What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Annali Murray, April 2011
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When I think of my Mennonite identity I must confess that the first defining pieces are quite tradition; the Mennonite Relief Sales, Central Christian School (the Mennonite high school I attended), Hesston College (the first Mennonite College I attended), and all the other various Mennonite agencies I have come in contact with growing up. I do not think a heritage completely immersed in traditional roots is inherently bad, but I am aware that this has numbed me to understanding Mennonites and Anabaptist outside these boundaries. Even though different religious perspectives have never been an option presented to me I am not tempted to break outside these guidelines. This may be seen as naive or irresponsible to my own independence but throughout my instruction of Mennonite doctrine I have always been convinced of God’s vision being pursued, utmost care being taken regarding interpreting scripture properly and living a life that is pleasing to God through service to others. I have been convinced numerous times that one of the most faithful ways to be responsive to Jesus and the call he has made is through the Mennonite tradition. I agree with the peace stance of the Mennonite church, I want to pursue servant leadership my entire life, and I want to keep the vision of early Anabaptists alive for future generations.
I grew up understanding my Mennonite community as the “norm” for the entire world. I would get “conservative” and “liberal” views mixed up; thinking that being a pacifist was conservative since the majority of my community believed in pacifism, and naturally majority was conservative. I thought liberal people were scary; it was quite a shock for me when I realized that I was a “liberal” and my Mennonite community was extremely small in comparison with the world. Furthermore, I was surprised to find out even though my denominational group was quite small its denominational history was long and cruel. If I had been given the chance to guess about Mennonite history without any knowledge of it, I would have guessed that many nice people decided to get together and worship God. There would be no history of oppression or persecution and there would certainly not be any immigration because there would never have been a disturbance. Since I arrived at this heritage awakening I understand a great deal more about the Mennonite church, its history, and what makes it the way it is; quite liberal and unapologetic about its earth shattering beliefs. I tend to see the church as more aggressive and confrontational about issues, but one aspect of Anabaptism that has never changed is the unaltered respect I have witnessed for the call to biblical discipleship through scriptural study and servitude.
I have been blessed to be a part of the small Mennonite community that makes up little pockets around the world. I remember being excited when my family took a vacation to Little Eden, a family camp that represents part of the Mennonite camping association, and met a girl from Illinois who was also Mennonite. I thought it was amazing that our family lived in Ohio, my new friend lived in Illinois and we met in Michigan. I loved going to convention and running into people who had worked for my parents when they directed Camp Luz, long lost relatives, and strangers who I quickly discovered were actually quite close. I have enjoyed sharing the same belief system and worshiping with like-minded Christians, I have sung the songs from the Hymnal Worship Book, Sing the Story, and Sing the Journey. None of this behavior really seemed careless until taking this course, now I want to reevaluate the way I approach who the church is, and how I fit into the church.
I want to be sensitive to the emerging global Mennonite church that is showing up all over the world. I want to celebrate this church, and be able to support them in a real way that makes everyone feel included, and a part of the body of Mennonite believers. I think the “Mennonite game” and traditional four-part harmony are wonderful parts of being a North American Mennonite, but I do not think those criteria should be placed upon the global Anabaptists church movement. Instead I think the emphasis should be placed on our common belief system; the sensitivity Mennonites feel toward peace and pacifism, the deliberate response Mennonites have toward social justice issues, and the strong working ethic of serving the world. I want to be a Mennonite because I want to be united with the global community that believes these similar things. Throughout my life I plan on meeting Mennonites throughout the world, I want to share my church experience with them, and I certainly want to experience theirs; however, I also want a strong unifying factor that creates a bond between us simply because we both come from the same heritage. Even though we do not all trace our roots straight back to the founding believes and first re-baptized group I think we can all find special niche into where we fit into the story. I have found my place in the story and I hope to help others find their places too, creating a system of lateral growth and strengthening the Anabaptist vision around the world.
- What is the best way to illustrate how the church is growing and share with one another in this growth?
- How can church growth be better linked for succinct theology and practice?
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 1999.