Monday, March 3, 2008

I went to a funeral service for the tragic death of an acquaintance over the weekend, and was surprised at the nature of the Mennonite service.

I was raised a Lutheran, and have plenty of friends of this and other Protestant denominations as well as Catholic acquaintances. So I have a working knowledge of the principles of most Christian denominations. Frankly, none of them has really spoken to my soul, which is why most of my adult life has been spent studying eastern philosophies and disciplines. I'm not sure you could really pin me to any religious group, though if the issue was pushed I'd fit most neatly into the Buddhist club.

So this was my first ever exposure to Mennonites. This particular congregation belongs to what is commonly called "modern Mennonites," which means that they are main stream ocitizens that don't wear any special clothing, and wh by all appearances live pretty much like the rest of us. Many years ago, the Amish split off from the Mennonites because they wanted a much more conservative, disciplined practice.

In fact, though I was aware that Mike, the deceased, was a highly religious man, there was never a moment where he visibly "witnessed" his faith to the world at large. Mennonites are pretty private people, and would rather die than proselytize as do the Mormons, for example,

The first major surprise was that compared to other Protestant groups, the modern Mennonites have almost no discernible liturgy to their services. No creeds, no ritualized prayers, no communion. I"m told they do not even bother with baptism. The service was filled with music, and with personal stories about the deceased, and this appears to be what almost every worship service consists of. The members of the congregation move around the chapel quite freely during the service, and may roam about talking to one another, or may pop out to the lobby for a drink of water at any time. The kids roam about, and all the adults care for them as though they're parents.

The closest thing to gospel readings were a couple of brief quotes from Jesus, in which he instructed people to care for the poor, the sick, and for children with great compassion.

And this is about the only "rules" by which the modern Mennonites live: to try and emulate this compassion as modeled by Jesus. They don't really care about this "Jesus is the son of God" thing; they just believe it's the greatest good to care for others. They spend a lot of effort and time building schools in third world countries, rebuilding homes in places like hurricane ravaged Louisiana. And they do it pretty much without trying to convert anybody. This was what Mike's life had been about, and while he wasn't perfect, I can't point to many people who tried any harder to lead a good life.

I'm sure that digging a little deeper would reveal some not-so-nice features of the Mennonites. But my quick glimpse of it made we wonder if the Lutherans and the Catholics and the Pentecostals might not get a clearer picture of what Jesus was really thinking by paying attention to this little group.


Anonymous said...

Modern Mennonites are pretty admirable. They do not believe in child evangelism. They believe that children should not be expected to proclaim a faith belief until they have reached a sufficiently mature stage - I think sometime in the teen years - to do so with full understanding of what they are saying and doing.

Glamourpuss said...

I always forget how religious America is, and how many types of Christianity proliferate there. Here in Europe, we're more secular, more 'multi-cultural', but I wonder if we're any richer spiritually.

Interesting observations.


Stacy said...

Sorry for your loss. I don't know that much about the Mennonites except there is a large population here in Virginia. They are very industrious and quiet. They sound cooler than I imagined from your experience. I must know more about these people.