I have a confession to make. I am not Mennonite Brethren by birth. I do have a last name that gives me some MB street cred, but it’s a gift from my husband whose forebears were born in Russia. He married me to widen the gene pool.
I have more confessions to make. I was baptized as an infant in a Christian Reformed church. As a teenager, I had questions about why Jesus was the only way to God. My youth pastor lovingly but straightforwardly told me the truth, and I responded to the Spirit’s prompting, receiving Christ into my confused, pain-filled, 17-year-old heart.
After becoming a Christian, I devoured the Bible. As I read about baptism in Scripture, I became convinced that I needed to be rebaptized as an adult. So when I visited a friend’s United Pentecostal church, I partook in the baptism service they were having that evening.
While living, working, and studying with Christians from a variety of faith traditions at Youth With A Mission in Cambridge, Ont., I was a member of a Baptist church.
You could say I’m a bit of a spiritual mutt.
I suspect my mixed spiritual heritage is quite common for many in my generation. Who needs denominations, conferences, or whatever you want to call a collection of churches that have agreed on a set of beliefs?
Although…there are some things I love about my adopted people, the Mennonite Brethren.
Highlights of adoption
I am humbled and awed by the historical peace stance by which Mennonites lived. When I joined Waterloo (Ont.) MB Church during university, our new member class read and discussed the MB Confession of Faith and watched The Radicals – a movie about the early Anabaptists. I had never heard of biblical nonresistance, but was intrigued by it. For a course I took on Gandhi, I wrote a paper contrasting Gandhi’s practice of nonviolent resistance with biblical nonresistance. It is a topic I’m not done thinking about.
More recently, my admiration for Mennonites deepened as I savoured Saskatchewan author Janice Dick’s three novels Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm, and Out of the Storm. The books chronicle what Mennonites endured in Russia for the sake of remaining true to their faith.
I also appreciate many of the MB organizations I’ve come in contact with. In the early ’90s, my husband’s life was transformed through Youth Mission International (later integrated with MB Mission and Service International). In 2009, Wes and I were part of the one-week SOAR Montreal family program with our kids. I love MBMSI’s focus on hearing God and praying. There’s nothing like developing a direct connection with Jesus – it’s portable and not dependent on any program. Their emphasis on unreached people is also passion-inducing.
I’m excited about Xpansion (formerly Board of Church Extension), the church planting arm of the Ontario MB Conference. I’m inspired by their urban church plants and collaborative projects with other denominations – including MoveIn (encouraging Christians to live in needy, densely populated, unreached neighbourhoods) with Associated Gospel Church of Canada and Brethren churches, and The Jesus Network (reaching new Canadians ) started with the Salvation Army.
While I’m not particularly loyal to a denomination, I am dedicated to my local expression of the body of Christ and the wider family of churches it belongs to provincially, nationally, and globally. Though not a perfect match, I find the MB worldview consistent with my interpretation of the Bible. And the MB community is a place where I can live my faith with others who turn their beliefs into action. This spiritual mutt has found a good home.
Maybe it is worth cultivating a distinct identity as an MB conference – as long as the boundaries are porous enough to allow collaboration and even a little crossbreeding from other faith traditions. We don’t all have to look the same, and we shouldn’t be so loyal to our brand of Christianity that we disrespect other believers. Didn’t Jesus pray that all those who believe in him would be one?