The do’s and don’ts of including new Mennonites
As a young adult, I studied with Ron Sider, got most of my recipes from the More with Less Cookbook and considered Living More with Less second only to the Bible in its authority for my life. Still, I did not technically become a Mennonite until my mid-20s, when I joined Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kan.
I fell in love with the Mennonites, and I fell hard. Before I knew it, I was going back to seminary and accepting a pastoral call at my church.
For the most part, I have felt welcomed into this denomination. My congregation quickly forgave my Baptist past. Other Mennonite pastors are warm and inclusive. People at convention are friendly.
Still, every once in awhile I trip across some Mennonite cultural trappings. Little things that are said—or not said—that remind me I am a newcomer to the Mennonite world.
Nobody means to exclude those who are new to the Mennonite tradition. Mennonites are trying to be more inclusive on many levels. So I thought I might further the cause by offering this list of do’s and don’ts—to those of you who grew up Mennonite from one who did not:
- Do double-check the spelling of my last name and ask me how to pronounce it (Hair-u-der).
- Don”t assume I just misspelled “Harder.” And definitely don’t ask if I “used to be a Harder.”
- Do feel free to play the Mennonite Name Game when you meet another Yoder or Swartzentruber or Wiens. (Really, it’s pretty entertaining.)
- Don’t abruptly end your conversation with me once you realize I can’t play the game. (“No, I did not used to be a Harder.”)
- Do offer to show me how to make zwieback.
- Don’t expect me to bring it to a potluck. Or to know how to spell it.
- Do sing the alto part of “Praise God from Whom” loud enough that I can catch on.
- Don’t start singing the hymn without even announcing the page number. And don’t announce the number as 606 (unless we’re using the old brown hymnals).
- Do explain to me that Mennonite Church USA is the result of a relatively recent merging of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church.
- Don’t say, “Well, of course they did that crazy thing. They were MC.” Or, “What else would you expect from those old GCs?” with a knowing nod. I don’t know. Masters of Cheese-making? Granite Climbers? And for Pete’s sake, don’t start talking about “OMs.” What in the world is OM? Is it contagious?*
- Do tell me about opportunities for my children to attend Mennonite camps.
- Don’t simply announce that the Mennoscah or Friedenswald brochures are in. Is a Friedenswald sort of like a zwieback?
- Do patiently explain, for the 4,000th time, how Mennonites are different from Amish.
- Don’t tell me I’m the 4,000th person who has asked that annoying question.
- Do share stories from Anabaptist history. What’s not to love about Dirk Willems?
- Don’t belabor the point that my non-Anabaptist forebears were responsible for the brutal slaying of your principled and peaceful ancestors. (I’m really, really sorry about that.)
- Do tell me about your plans for the weekend.
- Don’t expect me to squeal with excitement when those plans involve something called Schmeckfest.
- Do realize that we newer Mennonites among you may have our own faith stories, favorite foods, musical styles and celebrations that involve far too many consonants. Ask us about them.
- And don’t forget that “no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid, that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). It is Christ who binds us together in love. It is our desire to follow Christ’s way of peace and justice that keeps us moving forward. Wherever we may have come from, we are now headed down the same path—together.
Joanna Harader is pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kan