Mennonites at EMU
Unfamiliar with Mennonites? Mennonites are distinctive among followers of Christ in being among the group of “historic peace churches,” along with the Church of the Brethren and Quakers.1
About half of the current undergraduate students have a Mennonite faith or family background, and the other half come from other denominations and faith groups, or come with no religious formation. On or near campus are multiple opportunities for worship in diverse styles.
Regardless of their faith or heritage, students do “normal” college things here, like intercollegiate and intramural sports, music programs, theater, off-campus trips, and, of course, classes in basic subjects such as biology and English and in newer fields such as digital media. As befits its Mennonite foundation, EMU is known internationally for having cutting-edge studies in conflict transformation and restorative justice and for its emphasis on humanitarian service and assistance via all fields of study.
Things you won’t find
People in very conservative branches of the Mennonite traditions often wear distinctive clothing – for women, head coverings and dresses and, for men, white shirts and dark, loose slacks with special suit coats, especially on Sundays. Some even use horse and buggies in order to remain “separate from the world.”
EMU, however, is an institution of Mennonite Church USA, whose members cannot be identified by their appearance. Most live in modern homes, drive fuel-powered vehicles, and pursue higher education and professions as do other Americans. Here’s a breakdown of the Top 10 Amish and Mennonite myths.
You may occasionally see an old-style-clothed Mennonite on campus. For that matter, you may occasionally see a female Muslim student fully covered except for her face (and, very occasionally, a Muslim student who only reveals her eyes). EMU attracts students from around the world, especially to its Intensive English Program.
Plainer dressing and “EMU-style” Mennonites do share common 15th century Anabaptist roots and values, including a commitment to nonviolent peacebuilding and forgiveness, as evidenced by the Amish community’s powerful response to the tragic shooting of several school girls in Nickel Mines, Pa.2
Things you will find
Technology and media
While the use of technology is limited in plain Mennonite communities, it’s not here. You’ll see students listening to iPods, working on laptops, and studying computer technology and digital media production in a new advanced media lab with top-quality equipment. Among Christian colleges, EMU is one of the few to offer a major in photography.
- Campus worship with music. Mennonites are renowned for their mastery of four-part a cappella singing, but the campus also bustles with instrumental music (both classical and contemporary), global music sparked by international travel and students, and contemporary worship events.
- Class discussions on policies and issues pertaining to peace and conflict, servant-leadership, environmental sustainability, Godly relationships, care for each other, community service, pledging allegiance to a nation (or not), and ethics in the workplace. EMU is committed to preparing students for life, not just for a job. Spiritual development is taken seriously. Listening respectfully to the viewpoints of others is part of the campus ethos.
- Students working in the field and getting real-life experience. Field experience and internships are required for many majors. Internships in all subject areas are available year-round through EMU’s Washington Community Scholars’ Center.
- Students having fun! Athletic events (NCAA or intramurals) occur throughout the year. The student activities council shows recently released movies each weekend, organizes midnight bowling, skiing at nearby Massanutten Resort, hiking/camping in the mountains, and more. You won’t want to miss the barn dance in the fall and the semi-formal in the winter!
- The “name game.” Among the Mennonite half of the campus, students may play an informal “name game” when meeting each other. They discover common relatives, home churches, and more. If your last name is a traditional “ethnic Mennonite” name like Yoder, Garber or Swartzendruber, you’ll play the game a lot! Last names are increasingly diverse on campus, however, so everyone can expect to build new connections, regardless of their last name.
Not Mennonite? So what?
About half the student body is other-than-Mennonite, so you shouldn’t feel excluded. Mennonites at EMU and peace-oriented Catholic and Protestant groups have much in common. Actually, nearly 40 religious groups are currently represented on campus from all over the world.
Just one thing to keep in mind: plainer dressing and “EMU-style” Mennonites do share common 15th century roots in what is called the “Anabaptist” tradition, including a commitment to nonviolent peacebuilding and forgiveness. As an example of how this has been lived out, read about the life of EMU alumnus Glen Lapp.