Eclipse inspires, brings Anabaptists together

Aug 22, 2017 by and

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The solar eclipse’s phase of totality may have been mere minutes, but activities surrounding the Aug. 21 event encompassed multiple days for several Mennonite congregations near or in the 70-mile-wide path where darkness fell.

Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kan., found ways to incorporate the eclipse into its Aug. 20 worship service. Pastor Ruth Harder is doing a series on the Psalms and said there is much to be found there about the splendor of the heavens and wonder of the cosmos.

“There’s some interesting poetic lines about creation’s power and grace, so we’re going to think together about that,” she said Aug. 15.

Rainbow Mennonite Church attenders Jesse Graber, Delaney Beachey and her dad, Kendric Beachey, observe the eclipse Aug. 21 near Kearney, Mo. — Ruth Harder

Rainbow Mennonite Church attenders Jesse Graber, Delaney Beachey and her dad, Kendric Beachey, observe the eclipse Aug. 21 near Kearney, Mo. — Ruth Harder

But the congregation isn’t above levity. The bulletin included an image Harder’s husband, Jesse Graber, sketched of Menno Simons wearing eclipse sunglasses, and new lyrics for “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant” were written by Joanna Harader and Maggie Goble. An example: “Will you lend me your sunglasses? I’m too cheap to buy my own. Pray that you may have some grace when I forget they were a loan.”

That evening, a few dozen Rainbow attenders camped at an acreage belonging to Steve and Gail Goeke of the congregation near Kearney, Mo., north of Kansas City situated in the path of totality.

Graber said it rained all morning the day of the eclipse, but the clouds broke once the moon passed in front of the sun.

“Close to total eclipse the light got incredibly strange, and at full eclipse it turned to night,” he said. “We couldn’t see stars because of the clouds, but we could see a ‘sunset’ all around the horizon, and the corona was amazing. Everyone cheered.

“I’m not sure how long it lasted, but it was amazing. And pretty soon it peaked out on the other side, and it rained like mad on the way home. We got really lucky.”

Harder said her interest in experiencing the eclipse comes from a realization that she doesn’t look up as much as she’d like.

“As Mennonites we have a down-to-Earth theology, and our ethics are certainly Earth-based,” she said. “We have a beautiful horizontal view of what Christianity can look like on the ground, and I sometimes fear we do that at the expense of taking in what is just that much bigger than us and what we can create.

“Maybe looking up to the skies every now and then will help us expand our horizons.”

Parking lot taken

In Beatrice, Neb., unique phenomena were not limited to the partly cloudy skies. Tens of thousands of visitors from around the world came to the town of about 12,000. First Mennonite Church made no plans because its lot was reserved for buses ferrying people to Homestead National Monument a half-mile west of the church.

“Our church didn’t make big plans mostly because so many family and friends are coming and staying at church members’ houses,” said Pastor Brett Klingenberg, noting the church office received a number of phone calls from Mennonites and non-Mennonites in the East looking for places to stay. The Sunday worship service had visitors from across the country. “Some families, like my own, have had family members ‘reserve’ our houses well over a year ago,” he said.

Klingenberg’s brother Derek, known for his viral YouTube videos, produced a series leading up to the eclipse and traveled up from Kansas to film the big event.

First Mennonite prepared brochures telling the church’s history because visitors to Homestead sometimes pull into the parking lot with questions. Klingenberg gave a presentation about the church to National Park staff and interns in June so that they would be prepared to answer questions visitors might have.

Learning opportunity

In Shickley, Neb., Salem Mennonite Church deferred to Hess­ton (Kan.) College, which invited alumni and friends to a viewing event at Shickley Public School, beginning in the morning with a TED-style talk by natural science professor Jim Yoder and worship featuring eclipse-themed music by the Bel Canto Singers.

Crowds observe the eclipse at an event sponsored by Hesston College at Shickley (Neb.) Public School. — Hesston College

Crowds observe the eclipse at an event sponsored by Hesston College at Shickley (Neb.) Public School. — Hesston College

A cookout transitioned into eclipse viewing with the college providing sunglasses. The college also offered the program Aug. 19 at Hesston Mennonite Church.

In Hillsboro, Kan., Tabor College hosted events in front of the Solomon L. Loewen Science Building for the public to experience the 90 percent eclipse. Like Hesston, Tabor provided eclipse sunglasses, along with pinhole cameras. Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University set up telescopes for viewing the partial eclipse in California.

Encouraged to stay home

In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, several Mennonite churches in communities south of Portland considered hosting eclipse activities but scuttled plans after authorities encouraged citizens to stock up on gas and groceries — hurricane-style — and stay off the streets. Coastal communities anticipated crowds the entire week before and after the eclipse as visitors connected longer vacations to the eclipse.

“Because of the influx of an estimated 400,000 visitors expected to flood the area and the potential of massive gridlock, emergency management in our area asked locals to stay home if possible,” said Lebanon (Ore.) Mennonite Church Pastor Brent Kauffman.

The congregation had purchased 100 pairs of special sunglasses and scheduled a brunch at the church, but instead passed them out during the two Sundays ahead of the eclipse, along with a prayer list for the congregation during the event.

Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church secretary Patty Gerig said her congregation took a similar approach, suggesting people stay home as much as possible Aug. 19-22, with lighter attendance at Sunday morning worship. Some members went camping or hosted small gatherings in homes.

Several people from Corvallis (Ore.) Mennonite Fellowship hosted friends and family from out of state for weather that turned out to include clear skies. Pastoral team member Cathleen Hockman-Wert said rumor had it houses could be rented out for about $1,000 a day. Two people ended up renting their homes, including one woman who supplemented her retirement income by letting a family from Seattle use her home for three nights at $500 a night.

“We have joked about how many Mennonites we could squeeze into one of our houses and the rest of us rent out our places,” Hockman-Wert said. “What a fundraiser that would be!”

Since CMF meets Sunday evenings during the summer, one family invited the congregation to a campout at their place in nearby Philomath after worship Aug. 20, with a pizza cookout during the eclipse.

Design of the cosmos

Martha and Noah Burkhold made the trek down from New York to Fairview, Ky., to join 3,000 to 4,000 other Amish and Mennonites gathered on a large hill on an Amish farm.

The Finger Lakes Times reported they operate Mennonite Ride bus company and set up the trip for nearly three dozen Mennonites to travel to Eclipse Encounter 2017. The event was connected to The Heavens Declare, a ministry coordinated by Morris Yoder of Montezuma, Ga., that brings glory to God by exploring the patterns of design evident in the cosmos.

A crowd gathers for Eclipse Encounter 2017 at an Amish farm in Fairview, Ky. — David Martin

A crowd gathers for Eclipse Encounter 2017 at an Amish farm in Fairview, Ky. — David Martin

“There were Anabaptists of all stripes,” said Yoder, a member of a Beachy Amish congregation. “A few Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Old Order Amish, more progressive Anabaptists. It was a great time.”

A program beginning at 8:30 a.m. and running through the end of the partial phase around 3 p.m. included Yoder and speakers from Wisconsin and New York covering topics such as “The Solar System by the Finger of God” and “The Brightening Glory of the Darkening Sun.”

Telescopes, binoculars and eclipse shades were provided, along with parking for buses, cars, horses and buggies. A lunch break supporting the Kentucky Haiti Benefit Auction included singing “How Great Thou Art.”

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