Cogitation 3, 2020 Saturday 18 January 2020 This week’s blog differs from my usual first-draft, journal-style, review of the week. Here, I look back on my experience of church as we look forward to a new church home in the city where we moved a bit more than a year ago. The blog’s plenty long. It’s more personal. It’s followed by photographs of the week, remembering, first, a hero for making things right.
Marty and I identify with the Christian body known as Mennonite or Anabaptist. This faith group arose as a Free Church in 1525 in Zurich, Switzerland, during the Protestant Reformation. Today, we, too, find spiritual sustenance among friends who are members of Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and other faith persuasions.
Briefly defined, the Christian church is a body of religious believers; also, the whole body of Christians.
Our goal is to find a Mennonite congregation in Goshen. We now live at Greencroft Goshen Continuing Care Retirement Community. We could drive 12 miles back to our present congregation, though being part of one locally suits us best.
Our move included finding a new physician, new dentist, new ophthalmologist, new dermatologist, new pharmacist, new neighbors, new grocer, new coffee shops, new library, new walking paths, new, new, new.
Goshen is amply blessed, seemingly over-blessed, with Mennonite churches. We’ve found strong welcomes in each of the eight churches we’ve visited so far. We’d like to find one within walking distance, if possible. Would it be too much to ask for one where the service starts at 10, even 11 am?
We’re looking for one that is a member of Mennonite Church USA, one where congregational singing predominates, one that promotes small groups, and one where Mennonite/Anabaptist core values shape the life of the people, these being: “Jesus is the center of our faith. Community is the center of our lives. Reconciliation is the center of our work.” (From What is an Anabaptist Christian?, by Palmer Becker, Missio Dei #18, Mennonite Mission Network, Elkhart, Indiana, 2008, 2010). Anabaptist means “re-baptisters,” the name detractors derisively called the new Christian movement when its formation included adult, or believer’s, baptism.
I grew up in Cassel Mennonite Church, a rural congregation in south-western Ontario, Canada. The church was imbued with a rich Amish-Mennonite Christian heritage. Sunday worship and Sunday school were central, with attendees seeking to be mindful of Christ-honoring behavior during the rest of the week.
In 1964-65, I spent a year in Germany in an exchange program started a year earlier by European Mennonites. My assignment was working on the grounds, gardens and facilities of The Thomashof, a retreat and conference center, home for a few retirees, and home for the local Mennonite congregation. I also delivered the post to a few households and picked up milk from a nearby farm.
It was an enriching experience. In less precise terms I was representing a presence of North American Mennonites among, and learning from, people many of whom had experienced WW II. I was immersed in work, worship, play, and numerous colleague and family interactions, as well as with residents and visitors to The Thomashof. Part of the staff was made up of the then still current but waning Mennonite deaconess movement.
People spoke of food and shelter deprivations, churches falling in line with the secular order, wanton nationalism, the sheer weight of fear and uncertainty in the midst of dire need, and, finally, liberation and the aftermath. My sponsor and a number of others in the congregation were peace advocates, after having been part of the military.
I attended Sunday worship services, Bible conferences held at The Thomashof, several church days out, and a conference-wide youth New Year’s Eve party that paused at 23:45 for participants in silence to reflect over the year passing and pray for guidance in the new.
My monthly allowance was modest, yet more than enough to buy toothpaste and sundry other supplies. During the year I received a financial gift from my home church, matched by my sponsor, which I used to buy a nice Voiglander camera. These gifts toward a “real” camera, to replace my Kodak Instamatic, were unexpected and truly heartwarming.
Near harvest time, the Thomashof church’s organist, a farmer, underscored for me that there’s no division between the natural and the sacred order. He spoke of standing in his wheat field, Bible in hand, overwhelmed, praising and thanking God for God’s beauty and bounty.
Back home, in reporting on my year at church, I drew on Albert Schweitzer’s notion of reverence for life. I used Schweitzer’s example that if a farmer on his way home from cutting a field of grass for his cattle carelessly pulls up one blade of grass, that’s a sin, an affront to life. For some reason I felt bold enough to make such an assertion among friends. No one refuted the statement.
Aha, I later thought, the people at Cassel Mennonite Church believe that worship includes all of life, that it’s about who we are and what we do, seven days a week. It’s all an offering to God. God made us. We belong to God. God wants us to live in peace and extend the peace. God wants us to take care of ourselves, others, and all of creation. Thank you, Cassel, for that enduring lesson.
I started attending Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Indiana, in 1969 when I moved to the city to work as a writer-editor at Mennonite Board of Missions. Marty came to Elkhart after teaching at an International School in Monrovia, Liberia. Thanks be to God, and mutual friends, we found each other. After we were married we became members at Prairie Street.
Founded in 1871, Prairie Street is one of the earliest urban congregations in the former (old) Mennonite Church, now part of Mennonite Church USA. Being part of Prairie Street has been rich, nurturing, anchoring, life-shaping. Within and without the congregation we’ve been privileged to develop and exercise a variety of gifts. My gratitude to Prairie Street exceeds anything I can muster, beyond a heartfelt, Thank you!
Our journey with church has also taken us to the Duchy of Cornwall in south-west England. For nine years since retirement we’ve spent three winter/spring months in St Ives/Carbis Bay.
The footpaths drew us there and still do. At the same time, we started attending a small Church of England congregation, St Anta & All Saints, in Carbis Bay, and its mother church, St Uny, in Lelant. There, among dear friends, we’ve found “home from home” spiritual and social nourishment in church and homes.
Friends Terry and Ann had a daughter who lived with varied health conditions. Daughter Carolyn died in her thirties. Carolyn found a deeply appealing welcome at St Anta. “Go church! Go church!” she insisted to her parents. They did and do. My thank you to St Anta and St Uny echos from across the pond: “You’ve taken in strangers and shown us deep love.”
As our journey with church moves on, I’ve given myself time to make “a mindful” transition to a new church, a new city, a new stage in our life. I am grateful for the rich heritage of church that goes behind, above, beneath, and before me. I look with expectancy for a new local assembly, in the worldwide communion of faith, with whom to be present with God, God present with us.
I take as instruction for living out the reign of God, the summary statement on church in Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective: “We believe that the church is the assembly of those who have accepted God’s offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the new community of disciples sent into the world to proclaim the reign of God and to provide a foretaste of the church’s glorious hope. It is the new society established and sustained by the Holy Spirit.”
The week in photos
A birthday party
Walking Cowles Bog