication and Leadership Cultivation Steve Kriss will reflect back on the summer of blogs.  Have there been any insights that have touched you, made you think, connected with your experience?  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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)
Observing together what God is saying and doing (To Mennonite Blog #9)
Simple obedience (To Mennonite Blog #10)
To “Mennonite” when we’re each other’s enemies (To Mennonite Blog #11)

To “Mennonite” when we’re each other’s enemies

To Mennonite Blog #11

by Michael A. King, dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Salford)

Michael King
Photo provided by Eastern Mennonite University

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?

This is not to minimize complexities; it’s appropriate to ponder the roles of, say, government versus church in caring for “the least of these.” But my friend works tirelessly to raise funds from church folk—yet they provide a fraction of the needed revenue.

So how have we reached a juncture at which even seeing some role for government to play in funding my friend’s agency—why should my taxes support those takers!—may pull me into the vortex of mutual hate which seems the only thing we now know how to build together?

My point isn’t to argue specifics of one more divisive matter. It’s to grieve what seems our loss of ability to work across legitimate differences to discern solutions. And it’s to suspect that an important meaning of “to Mennonite” in such bitter times is for us to learn and maybe model what love amid division can look like.

From our beginnings Mennonites have sought a “third way,” an understanding of Bible, faith, and life that doesn’t quite fit into Protestant or Roman Catholic categories though it can enrich and be enriched by both. Key to third-way understandings has been unusual passion to take Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount literally. This in turn has led Mennonites to believe that Jesus actually meant for us to love even enemies (Matt. 5:44)—here, now, concretely.

Perhaps our most prominent expression of such love has been through conscientious objection to killing enemies in wartime, and this remains a vital Mennonite conviction. Increasingly, however, I wonder if we risk so focusing on enemies out there that we fail to learn how to love the enemies we make of each other.

When we differ over today’s hot issues we seem ever more inclined not to treat persons who hold different views as fellow pilgrims seeking, with us, to hear God’s voice amid our common finitudes and frailties. We seem ever less inclined to trust that God could be threaded through any view other than our own. Rather, we seem ever more ready to believe that if you hold a view other than mine you are my enemy.

Maybe with so much alienation swirling, the one who is not my friend is, precisely, my enemy. But even if we accept such a troubling conclusion, to Mennonite our way through it may then be to ask what it means to love the viewpoint opponents we have made our enemies.

Amid my own limitations of vision, let me not offer a formula for navigating such complicated terrain. Yet let me at least suggest that to Mennonite our way through a time in which we turn even other Christians and Mennonites—not to mention, say, atheists or Muslims or Republicans or Democrats—into enemies is to find ways to repay even what we consider evil with good (Rom. 12:21).

When I was growing up, I saw my parents model what such Mennoniting might look like: no matter how much they might disagree with a person’s beliefs or choices, precisely because they always took seriously that even the enemy was to be loved, they always spied treasure in the other. It might be tarnished; it might need polishing; the light of Christ might barely brighten it. But it was there—and thus was something even in the enemy that could be cherished, learned from, not merely vanquished. I would like to try Mennoniting like that in today’s world and see where it takes me and us.

Our summer blog series will soon be wrapping up.  Have there been any insights that have touched you, made you think, connected with your experience?  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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)
Observing together what God is saying and doing (To Mennonite Blog #9)
Simple obedience (To Mennonite Blog #10)

Simple obedience (To Mennonite Blog #10)

John Ruthby John Ruth, Salford

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.”

Well, I had known that too.  I had memorized a lot of Bible verses.  And with all my immaturity I now found the church commending me on the solemn “step” I had taken.

This was only one of some questionable actions I would observe my church taking.  So why did I continue to respect it and grow to love it?

I did not rebel when my extra-conscientious parents sent me fifty-five miles west to a two-year-old Mennonite High School at Lancaster (there was no Christopher Dock High School for another decade).  I enjoyed my new Lancaster friends, visited their homes, dated a girl, and even got a “plain coat” for my graduation, like my Lancaster buddies.

While working in 1948-9 to earn money for college, I was asked to teach Sunday school in Conshohocken,  at one of the many new “mission stations” then springing up in the Franconia Conference – many out of lay initiative.  I think my plain coat had caught the attention of the bishops, because they put me in the lot for minister even though I was between my freshman and sophomore years at “EMC.”

Then when the “lot was cast” between me and two other men, both at least twice my age, it fell on me, as it had on even younger fellows like Paul Lederach of Norristown and Al Detweiler of Rockhill.  Alas, I hadn’t yet really begun to think for myself.  But the church had chosen me, and I chose to be chosen ecause in the voice of the church I heard the voice of God.

Sixty-two years later, my respect for the Church of Christ is a key to my Mennonite loyalty.  In its fellowship I found a good wife, and was allowed both to finish college and a Ph.D. program in English at Harvard University, and teach literature for a dozen years at Eastern University.  After that, I had a “second ordination,” again under the leadership of a bishop, Richard Detweiler.  For thirty-five years I have been making films and videos, writing history books, and leading Anabaptist heritage tours in Europe, while serving as an associate pastor for twenty-two years in my beloved congregation at Salford.

I respect the Church because I believe, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 3, that it is the means by which God makes experiencable the mystery of salvation.  Being reconciled to God and each other is what salvation is about.  It is what our church is about. Our first confession of faith (Schleitheim, 1527) is about church, because the way we do church is the evidence of what we believe .  Not complicated doctrine but simple acceptance of this mystery and living by it is what church is about.  Not trying to be “realistic” about politics, war and economics, but simple obedience to the great Pioneer of our reconciliation, is what our church fellowship is, by birth and continuing discernment, about.

When I asked Indonesian members of the Praise Center this summer in Philadelphia why they would want to  be a part of our Conference, they said, “Because you know what it is to be marginal” (i.e., non-conformed to the world).  We don’t find that sense in other potential fellowships.”

“Well,” I said, “what about the fact that we’re pretty much part of the establishment now?”

“Yes,” they replied, “but at least you have the historical memory.”

I know what it feels like to be touched by that Mennonite  memory.  Seventy-four years after my immature baptism, though my church is still imperfect and tempted to imitate instead of obey, its noble birth-message of reconciliation makes it where I want to belong, be accountable, and share the mystery of salvation with a whole new set of neighbors.

Our summer blog series will soon be wrapping up.  Have there been any insights that have touched you, made you think, connected with your experience?  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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)
Observing together what God is saying and doing (To Mennonite Blog #9)

Observing together what God is saying and doing

To Mennonite Blog #9

Ervin Stutzmanby Ervin Stutzman, executive director, Mennonite Church USA

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.

For me, “to Mennonite” is to engage in communal discernment about the most important issues in the Christian life. Some newcomers to the Mennonite church quickly observe that our insistence on processing decisions can lead to undue cultural conformity and inertia. To new leaders eager to make changes in the church, processing often appears as a weakness, if not a downright annoyance. Stuart Murray, an Anabaptist from Great Britain, once cited a Mennonite friend who said that “process is the Mennonite drug of choice.” Ouch!

Recently, I met with a congregation of individuals who were mostly new to the Mennonite Church. Although they were part of Virginia Mennonite Conference as well as Mennonite Church USA, some members were hesitant about being identified as Mennonites. They feared that being Mennonite would drag them down, perhaps even lead them down the wrong path. They wished for greater independence from the larger body of Mennonite Christians. They seemed worried that the choices we are making as a national conference, even after communal discernment, might not reflect God’s best for them.

While the downsides of endless discussion and processing seem painfully obvious, there are clear upsides that keep me walking on the Mennonite path toward communal discernment of God’s chosen future. To Mennonite, then, is to join with others in circles of respectful and prayerful conversation, observing together what God is saying and doing in a community of faith. To Mennonite is to listen for God’s call. To Mennonite is to determine to follow where God leads, no matter what the cost.

This does not eliminate the need for effective group leadership. Indeed, it takes courageous leaders to blaze a trail into God’s future. Communal discernment can determine what God is calling us to do; getting it done is another matter! Further, coming to a group consensus can build a strong sense of ownership that will help to move the group along, especially during hard times. I have found that everybody is always lazy toward someone else’s goals. Good processes of communal discernment help us all to own the group’s goals for ourselves.

“To Mennonite” this way requires a strong sense of trust in the group. It appears that many leaders fear to engage groups in a search for consensus. I suspect they are worried that an ambitious radical will wreck the process or that a band of foot draggers will slow progress to a halt. Even more, I sense their anxiety that someone else will get the credit for any forward progress.

After years of leading groups, I have found that God can allay such fears. Consequently, I trust group processes more than ever. I am more likely now to bring my (supposedly brilliant) ideas to groups for testing. More likely to listen for the wisdom of even the quietest members. More likely to trust the Holy Spirit to point the way toward the future. If that’s what it means “to Mennonite,” count me in.

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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)

Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)

by Ubaldo Rodriguez, New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza (Baltimore, Md.)

Ubaldo RodriguezI appreciate the opportunity to express my Latino perspective of what it means to Mennonite. I grew up as a Catholic and I became a disciple of Jesus in a Mennonite Church in Colombia, South America.

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.

In my own experience, I have been in both –the river and the pond waters in the Mennonite Church.  What I have been discovering is that both places are important in order to be relevant in this changing and needy world.

I am glad that the Lord allowed me to live in this particular time of history in the Mennonite Church, because along with many brothers and sisters we have this great opportunity to be history makers.  I believe we are living in the time that the prophet Joel prophesied (2:28), when the Lord is going to pour out his Spirit on all people–in our case, all those riding the Mennonite boat in the river of the Spirit sharing the richness of our Mennonite Anabaptist theological tradition.

Menno Simons saying
Click to expand.

This promise gives me hope for unity, for integration; for working together as people of God in the same spirit, a spirit in which the older generations share their unfinished spiritual dreams to the younger generations and empower them to accomplish those dreams by the power of the Spirit through a fresh vision.

This sounds very exciting to Mennonite in a new way.  This is one of the times in our Mennonite history when we need leaders with the spirit of Caleb and Joshua, (Numbers 14:6-9), who saw the challenges as opportunities to experience God’s faithfulness and mighty presence among them.  As the Mennonite church, we should keep moving forward; the desert of power and fear of change should not stop us from moving to the promise land that flows with milk and honey.

“Franconia’s got talent–” we have people with amazing gifts that can take the conference to the place where the Lord wants us to be.  So now we wait and see what Mennonite history will tell about us, if we were a generation that made a difference.

Next week, Maria Byler, Philadelphia Praise Center, will share a ritual component of Mennoniting.  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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)

Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)

Noah Kolbby Noah Kolb, Plains

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.

But I am more than Mennonite. ‘Mennoniting my way’ has been about discovering Jesus and the call to follow him each day with other followers of Jesus. Much of what shaped me also brought me to Jesus.

I have not held onto everything I received from my Mennonite heritage and culture, however. And some things I deeply appreciate are not of significant importance for following after Jesus. I recognize that every expression of faith takes on some cultural expression. Mennoniting is partly about discerning what is of Jesus and what is of culture.

In the last few years I have reflected on my identity at many levels. I love my family of origin—it reflects a rich variety of colors and faith expressions. I am very comfortable and at home as a Mennonite, but sometimes its fragrance  is so varied that I wonder if it comes from the same tree. Being Christians is even less cohesive and clear for me. The leaves and fruits of its trees are so confusing that at times I feel sad and ashamed to be associated with it.

Much of my journey has been shaped by right beliefs and prescribed practices. These have helped to bring me to Christ. In recent years following Jesus is not so much about having the right beliefs as about observing the way of Jesus, listening to his Spirit, and living in obedience. Living in a heritage so broken and splintered by differences of both belief and practice, I am compelled to seek unity and peace in the bond that is in Christ, who is our peace.

My deep longing is to be at peace and at home with God. This has been found in following Jesus who calls me to unity and peace in his body, the church, to love even my enemies and to care for the good earth where God has placed me.

‘Mennoniting my way’ has helped me find the way to Jesus, to unity in the Spirit, and peace in the fellowship of all who follow Jesus. It is bringing others with me to Jesus who enables us to be at peace with God, to live in peace with each other, and to peacefully love the earth on which we live together.

Next week, Ubaldo Rodriguez, pastor of New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza (Baltimore, Md.), will reflect on Mennoniting on the river and the pond.  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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)

Quiet rebellion against the status quo

Donna Merow

(To Mennonite Blog #3)

by Donna Merow, Ambler

In a sermon titled Transformed Nonconformist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority” (Strength to Love, 27).

To “Mennonite” is to be creatively maladjusted to a society that promotes materialism, nationalism, militarism, and violence.

I was introduced to the Mennonite/Anabaptist perspective at Providence and Methacton more than thirty years ago.  This was the era of Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Doris Jantzen Longacre’s Living More with Less.   The lifestyle of simplicity and service such books advocated captured my imagination in a big way.  My sister describes me to her friends as “almost Amish,” and, in some ways, I suppose I am.  We decided to raise our children without Santa Claus or television.  A clothesline replaced the dryer and kept us connected in some small way with the rhythms of the natural world.  We built a little house in the woods and lived on one income so I could be a full-time stay-at-home mom until my daughters were in high school.

Such non-conformity to the standards of culture is only possible if one takes Jesus seriously, not only on Sunday morning but in every encounter and experience throughout the week.  This was something I saw modeled in the first “salt of the earth” Mennonites I met.  Doing so means thoughtfully considering what following Jesus looks like in decisions big and small—the purchases one makes, the words one  speaks, the actions one  takes, how one spends his/her time.  Should I spend a little more for organic produce?  Do I really need that new dress?  Can I skip that trip and take a walk instead?  How do I speak the truth in love in this delicate situation?  Will doing this honor/model Christ?

To “Mennonite” also means taking community seriously.  I was rebaptized and became a member of the Mennonite Church on my first wedding anniversary.  One of the most memorable questions posed to me as part of this public confession was, “Are you willing to give and receive counsel in the congregation?”  The mutual accountability and responsibility inherent in the question continues to remind me that we are in this relationship together.  Everyone, I think, needs to have someone in his/her life who loves him/her enough to risk speaking the truth, however painful it may be.  The vulnerability this demands of both giver and receiver is powerfully present each Holy Week in the simple act of kneeling before each other to wash feet.  But the love symbolized in this annual ritual is evident throughout the year as we celebrate life’s milestones, care for children, prepare meals, clean houses, move possessions, offer advice, or listen with a sympathetic ear.

This spring I did a six-week class on memoir writing at the Mennonite Heritage Center.  Our last assignment included considering a possible title for our would-be memoir based on the writing we had done during the class.  I called mine “Closet Rebel,” and the Mennonites are largely to blame.  I am grateful to those who “Mennonite” at Ambler and Methacton for giving me the space and encouragement I needed for my quiet rebellion against the status quo.  They have accepted me wholeheartedly, creatively maladjusted as I am.

Next week, Noah Kolb, a forty-year minister in Mennonite congregations, will wrestle with his splintered heritage of faith and practice.  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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)

Serving Christ with our heads and hands

Dennis Edwards(To Mennonite Blog #2)

by Dennis Edwards, Sanctuary Covenant Church

“To Mennonite” means to translate faith in Jesus Christ into concrete actions.

I have been a believer in Jesus for over 40 years but for most of my life, Christian faith meant being able to recite the right doctrinal positions. I became keenly aware of this during my college years at a secular university and then later at a prominent Evangelical seminary. In both settings Christians often asked each other, “Do you believe_____?” and that blank would be filled by some debated issue such as “that woman can preach” or “in speaking in tongues” or “that Jesus will return before the Tribulation.”

Expressing one’s faith meant laying out the correct stance on an issue, one that was held by many of the popular Christian writers or teachers.  Models of the faith were people who spoke or wrote.  Those who “did” the faith were missionaries or saints who lived in some bygone era. I hardly ever heard people challenging each other in how we should live out our faith in the world.  As a matter of fact, when it came to living out one’s faith, the emphasis was on personal piety which meant avoiding certain noteworthy sins (such as extra-marital or pre-marital sexual activity, drinking alcohol, smoking, and gambling).

During a Christian Ethics class in seminary, the instructor, a known anti-abortion activist, spent about five out of ten weeks discussing abortion. When I asked about racism as a possible topic for the course, he sighed, rolled his eyes, and made it clear that it wasn’t really an issue for our class.

I was hurt as well as disappointed.  It seemed that Christian ethics was defined as having the right arguments on certain societal evils—but only those evils that seemed relevant to white evangelicals. By way of contrast, one of my first introductions to people who were “Mennoniting” was a presentation on dismantling racism. I was impressed that rather than just talking or writing statements—both good things—there was also activism. People were actively promoting an anti-racism strategy.

I realize that avoiding certain evils may continue to define Christianity for some people, and I dare say that for some “to Mennonite” may include that very perspective. I’m not naive to the reality that many Christians in America, including Mennonites, define holiness as simply avoiding certain sins.

By the time I decided “to Mennonite,” however, I was aware of relief and development work. I was aware of activism for justice. I was aware of the centrality of peacemaking—even loving one’s enemies. I took the opportunity “to Mennonite” as an invitation to join with others who believe that faith was to be demonstrated in acts of compassion, mercy, and justice. “To Mennonite” means to live at peace with all people. It means to love others as oneself while loving the LORD with whole hearts, minds, and strength. It means to care for the “least of these” because that is the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I must point out that sound doctrine is very important to me; I even have a PhD in Biblical Studies because I am passionate about what the Scriptures say and that we should “rightly divide” them.  I respect that there are Mennonite institutions where people can learn and have their academic interests nurtured. But I know that Christians are not just about what is in their heads. To me, “to Mennonite” means to serve Christ with our heads and our hands, flowing out of the love that is in our hearts.

Dr. Dennis Edwards was pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington D.C., a partner in mission of Franconia Conference.  In May of this year, he moved to Minnesota to pastor Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.  Blessings on your new endeavor, Dennis!

Next week, Donna Merow, pastor of the Ambler congregation, will share her experience of Mennoniting through simplicity and service.  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)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)