In September, I was part of a tour hosted by Mennonite Central Committee Central States, where we spent time learning from the Mennonites in Oklahoma who are Cheyene. It was a lovely trip, and if we were sitting down across from each other, I would love to talk about it for ages. But the thing that has stuck with me, and the point of this letter, is how the Cheyenne have contextualized their Mennonite faith.
The faith tradition they currently practice was not theirs – it came to them, it must be said, by conquest and colonization and white supremacy. And yet, they see things of value there, and stay, and insist that they, too, are Mennonite. And for them to be Mennonite looks very different from what it means to be Mennonite if your last name is Unruh or Yoder and your family has a favorite shoofly pie or peppernuts recipe.
As someone who became Mennonite through a commitment to peacemaking and nonviolence, the veneration that Cheyanne Mennonites give to warriors and veterans was something I did not expect. As honored guests of Koinonia Indian Mennonite Church, we received blankets and were then smudged with the smoke from cedar shavings and were brushed with an eagle wing as part of a purification after having spent the day among the dead in various burial grounds.
Never have I been in a Mennonite service that involved the words “smudging” or “eagle wing”.
But it was their tradition, not mine. It doesn’t have to make sense to me – it only has to make sense to them. It serves their needs in their context. They have taken what they were given and made it their own.
So what does any of that have to do with us?
There are not a lot of Mennonites in Mississippi. We’re an urban congregation. We’re diverse in multiple ways. Some of us were Mennonite in other parts of the country, and some of us have only experienced it here. In short, being Mennonite at Open Door in Jackson won’t look like it does in the Midwest or in Pennsylvania or Florida.
Being Mennonite at Open Door will have a southern accent, but still be Mennonite. For example, we are more likely to have a pecan pie on the table than a shoofly pie, but hospitality and table fellowship are still key to our identity.
Part of my job as Open Door’s new pastor is to help the congregation discern what being Mennonite in our context looks like, and then how we share that with the world.
The God of the Universe is frugal, and wastes nothing. It is not an accident that we find ourselves in this beautiful but broken city, in these fractious times, at this point in history. It is our job to work to figure out what that looks like for us, and then, once we do that, to get to work making God’s vision a reality.
Grace and Peace,