Why I’m [Still] Mennonite – Heritage and Grace

July 19th, 2010 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz, July 2010

Laura AmstutzIf denominations were dog breeds, I’d be a pure-bred Mennonite. It’s hard to get more “Mennonite” than me, with family roots traceable to the Netherlands and Switzerland, thirteen years of education in Mennonite institutions, nine years as camper and counselor at a Mennonite camp and attendance in a Mennonite church for all twenty-nine years of my life. Oh, and did I mention I’ve worked in Mennonite institutions for all but one job on my resume?

My husband likes to talk about my Mennonite bubble. I like my bubble.  Heck, I am the bubble, but this isn’t an essay about how I’m a Mennonite (with so much indoctrination, how could I not be?) — it’s about “why” I’m a Mennonite. Mennonites believe in letting people make a choice about their faith, and although we could have a discussion about whether thirteen-year olds are really making a choice, it is part of our heritage that we hold dear. I think the choice for my generation isn’t something we decided at twelve or thirteen, when many of us were baptized.  I think the choice really happens sometime around college or early adulthood, when we start making decisions about our lives for ourselves.  And it’s not a single choice, it’s a daily choice, or weekly choice, or a moment-by-moment choice.

So, why do I choose to be a Mennonite? With so much Mennonite education I probably should say something intellectual about following the ethical way of Jesus.

But I won’t.

I’m partially a Mennonite because people I respect and admire are Mennonites.  People I want to be like are Mennonites. People who have mentored me are Mennonites. Some of these people are pastors, who showed me that church is mainly about loving the people, with all their imperfections. Some people are faculty who showed me that it’s okay to think critically about the denomination and even criticize the church and that criticism does not mean I can’t stay connected to it. I am still a Mennonite because of people.

More recently, my choice to remain Mennonite has to do with the roots of the denomination. Early Anabaptists did what “emerging church” folks are just now talking about. They sought to follow Jesus in life. I’m used to thinking about Mennonites as about 50 years behind on all major trends, but in this one thing, it seems that we are ahead. Or at least we would be, if we could follow our roots.  I’m proud of that heritage.

Beneath these things, there is a warmth in knowing that I’m connected to a group of people that mostly tries hard to get it right, that mostly seeks to follow Jesus, that mostly intends to live their faith. And when they fail, I recognize that I cannot call myself a follower of Jesus without extending to them the same grace I hope to receive for my own failings.

I am a Mennonite because of breeding, education, people, heritage and grace. Ω

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