Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Reflections on Growing Up Mennonite in Lancaster County

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Reflections on Growing Up Mennonite in Lancaster County

Article excerpt

The Mennonite church where my family attended was more than ten miles from our home, which seemed like a vast distance to me as a child whose primary activities unfolded within a two-mile radius of my house. Nevertheless, every Sunday we got into the family car and drove west through the rolling Pennsylvania countryside dotted with small towns, dairy farms and old stone houses. Finally, we turned off the main road onto a country lane lined with corn fields and massive spreading trees. On the final approach, as we rounded the last corner, my siblings and I strained our eyes for the church in the distance. The first one to see it sang out, "I see the church first!" And there it was--a small, simple white frame meetinghouse in the middle of the cornfields, large trees around the parking lot, a red brick schoolhouse on one side, a cemetery on a slight rise on the other. Sometimes, as we drove, I sat in the back seat with my eyes closed, following every turn in my mind, always knowing exactly where we were by the motion of the car.

Decades later, I can still replay that trip in my mind--like viewing a silent travelogue through a familiar yet strangely distant land. My life journey has taken me far afield from that simple cemetery with graves of my extended kin, the schoolhouse where my grandfather taught school and where I knotted comforters and rolled bandages for the mission field, and the spare, unadorned meetinghouse where I was baptized as a member of the Mennonite church. I am far away now--physically, emotionally and theologically. Even though I can never go back, this place, together with all it represents, has shaped me as nothing else ever has. The congregation and its belief structure are at the center of my inner geography and continue to be the fundamental coordinates by which I orient myself, even if to define where I am not.

"THE LINES ARE FALLEN UNTO ME IN PLEASANT PLACES; YEA, I HAVE A GOODLY HERITAGE"--PSALM 16:6 (1)

Separation

As I reflect on my Anabaptist-Mennonite upbringing and its influence on my life, two themes dominate my memories: separation from the world and judgment. The first of these, separation, is remarkably well summarized in Romans 12:

1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2: And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

3: For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith [....]

10: Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11: Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

12: Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

13: Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

14: Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

15: Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

16: Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

17: Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

18: If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

19: Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

20: Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

21: Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. …

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