A while ago while I was digging through my files I found this old article by Peter Hoover. I think it has a good point, so I’m including it here for you to think about. (Peter and I grew up in the same community in Ontario.)
Four centuries after the Reformation, standing on the brink of the third millenium A.D., have we Mennonites finally found our place in the world?
Judging from the Mennonite community in which I live, my answer could be “Yes.” Some forty thousand neighbours of mine profess the Mennonite faith. Of the approximately seventy-five families who live in our village (Gnadenfeld-Km.6), everyone is 201% Mennonite. From my house I behold part of a spread of land one hundred miles long, owned by the Old Colony, Sommerfelder and Kleingemeinde Mennonite Churches. My property tax ends up in the treasury of the Mennonite “Vorsteher” (civil government of our colony.) We all speak a Mennonite language known locally as “Menonita.”
We drive on roads maintained by Mennonite authorities, advertise in a Mennonite newspaper, shop in a Mennonite supermarket, eat in Mennonite restaurants, and buy stoves, furniture, and cheese from Mennonite factories. My father-in-law chews his tortillas with false teeth made by a Mennonite dentist, and when our people turn sick they can arrange an appointment with Dr. Franz Penner, the Mennonite doctor of Gnadenfeld who graduated from the university of Guadalajara. When you talk to me by telephone you use a system installed and maintained by a Mennonite company, complete with perhaps the only German telephone directory in the western hemisphere.
Small wonder then that thousands of my fellow-Mennonites fill out legal documents this way: Nacionalidad Menonita. They consider themselves Mennonites by nacionality, having found themselves years ago in the Russian Mennonite colony system.
Besides the colonists, however, we have yet another brand of Mennonites in Chihuahua state. Lurching north out of Cuauhtemoc on a muddy street shaded by giant cottonwoods and miles of apple orchards, one comes upon the village of La Quinta Lupita. Between enormous cold-storage facilities (Wiebes, Sawatzkys, Letkemans, and Abram Olferts) sprawls the “Alvaro Obregon” consolidated Mennonite School. Mennonite girls_in blue jeans, and boys with thick mops of blond hair study there to prepare for college educations and professional careers. These are the Mennonites who talk of recovering the Anabaptist vision, who march for world peace, who feed the guerrilleros in Central America, who have seminary trained ministers in the Blumenauer Church up the road, and who get mixed up in the “new morality” and marijuana.
One of their type informed me of the fact that Mennonites have now, for the first time in history “found their place- in world affairs. For the first time since the Reformation, the Church is taking up her “God-given” responsibility of trying to make governments behave. This man boasted to me of Mennonite representation in Washington D.C. and Ottawa (besides in Mexico D.P.)
The third kind of Mennonites whom I know well have little in common with my Mexican co-religionists. The conservative wing of what was once the “Old Mennonite” Church, they would not be caught thinking of themselves as Mennonite nationals. Neither would they lobby for peace in Washington or Ottawa. But have they become any less culturally or institutionally “Mennonite” than the rest?
When I return to my home community in Waterloo County Ontario, a claustrophobic feeling creeps upon me. On every side loom the enormous brick houses of the Mariins, the Brubachers, the Reists, the Metzgers, the Sauders, the Webers… The smell of Baumans’ pigs mingles heavily with that of Shantzes’ steers. Horsta’ string of “Harvestores” blocks out the view of Bearingers’ chicken houses. Around every bend in the road my eyes alight upon some Mennonite School or church or “Groszdoddy Blatz.” Conestoga, 13’th Line, Countryside, Winterbourne, Milverton, Cedar Grove, Calvary, Erb Street, Riverdale, Goshen, Weaverland, Steinman… the list of huge, well-built Mennonite Churches could continue almost indefinitely. (Waterloo County has over twenty Mennonite “branches” represented.)
The sidewalks of Elmira, Linwood, St. Jacobs, and Milibank bustle with bonnets and shawls, and black hats, and covering strings. Mennonite ladies in net coverings steer their Monte Carlos around old men puffing away at cigars as they roll along in open buggies.
Mennonites in Waterloo County have become as permanently a part of its scenery as the Conestoga River, the KW stockyards, and the Baden hills. I know they have also become that in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Iowa and other states. North Americans have given us a place in their society, whether we like it or not. How has this affected our view of the Church in history?
North America accepts us as a quaint off-shoot of the reformation — and we have done nothing to refute that notion.
Mennonite B.A.’s and Ph.D.’s have spent their lives researching our relationship to the Protestant movement. They have found for us a respectable position in the eyes of western Christianity. Mennonite historians will never get done tracing oodles of genealogies back to the 1500’s. We have a dillion Mennonite history books that somehow start with Menno Simons and ramble on into the twentieth century. The walls of our churches have re-echoed innumerable times thunderous challenges to re-capture the Anabaptist vision. Generations and generations of preachers have told us that the nearer we can do things like Menno Simons, the better off we’ll be.
What has given us Mennonites this curious sho•t-sightedness in the field of history? Did the world begin in 1525? Did God make a covenant with Menno Simons or Jakob Amman? Why do our young people in all seriousness say that “our” church began in the sixteenth century, or worse yet, whenGrandpap left “Conference”?
If our understanding of God’s plan for the Church has shrunk into a post-reformation frame, we’re in trouble. If we have “found our place” as Mennonites in today’s society, God calls us to lose what we have found and to find what we have lost.
Billions of people have sacrificed and are sacrificing themselves to organizations limited to a certain time period. Who can count those who gave their lives for empires and causes and kingdoms which for milleniums have ceased to exist?
If we make a human culture, a human religion, or a human nation out of our Mennonite heritage, we will perish with Balaam, Alexander the Great, Adolf Hitler and Tenochtitlan. But if we Mennonites find our place in God’s chosen family, we will live forever.