Three years exploring Mennoworld

Oct 8, 2018 by and

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This is my final editorial for MWR. After three years as assistant editor and web editor, I’ve decided to try freelance journalism.

It’s been satisfying to connect with people across the Anabaptist spectrum and to receive every email and website comment of appreciation. I am honored by everyone who has trusted me with his or her story.

Getting to explore the contours of the Mennonite world has yielded some enlightening insights that I couldn’t have expected simply from reading books and confessions of faith. When I went to conventions, I tried to match my observations to what I had read about Anabaptist theology and practice. I tried to look for patterns indicating a common origin for the vast spectrum of religious diversity I observed.

I asked questions like, “What does it mean to have a Jesus-centered faith? Whose interpretation of Jesus is correct when two or more interpretations conflict?”

I didn’t grow up Mennonite. I was introduced to ideas startlingly foreign to me, like, “Our commitment is to a body of believers, not to a statement of faith.”

I marveled at many Mennonites’ laments over their divisions, while I saw division as the foundation for the entire Anabaptist project. The second, third and fourth articles of Schleitheim (the oldest Anabaptist confession of 1527) outline an interpretation of New Testament teaching that demands a division between “believing and unbelieving, darkness and light,” including separation from professing Christians who act “in flat contradiction to the command of God.”

In fact, I was more surprised when this ideal wasn’t adhered to than when it was. With observation, I concluded that this discipline of separation had been too harshly applied in the past and was now distasteful to those whose forebears had been on the punitive end of it.

My questions intensified after my congregation, Plow Creek Mennonite Church in Tiskilwa, Ill., dissolved in the summer of 2017 (MWR, July 31, 2017). At the root of my exploration was the question: “Where do I go now in the Mennonite world?”

I’ve been to two Mennonite Church USA conventions, three Evana Network conventions, one Lancas­ter Mennonite Conference assembly, two Conservative Mennonite Conference conferences and three Anabaptist Identity Conferences (events with speakers and worship for culturally conservative Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and others). Finding where I fit has been a challenge in which I have not been as successful as I had hoped.

But my journey has expanded my understanding of how belief and practice don’t exist merely in statements but in the shared lives of imperfect people, in a history with highs and lows, in polities with strengths and weaknesses.

Trying to follow Jesus can be confusing, with conflicting ideas about what’s right and wrong swirling around. I’m grateful to everyone in Mennoworld who took the time to help me process my observations via conversation, debate and hospitality.


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