Marlene Kropf was born and raised a Mennonite, but after moving to an area without any Mennonite churches, she had to be creative in how she continued to worship.
Marlene Kropf is a spiritual director and retreat leader. She is retired from denominational ministry and from teaching at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, in Elkhart, Indiana. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington, with her husband, Stanley, and is a member of Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church.
We live in a town on a peninsula without any Mennonite Church USA churches. It’s a good place for reflecting on why I remain a Mennonite.
The easy answer is that I was raised in a Mennonite family and formed in a Mennonite congregation that paid extraordinary attention to nurturing the faith of children and involving them in congregational life. Before me, my ancestors were Mennonites. Some were part of the first Mennonite settlements in North America, and others emigrated from Mennonite communities in northern Europe during the latter half of the 1800s. Not all of my ancestors were Mennonite, however; some were Methodist, Lutheran, Reformed or and Congregationalist, and others professed no faith at all.
Though I had a sturdy beginning in the Mennonite church and was baptized as a youngster, I’ve also been attracted to other faith traditions along the way: Pentecostalism, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and the early Celtic Church, for example. Each of those expressions of being church has enriched my faith and practice. I’m grateful for their contributions.
I used to tell students at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary that it’s a valuable spiritual practice to drink deeply from at least one spiritual stream other than one’s own. No faith tradition has a complete or adequate view of God and God’s ways in the world.
Gaps or underemphasized elements of one tradition can be enriched or corrected by the insights of another.
I cherish the freedom of the Spirit in the Pentecostal tradition. I’m nourished by the sacramental life and prayer traditions of Roman Catholics and Anglicans. I’m inspired and renewed by the beauty and earthiness of Celtic wisdom and prayers. Still, even though I now worship regularly with Episcopalians and only occasionally with Mennonites, I remain an Anabaptist Mennonite.
Living far from the centers of Mennonite life, I recognize more fully how important our peace witness has been in the world. Most of my secular and church friends here are peace-lovers, but very few can imagine the radical choice of not serving in the military. Because they were not formed in families or churches in which stories and images of peacemaking were prominent, their minds simply can’t grasp the possibility of refusing to cooperate when their government calls them to war. That lack of imagination is a great handicap. If everyone in the world could imagine alternatives to fighting, it wouldn’t be long before wars would cease. If everyone in the world could believe and see that love is truly stronger than violence or evil, then hatred and injustice would wither.
I’m deeply grateful for a church that inspired me to imagine a world in which everyone can live at peace and equipped me to work for justice and peace in practical, everyday ways to make that dream a reality.
I’m also grateful that the Mennonite church gave me Jesus. It’s not that other Christians don’t also love Jesus — they do, of course. But when I recite the creed every week in my local church and observe what is called “the great comma” — that is, the leap from Jesus’ birth to his death and resurrection, omitting Jesus’ life and teachings — I’m thankful for the gift of a fully human Jesus, a Jesus who incarnated God’s love and presence in the dust and grime, in the pain and ecstasy, of ordinary life. The Jesus I was given loved children, welcomed sinners, ate meals with outcasts, resisted old prejudices, healed the sick, esteemed women, taught and modeled that the meek and merciful would inherit the earth, was willing to give up his life rather than resort to violence, and trusted God to save him. This Jesus continues to give me life and hope. I’m grateful for every Sunday school and Bible school teacher who told me the stories of Jesus and encouraged me to love and trust him and follow in his way.
Closely connected to the gift of a human Jesus is the heritage of martyrs. With “Martyrs’ Mirror” occupying the biggest space on the bookshelves of my childhood home, I learned that it’s possible for ordinary people to be faithful disciples of Jesus. I was inspired by the stories of Maeyken Wens, Hans Denck, Michael Sattler and others, whose faith gave them strength to resist hypocrisy, oppression and injustice. What I gained from the martyrs was a conviction about loyalty: One’s deepest obedience is always to Christ, not to any nation-state, tribe or people. I developed a suspicion of power and entitlement, which too often ignore the voice and needs of the weak and poor. And because Anabaptists were not part of the establishment, I experienced the church as an alternative voice, an alternative community, a living witness to God’s dreams of healing and liberation for the world.
That alternative community is a treasured gift from my tradition — not the community of a like-minded social or political group or a people who share an ethnic heritage, but the beloved community of Christ-followers. I’m especially grateful for the thoughtful, creative work of Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Mission Network and their commitment to partnerships around the world. I’m fully aware that such collaboration is inefficient and costly; it’s easier to repeat old patterns of Eurocentric privilege than to genuinely welcome the multi-colored, multi-voiced church God’s Spirit is creating. But that new world is indeed coming to be, and MWC, MCC, Mennonite Mission Network, and Mennonite schools and camps are often shining beacons of the new reality.
Choosing to remain Anabaptist Mennonite doesn’t mean I’m blind to the shadow side of our tradition: its tendency to perfectionism, tribalism and insular separatism that can keep us from occupying our space in the world. What heartens me, though, is our increasing willingness to confess our sins, own up to the harms we’ve caused and step into the new future of being Anabaptist Mennonite.
Even though other faith traditions continue to nourish me, I remain at home in the Anabaptist Mennonite faith, embracing both the gifts and challenges my home offers me. I hope our church will continue to offer generous gifts with open hands to the world.
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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