Rick and I have had to overcome some major differences in lifestyle and point of view in order to be together. Because my father’s parents were farmers and my childhood vacations were often spent running around with cousins through pastures and barns, visiting the small, Mennonite church many of my close relatives attended, and observing a more simple lifestyle, I had an idea of what his life was like. My lifestyle in Nashville was much more foreign to him. Nearly all of Rick’s close relatives live within a few miles of his home, attend his traditional Mennonite church (erase horses and buggies from your mind now; it’s not Amish), and many are also farmers. My family had moved to the city when I was 13, left the Mennonite denomination to pastor independent, Charismatic churches, and had embraced an openness to that which is new and different. It became a way of life to us – trying new things, comparing them to how the old ways worked, trying other things, and coming to our own conclusions on what was the best way to live.
My very traditional, stable, steady husband isn’t always sure what to make of my ways of doing things. I often find myself frustrated at what seems to me is his determined support of something simply for the sake of tradition. I don’t embrace the new just for the sake of newness. I like to wait and see what other people discover, let them work out the kinks, and then determine if it’s worth my attention. However, if I’m called upon to tackle something new and different, I find a certain satisfaction and joy in that as well. Rick may well reject the newer, even after it’s been proven effective, simply because he doesn’t want to change.
What church we would commit to as a married couple was one of the major discussions and challenges we faced early on in our relationship. I’m a graduate of a seminary that has Pentecostal roots and have been ordained as a pastor in a non-denominational, spirit-filled church. Although Rick has visited churches like I’m used to, he has faithfully attended the Mennonite church of his childhood all his life and is very involved there. He told me he was willing to look at other churches with me if I felt I couldn’t be comfortable in his church, but asked me to at least give it a try. He spoke passionately about the kindness of the members, the love they show for one another, and the acceptance I would find there. We discussed our views on the gifts of the Spirit and Rick assured me that he was familiar with the way I practice my faith. Although he has never embraced the more mystical side, he believes it’s real and has no problem with me practicing and teaching it to our children.
I went to my pastor and asked him what he thought. I was almost positive he would tell me that Rick and I didn’t belong together. Shocked, I listened while he told me the good things he knew about the Mennonite denomination, assured me that there’s nothing to be concerned about in their doctrine, and encouraged me to go to Rick’s church and embrace it. My father’s family has been Mennonite for hundreds of years. My parents met at Eastern Mennonite University (then College). I would simply be returning to the faith of my ancestors and discovering for myself the beauty in it.
Rick was right about his church. The people there have been loving, kind, accepting, gracious, and welcoming. They’ve embraced the gifts they see in me and encouraged me to get involved. They are open to new ways of doing things and even include contemporary worship in with the traditional hymns and prayers. Young people and families are encouraged to get involved. The elderly are respected and cared for. They are peace-loving people, opposed to war, and they send out missionaries to join in the work God is doing around the world and bless others who are in need. They won’t fight in a war, but they will go to the places that have been destroyed by war and help rebuild, showing the love of Christ to all they meet through their humble acts of service. They aren’t likely to hold a crusade, but they will build a home, dig a well, or provide medical treatment to the sick. When given an opportunity to share, they will do so with grace and dignity, inviting others to join them in serving the Lord. They believe strongly in social justice and the ability to change the world through the actions of one. Several families in our church have adopted children from foreign countries, are active in efforts to preserve our environment, and live simply in order to quietly give away large amounts of money to those who are in need.
As I’ve gotten to know how the congregation is run, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I had all these ideas from my studies in seminary about how a church should be run, but couldn’t seem to communicate them effectively enough to bring about change in any of the churches I’ve been involved in. Rick’s church does all those things and more, operating as a well-organized, primarily volunteer-led, grace-filled ministry.
How could my heart not be stirred as I worship with them, pray with them, and learn to love them? How could I hope to ever find such community and beauty anywhere else? How could I take my sweet, sometimes shy husband from that environment where he’s so comfortable and willing to get involved and ask him to start over, simply because I’m more comfortable with a church where people are more demonstrative in their worship?
And now we have a baby. What better place to raise a child than in a loving community, surrounded by family? And will Eliana and her father be members of that church while I remain on the outside? I decided that I needed to become a member also. I needed to return the embrace that I’ve been given.
And yet I struggle with the implications of what people think of when they hear I’m a Mennonite. I know that it conveys to many people who are unfamiliar with it a sense of uncertainty. Does this mean you will start wearing cape dresses, put your hair in a bun, and pin a doily to your head? Does this mean you can no longer drive a car, use modern conveniences? Are you going to stop wearing makeup? As I struggle with these questions and concerns, the only answer I can find is to show others what it might mean to be Mennonite.
Yes, Mennonites try to live more simply, to embrace a quiet lifestyle that doesn’t include flashy clothes and gaudy makeup. They appreciate quality and understated elegance. Many Mennonites you meet are financially secure, but you will find them driving mid-level vehicles, living in well-built but modest homes, sitting on finely made furniture, wearing high-quality clothes that aren’t particularly trendy or out of style, and using technology that they bought new until it wears out. Women tend to reject owning mounds of costume jewelry in favor of a few select pieces that are valuable. Men try to make things in their homes and shops last as long as possible, taking good care of what they have and making repairs whenever they can. It’s not that they can’t afford something new, it’s that they want to be good stewards of what they have.
Because of my family’s background in the Mennonite denomination, I grew up with many of these concepts as well. Mom taught me to take off the last piece of jewelry I put on so as not to overdo it, to choose clothing that would stand the test of time, and to stay away from anything too trendy. I could always bring my broken hair dryer or jewelry to Dad and know that he would likely find a way to fix it. I was taught to take good care of the things I was given and to make them last. But years away from my parents, away from that foundation, influenced me toward materialism. Years of scraping by financially led me to understand the fun of cheap and trendy things that could be easily replaced when they broke with more cheap and trendy things. It is definitely an adjustment to return to the way I was originally taught.
The Mennonite church I am embracing is not Amish, is not against technology or modern worship, and does not abide by legalistic standards of years gone by. It has wireless internet, a website, air conditioning, and electric. What it doesn’t have is fancy décor or gilded throne-like seats for the pastors to sit in on the stage. The pastors sit with the congregation and get up from their seats to go to the front when it’s time for them to participate in the service. The assistant pastor preaches once a month and when she does, the young adults often lead praise and worship.
What distinguishes Mennonites from other mainline denominations is their focus on peace (they are pacifists), service, and stewardship. There are various types of Mennonites, just as there are many types of Baptists, and some dress more conservatively than others and only drive black cars. But you can find vehicles in every color of the rainbow in our church’s parking lot.
And so, on Sunday, July 14, 2013, I joined my husband’s congregation and received the right hand of fellowship into the Mennonite church. I’m still a little stunned to write those words, but it felt like a natural and joyful thing to do.
Soon, Eliana will be dedicated in our church. Some of the things I believe may not be taught there, so it will be my job to make sure she understands them. That’s okay though. As her mother, I believe it’s my job to teach her our Christian faith at home and allow the church to supplement that teaching. I feel blessed to have a church like ours to join with me in the joyful task of training her in the ways of Christ.
Feel free to comment below. I’ll try to answer any questions as best I can. I’d love to hear your thoughts.Read More