This is the first post in a series called New Kid on the Mennonite Block. My wife and I have recently started attending a Mennonite church and really enjoy it but are newcomers to the Mennonite tradition. This series will be an chronicle of our journey into the fold (a bit like Jane Goodall, I suppose). I hope to include interviews, discussions on issues, reviews of books, experiences, and celebrations as we learn more about our hopeful new church family.
After a few years in the desert of no church, my wife and I are pretty close to picking a place to land. I grew up in a non-denominational church in California that could pretty much be described as evangelical. In the college years I swapped that out for the Evangelical Covenant Church and was first baptized there (though I probably got sprinkled as a kid). Since then I have been mostly attending Covenant churches but have never thrown my hat fully into that ring , though I have a deep appreciation for the whole Cov thing.
My wife grew up in an on-again, off-again church life thought we met while both attending a covenant church. After that church pulled the plug on itself in act of faithful euthanasia, we kind of just took a break for awhile and attended the church of Sleeping In, trading sermons for NPR’s sunday morning programming.
But we missed the community and the teaching and the family so we trudged back out and tried some stuff on the buffet. Now, I am pleased to announce we are close to signing with club so all the agents can stop sending offers. For the past year or so we have been attending, though by no means regularly, Portland Mennonite Church and really, really enjoy it. While we still feel a bit outside, we also feel inspired and moved by the few experiences we have had.
A few thoughts though…
1) I am drawn to the long and storied history of the Mennonite traditions. Growing up Evangelical, and specifically nondenominational, provides one with a somewhat disconnected history. There is not much connection to the past as most evangelicals claim a strange exceptionalism as if they are the next step from Christ announcing Peter as his rock. Evangelicalism floats in a bizarre world of no history and no future, always in the present but connected to little in the past. It is refreshing to join a church who has an established identity that is rooted in generations of families, struggles, and dedication to the Mennonite DNA. While so many new churches have come to the social justice club fairly recently, groups like the Mennonites have been living in those spaces for hundred of years. Justice, peace, and service are not new trends of emergent churches (while I am a huge fan of the emergent movement and do not mean this as disrespect). It is merely refreshing to be around folks who have been having these conversations paired with actions as a core part of who they are for a long, long time.
2) I am drawn to the dedication to peace and nonviolence. In a world full of violent rhetoric and wartime propaganda in the churches, I can breathe easy and discover who Christ is as a peace maker.
3) The family is a huge part of the church and as a soon-t0-be father, I am excited to raise a daughter in a church that values, honors, educates and inspires kids in amazing ways. The church does not shuffle kids off to sunday school but embraces them and includes them in the service, community and spiritual development. The age diversity is incredible and children learn from the wise old grandmothers and grandfathers, while old folks learn from kids as well.
4) As I said above, I am about to have a daughter. I am dreaming of who she will become and the Mennonite church has a tradition of strong women serving all over the world. Our church, and particular brand of Mennonism, allows women to teach and share in the service. I embrace this and hope to become more involved in the support of women in ministry (See my rant about this here.) I want my daughter to grow in a church that sees her as a gift, as a voice for God and that she can do/be anything she sets her mind to. If she feels called to teach, let her teach.
5) Great food. Today our church had the annual Thanksgiving potluck and if there is ever a time to judge a church by its cover, potluck day is the day to do it. These people know how to cook and in a faith that holds a meal at its center, how people break bread together is important. The joy, community, and mouth watering dishes were amazing. We had a great time and really enjoyed all of it. Same time next week? Can we all have left overs?
One worry or issue that I have, and hope to have assuaged….How does one from outside the Mennonite world come into it? One major strength I see in the community is the familial ties and the generational connections. At the potluck I watched as grandparents and parents and children all ate and laughed together and it was heartwarming. HOWEVER… It easily makes me feel left out. I am entirely new and some of this stuff is assumed knowledge, part of the family. BUT WHAT DO I DO IF MY LAST NAME ISN’T YODER? How do I start from square one? In any church, just like the one I grew up in, it is very easy to slip into the assumptions that everyone knows who we are and what we do but so far I have noticed a few things that seem to be cultural developments that leave me feeling slightly left out. I will keep exploring this.
One other amazing thing. The pastor dropped a George Carlin reference in the sermon today. I kept expecting him to slip up and drop an “F Bomb” but he managed to avoid that trap. So far the George Carlin is making me feel pretty good about this place. Q: If I was to read one book about Mennonite history and theology, preferably for a newbie, what would you recommend? Is there an Idiot’s Guide to Mennonism?