in search of a church

a77_church1.jpgIt started with a cookbook. Doris Longacre wrote Cooking More-with-Less in 1976 in response to North America’s over-abundance in relation to world hunger. It is a compilation from members of her church living and working all over the world. My copy, purchased at Ten Thousand Villages three years ago, is not just a cookbook but an education on “…a way of wasting less, eating less, and spending less which gives not less but more.”

Shortly before her death at age 39, Doris Longacre wrote a second book titled  Living More with Less. It is also a compilation not of recipes but of practices and testimonies from her church community on how to simplify our lives. The first part of the the book identifies and defines the standards of living in which these practices reflect: do justice, learn from the world community, nurture people, cherish the natural order (stewardship and environmentalism) and nonconform freely (choosing limitations in spite of societies message of materialism). The author writes, “These and other standards must become second nature for Christians, part of the heredity of our new birth.”

Both books are wrinkled, stained, dog eared, and written in. Both made me want to study and learn more about her religion that seemed so aligned with my values (sadly, not always my actions). I discovered that her Christian faith is part of the anabaptist movement in the 16th century (the belief that adults should be baptized on confession of faith as apposed to at birth). It is one of the groups that advocates Christian pacifism or a peace church. Peace churches agree that Jesus advocated nonviolence. In fact, The church has become move active in peace and social justice through coalitions around the world. Also interesting, the early group that first settled in North America wrote the first formal protest against slavery in the United States.

A church that focuses on Jesus AND simple living, peace and social justice?!! It almost sounded to good to be true. (Which is unfortunate really as they go hand in hand). What denomination you ask?

Mennonite. Yes. Mennonite.

Past Experience

I’m from Northern Ohio. Growing up, driving through Holmes and Wayne County, the way you could distinguish  (to my knowledge) between Amish and Mennonites was what was parked in the church parking lot and what was hanging on the close line. If it was a horse and buggy it could be either. If it was all black cars, it was the Mennonites. All black dresses drying in the sun? Most likely Amish. Pastels? Mennonites. Please forgive me for the over generalization. Keep in mind I was just a kid.

I was raised by two loving parents who are followers of Christ. Their faith has evolved into something I truly envy. And I think that their belief and faith in Jesus is all the better because of their past experiences. It’s been a long, hard road and they’ve come a long way baby. For the sake of time I won’t go into my religious upbringing. But I will say that because of it, the slightest ting of legalism and separatism makes my hair stand on end. I don’t know much, but I have figured out that strict rules on diet and personal appearance (which is usually directed at women) such as cutting your hair, wearing makeup, drinking a beer, or playing cards are matters of personal choice, not salvation.

The reason I bring this up, is because I am thinking about visiting a Mennonite Church. All prior observances told me these fast hard rules on lifestyle were a MAJOR part of ALL members of this particular religion. Been there. Done that. Not using technology? If that wasn’t a form of separatism I didn’t know what was!

There is one experience that was different from all the rest. While working for SEIU 1199 on an organizing campaign for the hospital employees of CHP I was making contacts and finding supporters in the community at large. This is how I met the pastors of one of the Mennonite Church in Springfield, Ohio. I initially found a member of the congregation preparing food for a church potluck in the basement. She was an older “plain clothed” women which satisfied my expectations. She informed me that the pastors (Yes, plural. It was a husband and wife) were across the street. They came out to greet me and the wife (I wish I could remember their names) was wearing shorts. Shorts?!

This shock to my system almost overshadowed that fact that the work they were doing was awesome. They were renovating a house that church owned that housed men who have recently been released from prison. The church helped the men find work and reintegrate themselves into society, as opposed to living on the streets, lacking options and winding up back in jail. On top of that she used to be an RN and was totally pro union. I guess I chalked it up to a fluke. Surely this wasn’t the norm.

Mennonites in my computer

Back to the cookbook and Living More With Less.

After further investigation about the church I knew I HAD to visit. I found several congregations in Richmond and then started to loose my nerve for the second time. The first time I decided against visiting was because I was pregnant and Don and I were not married at the time. This did not make me the poster child for any religious group, Christian or otherwise. But certainly the Mennonites would have a greater amount of distain for my condition. (Don’t ask me how a come to that conclusion. I don’t know.)

The second time I started to wimp out because, much like a 16 year old,  I was worried about what would be appropriate to wear. Then it was the length of my hair. Surely that would be troublesome!  More research was needed. Google would help me.

And that is how I found these:
Daniel’s Pilgrimage
Marking Time
The Dirty Mennonite

And my personal favorites:
Musings of a Minor Mennonite
Urban Mennonite

BLOGS! Mennonites blog? They twitter? They write about iphone applications and go to the beach wearing *gasp* bathing suits! Apparently I have a lot to learn. Or I’ve been living under a rock.

To Be Continued…

So I’m looking forward to my upcoming visit to the First Mennonite Church of Richmond in the near future. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, please pray for my guidance in finding truth, understanding and where I belong. Lord knows I need it.

Note: I hope you the reader can pick up on my sarcasm… and can forgive me for my total ignorance. In case you would like more information you can also check out Third Way Cafe. Thanks for reading.



Filed under books, religion

5 responses to “in search of a church

  1. Mark Nielsen

    Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed reading your post as well.
    Your surprise over techie Mennos is, among other things, a sure sign that public and news stereotyping has occurred with Mennos and Amish.
    By the way… I’m a cradle Roman Catholic, still identify with many of those traditions, and now mostly worship at a very openminded Lutheran church. Even though my theology and practice have been throughly Mennonized by 20 years in a Mennonite/Brethren congregation, there are those of us for whom “ministry” and peacemaking is about building connections and dialogue between different groups (including non-Christian groups… like the large group of Menno national leaders who went to a religious conference in Iran about two years ago, and met with their president… with our “peacemindedness” proving more trustworthy to the imams than our American evangelical counterparts.)

    May your own explorations be fruitful. Mennonites can be “a mess” at times, just like everyone else. But there’s a lot of good fellowship and concscientious action going on in the various congregations as well.

  2. Mark Nielsen

    Marking Time, here again.

    Forgot to mention… I love my _More with Less_ cookbook, too. Use it 4x as much as any other… and its “this takes 15 minutes to make” indicators on some recipes are life-savers.

  3. themarkfamily

    while in a theological discussion with a group of friends one individual responded to statement that i made (don’t remember what i said) with, “well aren’t you a good and faithful lutheran!” which i responded with “hummmm. maaaybeee?” that was years ago and i still haven’t figured it out. my longest stent was a wonderful methodist church in columbus, ohio. moving resulted in searching all over again 🙂

    in Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis likens Christianity as a whole to a great hall and each denomination to a room. He says, “The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think preferable”

    but i think i’ve been going about finding that “room” the wrong way.
    “Above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best….the question should never be: ‘do i like that kind of service?’ but ‘are these doctrines true: is holiness here?’….is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”
    — C.S. Lewis


  4. Pingback: What a fantastic weekend! « The Marks

  5. Congratulations on the continuing journey. We’re organic farmers who have a quinoa experience going, lived in a Mennonite community on Vancouver Island and find many part of your post interesting. There are 2 more cookbooks from MCC and many more resources continuing on the More With Less journey. One of our favorite family sources in a Trek study that MCC sells, a 28 day study/reading that stretches and bends the idea of “What is enough?”. We’ve moved and found a wonderful community of people who walk the talk in a Covenant Church here in our community. Cheers to your search and the steps along the way.

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