What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Jessica Schirch, April 2011
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The first time I heard of the beginning of the Anabaptist movement was in baptism class. It was a brief overview in a 30 minute video but I was surprised of the commitment of the Anabaptist. I never knew they came from such a violent and martyred background. I know the history is a bit glorified, but at the end of this class I still feel amazed at what they went through. I feel that a Mennonite today is a counter culturist, simple, community-centered, and globally-aware. I know there must be other denominations that might fit these descriptions but this is what I see in my churches, here at Goshen College, and at the Mennonite Youth Convention. I feel that once I joined the church I became as much part of the culture as the religion.
I know that as I write this paper I am visualizing Mennonites way too perfectly but that is because every time I think of Mennonites I think of my churches, primarily. I go to two churches and they both know what it feels like to go through hard times, times where you are going against a culture or fighting for their rights. My Spanish church, Buen Pastor, has a lot of low income members because the majority is immigrants who are struggling to find work. The church, though, never fails to help people search for work, even if they end up working at Little Caesars for a while. It does not just stop at that, I know people take turns helping each other with babysitting, food, transportation and lodging. The church is especially helping people with matters of naturalization for green cards. My other church, Assembly Mennonite, also has helped several members who have been hit hard by the economy, but the financial mean of Assembly is way higher than Buen Pastor. I feel that Assembly's biggest counter-cultural fight has been the LGB issues. They have struggled with other churches in welcoming LGB's into the church. This caused the church a lot of pain back in the day. It has come back more strongly today but this time there are other churches that feel the same way as Assembly. This fight is dividing the Mennonites and once again I am biased for my church, because I believe that my church is right. This is where I see Mennonites being counter-cultural, but I am also aware that I could find another church that is also countercultural.
Then, of course, I have to ask myself why choose the Mennonites? Well obviously first it is the church my parents go to. There is also, though, a bit of personal choice. My mom is catholic and I have gone to masses. I even wanted to get baptized into the church. This was in my early teens though and I only wanted to get baptized because I wanted to have a big party like all the other girls who had their first communion. I always felt more spiritually awake in the Catholic Church because those cathedrals just evoke a sense of spiritual mysticalness. These, of course, are all the wrong reasons to want to join a church, but I just felt like a catholic mass just instills a sense of awe in you that is partly because of the glass-stained mirrors and incense. This of course now takes me back to the original Anabaptists and their iconoclast practices. I feel that as a Mennonite the emphasis on being simple and making a meeting place just because of the people in the room and songs that are sung is somewhere I want to belong.
My original thoughts about Mennonites have not changed significantly from the beginning of the year, but I have been challenged by the questions we raised about missionary work and about the global church. Mission work has always been an uncomfortable idea and I never liked the idea about anyone pushing their religion on anyone else. I know more now and that I want to do this all through the Mennonite faith. The way that Mennonites approach it makes me feel confident that this is being done with pure intentions. At the same when we talked about the global church I realized that such emphasis on denomination "pride" can and will prevent the unification of one global and unified Christ-centered church. That is my biggest struggle: I am so biased towards Mennonites that I feel like I am missing out on the bigger picture.
I am not sure how I will deal with this exactly as I grow up and enter more independently into the adult world. The Mennonite identity is a diverse one and being a Mennonite means different things to different people. This diversity though is just an indicator of the culture of the regions that the people originated from, people still identify with some core ideas and that is something I want to be part of. The Mennonite family that I belong to means that I believe in living a life that bring forth Christ-centered messages, simple, counter-cultural, community-centered and globally aware. I want to make sure, though, that I never forget the ultimate goal of the church which is to be a united church. Mennonite is just a family that I feel more comfortable hanging out with because I value their lifestyle and ideals.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 2011.