By Dorcas Lehman, Interim Pastor – Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship
Sometimes witness means continuing work that has lasted several generations, as it has taken root in the communities around the church. People tell their neighbors that this is who the Mennonites are and what they do. Then when the neighbors learn that an Interim Pastor is in the village, the witness resounds in conversations where I live, worship, and shop.
My Subaru was overdue for an oil change, so I took it to a local mechanic in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. I needed my out-of-state car to run smoothly while I serve as Interim Pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship. “Take a good look,” I said, “this car has a lot of miles on it, over 100,000, and I am putting a lot more miles on it.” He took one look and countered, “With that Outback, you are just getting started!” An Outback, even with PA license plate, fits right into the landscape in Vermont, and Chris the mechanic seemed happy to help.
He also smiled when he learned that I am a Mennonite pastor. All his growing up years, he camped at Bethany Birches in Plymouth, as did his mother before him, first as a camper and then as a counselor. For fifty-plus years this Mennonite-affiliated camp and Franconia Conference Related Ministry has been part of his family story, and he tells it with delight.
I hear this in other places too: “Have you seen the new state-of-the art pavilion?” asks another neighbor at a dinner in the village with friends, an ecumenical array of guests around the table, mostly neighboring Catholics. He is a donor, and he admires its architecture. The Mennonites are known for camp, and for being in the community, adds another guest. They volunteer all the time.
In a place and time when only 17% of the state’s residents regularly attend houses of worship, the lowest church attendance in the nation, it is no small witness to be known for generating a sense of community ownership of a camp that cares well for local children. When the stories of Jesus are shared in the way of Jesus, a community will remember that camp was invitational, playful, and welcoming.
While Mennonites are also known for volunteerism in their communities, that witness seems to enrich and flow with the local culture, rather than contrasting with it. “Vermonters by and large are a quiet people who recognize and appreciate hard work and service,” says Dave Beidler, a life-time member of the Taftsville congregation. Vermonters readily join hand in hand with their neighbors as needs arise.
There is yet another kind of witness that neighbors tell about Vermont Mennonites. I hear it from Charlie Wilson, long-time resident and observer of Taftsville, the hamlet where my interim congregation worships. I am sitting in a presentation at the Woodstock Historical Society, where he is telling stories about Taftsville’s recent past. “If you walk by the Chapel on a summer Sunday morning and the windows are open,” he tells the group, “you will hear the unsurpassed acappella singing of the Mennonites, and at Christmas they serenade the village with carols.”
Sometimes witness is the quiet service of being and doing with neighbors, and sometimes it is the sounds of our singing that float out the windows into the village during our service of worship.