A Catholic in Mennonite Country

Before I moved to this neck of the woods, my two experiences with Mennonites were a.) spotting the bearded men on bicycles in one neighborhood of my grandparents’ town growing up and b.) a couple of friends in grad school who had gone to a Mennonite church but were currently Baptist.

I live now in the heart of Mennonite country. And I’ll caution you I definitely don’t know much still. There’s a lot of variety within the denomination, including moderate or progressive, conservative, and Old Order. (It’s also worth noting many congregants don’t ascribe to the strict dress codes that sometimes cause folks to confuse Mennonites with the Amish.)

But here I encounter a distinctively Mennonite presence everywhere: a horse and buggy parked at the pediatrician office, a woman in a prayer cap at the grocery store whipping out an enormous, outdated cell phone. There’s a Mennonite college in town, a museum, a handful of churches. And in my lurky Catholic way, I’m so grateful they are here.

My fondness for bargain shopping probably puts me into contact with Mennonites more than it otherwise might — Mennonites as a whole take frugality very seriously, congregating at yard sales, thrift stores and the close-out grocery store, all my happy places. If I dress my children and myself in hand-me-down clothes, I can find solidarity with my many neighbors doing the same, and when I hit the cheapskate grocery with a cartful of children, I can rest assured I’ll be exchanging smiles with a similarly burdened Mennonite mama as I scan the shelves.

There is a do-it-yourself, simplifying element to this culture, and our town bristles with backyard vegetable gardens, laundry on lines, rattling older cars that get the job done without fuss. I am inspired to soldier on as a one-car family, dabble in sourdough, wean myself off Amazon.

All the prayer caps and bonnets on display around town also helped ease me toward the practice of veiling. If the girl selling me cinnamon rolls can wear a headscarf every day, surely I can manage for Sunday morning! If that woman looks beautiful and stylish in her prayer cap, maybe I can gather the courage to wear my faith, too.

I’m not sure, after the history of Catholics persecuting Anabaptists, that all Mennonites would be quick to see the commonalities between their faith and mine, but their presence is a comfort to me as I navigate our family life. Ultimately, Mennonites feel like countercultural compatriots in slowly embracing a different rhythm of life, one that is more influenced by faith, more open to life, and less dictated by materialism. Flannery O’Connor famously quipped, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd,” and I find my neighbors daily helping me in the slow, halting work of embracing oddness.

(You can find a lovely account of a Catholic convert’s Mennonite upbringing at Becoming Peculiar.)

3 thoughts on “A Catholic in Mennonite Country

  1. This was a lovely reflection! I LOVE the Amish and Mennonite and we have a fair amount around here. My husband and I have actually chosen Amish country for a couple mini vacations because we love the simplicity and calm of their lifestyles. I feel like so many people judge them or tell stories about the “bad apples” of the bunch, whereas I agree with you that I feel a comraderie with the way they try to live simple, DIY lives and avoid materialism and commercialism. 🙂

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