Mysterious Ferment among Mennonites


In or Out?  That is a worn-out old Mennonite question.

This morning my Joyce asked what was on my schedule for today.  “Nothing,” I answered, “except to blog”.  So, here I am, still comparing my brief encounter with Unity and my long term identiy as a Mennonite.   On that one Sunday in Arizona I had been surrounded by people who believed that to extend love and forgiveness in any situation will cause miracles to happen.

Now I’ve returned to my Mennonite world which is in need of miracles.  Our Mennonite world may be characterised as being in ferment. That is a good thing.  Fermenting as in mash changing to beer, corn to whiskey, juniper berries to gin, grapes to wine and the churning of sour cream into butter and butter milk. The Mennonite church is changing into something “else”, and what that “else” will be is not yet clear.  As I ponder the pending miracle I am moved to tears.

In Arizona the Sunday morning lesson was taught by Natalie, a woman.  In Indiana last Sunday the story was told by Pamela and the sermon was preached by Gwen, both women. That would have been out of place in the church of my youth. Pamela and Gwen are not Mennonite by birth, but by a series of diverse graftings are now pastors at College Mennonite.  To see and hear them click here and scroll forward forty minutes.

The first time I heard Pamela speak in the pulpit she was dressed in a long white gown, I wish I had taken a picture of her.  This time she was again dressed in a white skirt, but shorter, and wearing a colorful vest made as a gift to her from her thrice divorced mother.  She told her life journey from service in the army and national guard and Methodism to being a Mennonite pastor.

Gwen’s sermon was not a life story, but it was a story.  It told of a woman who knew and belonged to every household on the street she walked almost daily in Atlanta.  The houses included the Mennonite House of MCC workers on that street.  Gwen explained the mystery of many becoming one tree to which everyone belongs.  We are already “one tree” owned by God. Mysteriosuly, the grafting has already been done. We may now own everyone we meet as belonging to each other on God’s tree.

The mystery is that Unity and Mennonites have much in common.  There are other signs of the ferment.  The Chester Wenger saga is back in the news. (My Joyce and I visited Chester and Sarah Jane Wenger when we were in Pennsylvania several years ago. Chester and I had been partners in administration.)

Chester showing an album of Pictures to Joyce

Chester showing an album of Pictures to Joyce

An open letter from Chester to the Mennonite Church went viral and led to him being featured in a popular podcast by Malcom Gladwell. If you haven’t seen the podcast click here.  You will meet Chester and Sara Jane, their gay son Philip, and daughter Sarah, AMBS president, and Gladwell as interviewer.

Another sign of ferment among Mennonites is an essay, “Love is a Verb: Three times Denied” by Meghan Florian from Durham, North Carolina.  She writes out of her experience as a member of a church whose pastor’s credentials were withdrawn because he had performed the wedding of two same sex members of his church.  You may read her essay by clicking here.

I am pleased and encouraged by the space given to these voices by Mennonite Church media.  Both Chester and Meghan extend so much love and forgiveness that I expect more miracles to follow.  That is what I am learning from Unity and reinforced by the lessons from the women pastors in the College Mennonite Church


Mystery all arond

A third harbinger of goodwill is a recent action by the Mennonite Mission Network.  The Network has announced it will give $10,000 to partner with The Voices Project which offers training and organization in nonviolent direct action and organizing. To read particulars of this announcement click here and to learn specifics about The Voices Project click here.

Listen carefully
you will hear mysterious sounds
with rain-bow beauty


Please forward to any Mennonite who needs encouragement.

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
This entry was posted in Biblical Interpretation, Church, Faith, Homosexuality, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mysterious Ferment among Mennonites

  1. carroll lehman says:

    Martin, just listened to that podcast with Chester Wenger—very moving.

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