I often get the question; "How did you become Mennonite"? This is a tricky question because the average person thinks of Mennonites in the same context that they think of the Amish; as if they are all pretty much the same. Well, this just isn't true, but it's hard to articulate the differences without taking up someones entire afternoon.
I was befriended many years ago by a Mennonite lady in Ohio.. I went to visit her church and what I found was the fellowship I'd been seeking for years. That's it in a nutshell. I didn't start out trying to be plain, or be like the Amish or Mennonites. I knew nothing about them.
I am not a member of a conservative Mennonite Church, but I do worship with the conservative Mennonites. I am still retain membership with the Mennonite Central Committee, which is not a conservative church. This all happened after I developed a relationship with my Mennonite friend in Ohio, and had moved to Texas. I wanted to find that same kind of fellowship here. So, I cracked open the phone book and started looking. I found a listing nearby for *Hope Fellowship Church* under ; Mennonite. I called and they invited my family to a pot-luck dinner they were having that evening. Up until that moment- I ALSO thought there was pretty much one, garden variety Mennonite. But when we arrived, we were greeted at the door by a beardless gentleman, and his lovely short-haired wife. I was confused. Was I in the right place??? The look of confusion must have been written all over my face with Pastor Stolzphus introduced himself. He assured me they were Mennonite and to come, make myself comfortable.
The evening was filled with a brief reading from the Bible and short commentary. Much food was brought out and served, then tables were set up in small groups where we all played various games from Scrabble to Dutch Blitz! The evening was concluded with another Bible reading and prayer. This was the beginning of many similar fellowships that over several years, and countless good memories...So we joined the church.
This also began the beginning of my journey. When I join a church, I join the body of believers. I have never put too much thought into how they came to be, or what branch of believers they might have stemmed from? I figure the here and now is what's important.
But this time it was difficult to ignore. It seems that most of the church came from Conservative Mennonite beginnings, and for various reasons, they desired a less restrictive congregation. I can understand the desire to not be micro-managed, so I didn't think a lot about it. However it did present a lot of questions and pique my curiosity.
As time went on, I was trying to comprehend WHY anyone would dress plain, as my friends in Ohio did, or cover their head? What was the difference and why would one group under the same name be comfortable in modern dress and lifestyle and the other is the exact polar opposite??
I heard stories of Martyrs. I heard people speak of their families Mennonite History going back as far as the reformation. People spoke in whispers of their *plain* relatives not approving of this type of Mennonite Church and how it really isn't *true* Mennonite.
So, I began spending a lot of time at the library researching the Reformation, Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites trying to understand what made each group unique? This has turned into a 15 year journey that probably doesn't have a concrete answer, or a predictable end.
Nothing is cut and dry. Every single group of Anabaptists are who they are, and practice their faith the way they do, for a variety of reasons. I found a lot of answers and just as many new questions in the process.
I don't care what someone wears to church, but what I learned from these self-imposed studies was; it needs to be modest. The Bible says so. I can't find an supporting argument that says you should be otherwise. I also don't judge people who choose to wear other styles of clothing. Frankly I think you should be able to wear what you want within reason.
BUT, this is my journey and I'm the one who has to answer for it. So, when my husband and I arrived at Saturday Night Church gathering (at a members home) to find 2 Sisters in string bikini's in the pool...we knew there was a problem. See, you can throw the baby out with the bathwater in either direction.
1 Timothy 2:9-10... “In like manner also that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” Here we are given instruction in how to dress as godly women... in “modest apparel.”
Well, now I've opened a can of worms. The Church I was attending WAS very loving and kind, but some of the women and young teen girls were coming to church in spaghetti-string dresses, tight, tight TIGHT jeans, and mini-skirts on a regular basis IN church...not just at home. If a skirt is so short you can't bend over without exposing your naught-bits... your nor professing godliness, (see scripture above).
I also found 1 Corinthians 11 to explain in very clear detail that women should veil their heads during worship services. No one did at my church.
Now, you can look into this yourself and decide. Many scholars have worked hard to say that this was Jewish Custom only and Paul was only trying to pass it on. But the Early Church up until Vatican II required that women cover in Church/Mass.
While I do not press anyone I know to cover, I do encourage all to investigate for themselves.
SO, you can imagine what happened next: I began covering my head with a veil at church and in private prayer, and also paying attention to how I dressed. Did it line up with 1 Timothy???
This quickly became a sore spot for the Pastor's wife, who told me that she had been forced to wear ridiculous garb as a child in an Amish home. Same story for her husband. They did not want me challenging them on this issue. It was not welcome to them or anyone else in the church. This is what most had left behind. Yet...there it is on the pages of my Bible. What to do?
I did what I am supposed to do according to The Bible: I followed my convictions and didn't challenge the people there on any level. I found joy in my new manner of dressing and the feeling that I was pleasing God with my sincerity. I wanted no attention from this, and to this day- that is the hardest thing about it; setting yourself apart from Pop-Culture, friends and family. Actually your friends and family are likely to be either your greatest source of encouragement or your greatest source of despair regarding modest dress and the headcovering. It is either something they can wrap their minds around, or it makes them very uncomfortable.
So, back to my research; as I read about the history of the Mennonites, I realized that I there was most likely a conservative church somewhere on the outskirts of my city, so I hit the internet to find it. After visiting several churches, I began to think I was caught in the middle of two cultures, and one denomination. Luckily, through the internet, I have been united with hundreds of women who have very similar stories. We all seem to be displaced a bit. Some are in progressive churches, yet remain faithful to their call to modesty. Others are in conservative congregations, but struggle as they go through the conversion process. Regardless, we are all here for each other.
So, that is my story. This is how I came to the place where I currently am, where I currently serve Our Lord. It is a story that is often repeated in a more condensed version. Many short stories are gleaned from this experience. Some very comical, and others very spiritually intense. But all part of the learning curve. And goodness, it's a BIG curve! I am neither *PLAIN* in the traditional sense, nor do I fit into a modern, pop-culture mold. I am who I am, which is: Modest, but not frumpy on most days, reserved in behavior, because I am desire to please my Heavenly Father, but honest with myself and my friends because they would know otherwise:-) I am still Kelly. I am happy, funny, curious, eager, and willing to be a friend, and share the love of Christ. This is me at the very core. I pray this part of me never changes. God is working on the less desireable parts of my personality, and I trust Him to take me where He needs me, even if I go kicking and screaming. For the most part, I do so willingly.
Let me encourage you; dig a little deeper if you are interested in knowing WHY one group has practices that differ from another. You won't be disappointed- you'll be amazed to know the history and have a better comprehension of a special group of people. You might just broaden your mind and have a better outlook towards those who don't *fit in*. Blinders come in all sizes for all ages. Sometimes it's good to take them off and get a feel for the world without them.