Roger Farmer is a retired pastor of the Sugar Creek Mennonite Church, Wayland, Iowa. He graduated from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), in 1993, where he raised the average age of the student body. Roger has served as the chair/a member of the outreach and service committee of the Central Plains Mennonite Conference and as a member of the Mennonite Mission Network Peace and Justice Support Network. He also volunteers as cashier at the Crowded Closet MCC Thrift Store in Iowa City, Iowa, occasionally rides bicycle, and tries to grow strawberries, but not very successfully so far.
I grew up in a mainstream Protestant denomination and was baptized as an infant. But I lived in the country, and the local congregation was in town. I wasn’t rebellious, but I didn’t know the other kids in my church youth group and the church didn’t seem too relevant to me. Then, I went to college during the Vietnam War. The war seemed wrong to me, especially since Jesus said we should love our enemies. But the college pastor of my denomination, who was a veteran, said he couldn’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t defend their country.
The local Mennonite pastor, however, said that he couldn’t understand any serious Christian who would want to kill their enemy.
The answer of the Mennonite pastor made more sense to me, both then and now.
Years later, I graduated from college and began working as a computer programmer in the Chicago, Illinois, area. At the same time, the government was trying to draft me into the army. I applied to be a Conscientious Objector, but my application was denied. After a long and stressful legal and administrative process, my Order to Report for Induction into the army was canceled five days before its effective date. I never learned why it was canceled. I regarded this event to be an act of God in my life, so I decided that it might be good to go to church. Based partly on that conversation with a Mennonite pastor in college, I thought the Mennonites might be against war, but I didn’t know anybody who actually was a Mennonite. I found a Mennonite church in the phone book, and I showed up one Sunday morning. Jon, the greeter, was a friendly guy, who welcomed me, asked my name and gave me a bulletin. I don’t remember anything about the worship service, except the singing was pretty good, and I liked to sing. I went back the next Sunday. Jon was still the greeter, and he welcomed me again, remembering my name from the past week. I was completely astounded that Jon remembered my name, since nobody else in the entire Chicago area knew who I was. Much later, I decided that God might be like my friend Jon, who knows who you are, even if nobody else does.
I discovered that the Mennonite church was indeed generally against war and violence and also had all kinds of projects that addressed poverty, racial discrimination and a variety of other social problems from a Christian point of view. In addition, everybody at church was friendly and even invited me for Sunday dinner and potlucks, which I appreciated, since I was single at the time and didn’t like to cook. Both the verbal descriptions and practical examples of Christian faith that I observed in this congregation seemed to echo the words of Jesus in a variety of ways. I enthusiastically joined the congregation and was baptized as an adult in the lake at a church retreat.
Several other young adults were also attending this congregation at that time, so we formed a young adult small group that met every few weeks. We planned lots of discussions and group activities, some filled with vigorous debate and others just silly. I also met my wife, who grew up in the Mennonite church, there. We began dating and eventually married.
After another few years, I realized that I was more interested in the church and questions of faith than I was in my current occupation as a computer programmer. So, at a rather advanced age, I entered seminary and then pastored a church in Iowa for almost 10 years.
Now that I am retired, I remain a Mennonite because I am still convinced that Mennonite faith and practice is the most faithful example of authentic Christian life that I know about.
I have been an active member of four Mennonite congregations. There are occasional problems, of course, but all four of these congregations have been filled with people trying to follow Jesus.
My original encounters with Mennonites in the phone book, with a friendly greeter and in a congregation that had potlucks strongly influenced the direction of my life. My experience in Mennonite congregations has always been enriching and fulfilling. Both my personal relationships and my life’s work were strongly influenced by the people and churches that I encountered during my life. I will always be grateful to the people and institutions of the Mennonite church for the spiritual nurture and practical support that the church provided for me throughout my life.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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