Sunday May 16, 2010
I figured I better dress up. The Amish, the Mennonites, they take church seriously. I buttoned up the dress shirt, knotted the tie, and laced up the dress shoes. Nestled among winding streets in Madison’s Westside, the Madison Mennonite Church holds Sunday service at 6:00pm in the Orchard Ridge United Church for Christ building.
I was nervous about this church. I didn’t know much about this branch of Christianity. I arrived in the parking lot unsure if I would be accepted or rejected. Would I stand out like a sore thumb? As I parked I noted people entering the church wearing shorts and t-shirts. Hmmm, that was curious. T-shirts and shorts? Was I in the right place? These people looked so casual. I expected Mennonites to be more dressed up for church, wearing black, solid colors, black hats, beards. Obviously I knew nothing about Mennonites or the Amish.
Before exiting the car, I removed my tie. If they’re going to be casual; then I’m casual.
As I entered, I grabbed a bulletin and a brochure titled, “Who are the Mennonites?” Perfect.
I learned the Mennonites are “related” to the Amish. Both are part of the Anabaptist faith tradition. The Anabaptist or “re-baptizers” started around 1525 in Northern Europe during the time of the Radical Reformation; a time when some people chose to rebel against the corruption of Roman Catholicism and the dictates of Martin Luther. The Anabaptists believed a person should make the choice to become baptized into Christ. “True faith is voluntary” is still the motto among Mennonites and Amish. With such a belief system they rebelled against infant baptisms, and instead chose adult baptisms. Because of their beliefs, Anabaptists were heavily persecuted for much of the 16th and 17th centuries by Catholics and Protestants.
Menno Simmons, a Dutch Catholic priest who converted to the Anabaptist tradition in 1536, began to write and teach about community, mutual aid, sharing of resources, support to widows, their children and the poor, sister/brotherhood among believers, simple life-style, nonresistance, nonviolence, peacemaking, and servanthood. His teachings became the basis for the Mennonite faith.
Mennonites and the Amish migrated to America to Pennsylvania at the invitation of William Penn “to live and worship in peace” in 1683. Throughout the 1700s-1900s waves of Mennonites and Amish came from the Upper Rhine region of Germany settling in the Great Lakes region and the Midwest.
I was assuming Mennonites still carried on their Amish-style traditions. Little did I know I was associating them with the Old Order Mennonites and Amish who still live simply in farming communities. However, I learned, most Mennonites don’t live this way. The New Order Mennonites make full use of technology and dress in mainstream clothes.
Taking a seat in the back, I settled into the “Gathering and Praising.” After the call to worship, we sang “Come We that Love the Lord.” I noted people were very relaxed and cordial; looking me in the eye and nodding from time to time.
After the lighting of an oil lamp near a simple undecorated altar (similar to Unitarians), we moved into “Hearing the Word.” First up: Children’s Time. The children gathered at the feet of the Leader at the front of the church.
“What is the taste of salt?” she questioned, passing out salted and unsalted popcorn.
The children eagerly ate their samples. “Can I have some more popcorn?” a young boy quickly asked.
“Salt makes things taste better,” she noted. “Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ By being in the world, you can make things better. What can you do to make the world a better place?”
After singing the hymn, “You are the Salt of the Earth,” Readers read from the Scriptures:
“… the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; …”
“… Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth…. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God…. Ye are the salt of the earth…”
After making the obvious comparisons between the writings of Isaiah and the beatitudes of Jesus, the Worship Leader assured the parish no matter how hard we try, it would be impossible to live up to the beatitudes perfectly. But we do the best we can, because through our actions “the kingdom of God is visibly unfolding in the present moment.”
“The action is heaven. It is not about us, it is about the action.”
I noted throughout the sermon, women in their seats knitting on their laps. Their eyes on the the Leader, but their fingers and hands working effortlessly, looping and tying yarn.
After singing the hymn, “In Lonely Mountain Ways,” people were encouraged to share their reflections, joys, concerns, and prayers. A young college-age girl stood up and thanked her Mom for helping her move into her new apartment. A man informed the parish his wife was in the hospital recovering from a recent car accident; he began crying and people around him comforted him, laying their hands on his shoulders.
In closing, we sang, “You Shall Go Out with Joy.” The Worship Leader then lead us in Benediction:
Leader: From where we are to where you need us.
All: Jesus, now lead on.
Leader: From the security of what we know to the adventure of what you will reveal.
All: Jesus, now lead on.
Leader: To refashion the fabric of this world until it resembles the shape of your kingdom.
All: Jesus, now lead on.