Have you ever played the game where you try to guess what a word is, as it is slowly revealed to you one letter at a time? If not, here is how it works:
- Imagine I write an “S” on a whiteboard.1 At this point, you could guess all kinds of words. Spaghetti. Superman. Singapore. The list is almost endless.
- Then I write an “H”. That narrows it down a bit. Shape. Sharpie. Sharapova.
- Then “E”. Ah, now it is easier, right? It must be Sheep. Or Sherlock.
- Then, finally, “D”. Shed. Of course it was Shed. You knew all along. Right.
Sometimes (often?) we think we know what a word is before, well … before we actually know what the word is.
It seems to me that some of us do the same thing with Mennonite Brethren (aka MB). Mennonite Brethren, of course, describes the kind of church I am a part of and the kind of school that I work for. But Mennonite is not the same as Mennonite Brethren.
“Mennonite” is notoriously difficult to define. Which version of Mennonite? Is it a culture? An ethnicity? A religion? A way of life? A dress code?
“Mennonite Brethren”, on the other hand, is remarkably easy to define. Mennonite Brethren is a Jesus-focused movement of spiritual renewal that emerged from South Russia in 1860. Mennonite Brethren missions, ministries, and churches have spread around the world. And most importantly, Mennonite Brethren is a choice.
I self-identify2 as Mennonite Brethren because I buy into the values, beliefs, and goals of our Mennonite Brethren churches and conferences. The fact that I have a German-Russian family heritage does not make me Mennonite Brethren. The fact that I love perogies and farmer sausage does not make me Mennonite Brethren (but it does make me need to do more exercise!).
I am not Mennonite, I am Mennonite Brethren. By choice. And just like you, it doesn’t matter what my last name is, what language(s) I speak, or where I was born.
In the past, whenever someone asked if I was part of “the Mennonite church” I would always say no. I was part of a Mennonite Brethren church.
Recently I’ve been asked why I want to lead a Mennonite graduate school. I don’t want to. I am, however, looking forward to leading a Mennonite Brethren school. Why? Because I believe in our Mennonite Brethren values, beliefs, and goals. I believe that Canada (and the world) still needs a Jesus-focused movement of spiritual renewal!
So … back to the beginning … when you think of (and talk about) our MB churches, ministries, schools, people, etc … don’t stop partway through. Remember what Mennonite Brethren means, and remember the mission that we have!