Mennonite Men build faith bonds

Feb 19, 2018 by and

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The binational organization Mennonite Men has been long known for building churches through its grant fundraising. Now it’s making more intentional efforts to build spiritual bonds of masculinity.

Over the past year, Mennonite Men has begun facilitating retreats structured around Anabaptist masculinity. A revamped website seeks to collect resources on the topic, and a book is coming this fall.

A group gathers to conclude a Nov. 3-5 Mennonite Men retreat on healthy masculinity at Camp Deerpark in Westbrookville, N.Y. — Mennonite Men

A group gathers to conclude a Nov. 3-5 Mennonite Men retreat on healthy masculinity at Camp Deerpark in Westbrookville, N.Y. — Mennonite Men

“We’re trying to share from our inner lives and what it means to follow Jesus and build God’s peace,” said Mennonite Men U.S. coordinator Steve Thomas.

Now an organization that serves Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada constituencies, Mennonite Men has its roots in the former General Conference Mennonite Church. Men raised funds for various initiatives at home and abroad and helped start several camps.

The first organization of this sort took place a century ago in 1918 at Zion Mennonite Church in Souderton, Pa., when Maxwell H. Kratz challenged men in Eastern District Conference to greater activity, ultimately raising money for Mennonites in Russia to emigrate to Canada. JoinHands, the emphasis on grants for church building projects, picked up steam in the 1980s and continues today.

“Frankly, Mennonite Men hasn’t been relevant to some men who may not care about extending grants to churches for their first buildings,” Thomas said. “So we’ve added JoinMen to JoinHands.”

The refocused “JoinMen” direction overhauls retreats, shifting from males simply getting together to connecting with a deeper focus. Thomas leads some of the events and is looking to network with other men who can be resources.

“We’re gathering 20 or 30 men sitting in a circle to engage in deeper ways instead of 200 men sitting in rows listening to a keynote speaker,” Thomas said. “It’s a different way of gathering.”

Mennonitemen.org now lists a variety of themes, such as:

  • Healthy Masculinity: Becoming Strong, Loving and Wise;
  • Wounded Lovers: Embracing our Sexuality;
  • Doing Business: Integrating Work and Faith;
  • Making Peace with Conflict.

Don Neufeld of Virgil, Ont., has been a board member for about five years. As a social worker and therapist who works with men, he has interests in justice and gender issues.

When he joined the board, he discovered Mennonite Men had done some work exploring men and spirituality with the book Under Construction, triggering his interest in doing more.

“I think there have been a smattering of people doing men’s work and retreats over the years, but my sense is over the years it hasn’t been coordinated,” he said. “. . . I think it’s been very isolated and I would say the work women have been doing has been much more directed and coordinated.”

Conscious conversation

A wider societal movement to acknowledge the prevalence of sexual harassment and misconduct gave the group increased call to think about complicity in patriarchal exploitation, even in subtle or unintentional forms.

“We as Mennonite men are wanting to make it a conscious conversation about who we are,” Neufeld said.

Part of that conversation is a vulnerable look at masculinity built on Anabaptist principles like discipleship, community and peacemaking.

Thomas noted many materials that look at masculinity from a Christian perspective, especially an evangelical angle, aren’t the right fit.

“You’ll often find a strong nationalism or patriotic note of exercising strength in ways that don’t embrace the Anabaptist way of nonviolence,” he said. “Masculinity can embrace peace and nonviolence and also community.

“Dominant masculinity focuses on man as an individual. We focus on having interdependent relationships in community. Vulnerability as opposed to invulnerability.”

The revamped website is home to a growing collection of resources dedicated to this approach, making such materials more accessible.

Neufeld is co-editing a book promoting the same Anabaptist perspective. Men write to men in Peaceful at Heart: Embracing Healthy Masculinity, which will be published by the Institute of Mennonite Studies and Wipf and Stock this fall.

“I wasn’t finding these materials, but we do have something rich we can offer,” he said. “We’ve been on an adventure pulling that book together.”

Subscribe to see more about a church of refugees who received a JoinHands grant from Mennonite Men in the Feb. 26, 2018 print edition of Mennonite World Review.


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