What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Billy Funk, April 2011
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Before I answer the question as to why I am Mennonite, I must first explain that I did not grow up in a Mennonite church. My mom had grown up Mennonite and my dad had grow up Methodist. Due to that fact that there was no Mennonite church where I grew up in Gallup, New Mexico, our family went to a small Presbyterian church. Because of this I never really understood quite what it meant to be Anabaptist or Mennonite growing up. I remember that mom would always refer to herself as an Anabaptist but besides, being a pacifist I didn’t really know what that meant. My first real understanding of what a Mennonite came when my first year I attended Goshen College. I find that it is something that I identify more and more with as I learn more about it, and now I consider myself a believer of the Mennonite Faith even though I was not baptized in a Mennonite Church.
Learning about the early beginnings of the Anabaptists has helped to strengthen my following of Anabaptist confections. Talking to many of my Mennonite friends who attend Goshen, they have said that they were familiar with stories of the early Anabaptists and from the Martyr’s Mirror. I personally knew nothing about the Anabaptist beginnings or what the movement was about. After getting my own understanding of the history I find it has made me really attracted to Anabaptism. I am attracted to the passion with which the first Anabaptist believers held to their convictions and the principals that they strived for. The early Anabaptists did not settle for the Catholic understanding of the religion or even reformers such a Zwingli, but pushed for what they believed was the fullest following of Christ, believing that meant what he said.
One of the main reasons that I identify with the Mennonite tradition is that I believe that it is one of the fullest interpretations of what it means to be a follower of Christ. One example is the interpretation of Sermon on the Mount. There seems to be many different views of what Jesus meant by his sermon. There is the belief that the standards that Jesus set on the mount were purposely set so that they were unachievable, that Jesus was the only one who could hold to those standards and even though followers should try they will never achieve. I have also heard of the interpretation that Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount where actually metaphors for how to really live. I don’t really like these interpretations. The ideas that what Jesus meant was just an example of his greatness our some scheme to overthrow an enemy with non-violence seems to have something left out.
As for my understanding of the Anabaptist belief, there seems to be a much fuller interpretation for me: that Jesus meant what he said. He meant for us to love our enemies, he meant for us to love those who hate us, he meant for us to reach out to those in need. For me Anabaptism and being a Mennonite means to believe that the power of love is more powerful than fear or hate. I was inspired reading about the early Anabaptists who died for their faith, inspired by the way they were able to hold to their beliefs even if it lead them to their deaths. I was inspired by their faith that it was not about this world but the next. It inspires me to believe that by the power of God, we can live in a world where the power of love we can reach out to influence the world.
One of the ways that I really identify with the Mennonite tradition is the idea that Christ calls us to reach out. I believe in the power of giving, and in the idea that it is in giving that we receive. I have felt this idea come across more in my experience with the Mennonite Church than in any other faith. One of the past weeks in Anabaptist History where had a guest speaker who was a young social worker from Goshen, who worked with the Mennonite world Conference and Mennonite Global Youth Summit. Her name was Sarah Thompson. The way she spoke about the importance of reaching out to the global church and the world was something that I could not only believe in but more importantly something I wanted to believe in. Thompson spoke about the tendency of humans to curl in and to not reach out. She stressed the idea that Christ asks us to open ourselves up to reach out, to make connections with those in need. One pray that sums up this understanding is in the Mennonite Hymnal, under Worship Recourses text 33, “For it is giving that we receive, and it is dying that we are granted eternal life”.
The Anabaptist/Mennonite Community is a growing global one. It is a church that seems as if it is becoming more and more connected. There is a Global Mennonite/Anabaptism connection that no longer has to do with ethnicity but a fellowship that spreads across the world. This is the kind of connection that I want to be a part of. A connection where people work together towards a community that is modeled after Christ. I believe that for me to say that I am Mennonite I must be a part of this community and that to be Mennonite is to serve.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 2011.