Last Sunday, Alison and I traveled to Cincinnati to visit our little nephew (and I suppose his parents, too :) ) on the occasion of his dedication in the Church. My brother- and sister-in-law are Mennonite and this was my first time attending a Mennonite service. As I understand it, there are a variety of Mennonite congregations ranging from Basically Amish to Considerably More Progressive. I think the Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, where my relatives attend, falls closer to the latter.
I did not know what to expect of a Mennonite service, so I was pleasantly surprised by several things, which I would like to make note of here.
First, I was glad to see and hear women taking a central role in the service, including praying, and reading Scripture. The lectionary readings for the third week of Advent feature the Magnificat, Mary’s response to God’s call to be the human vessel of the Incarnation. Her song is a powerful vision of God’s work – throwing down the rulers from their thrones, lifting up the poor, feeding the hungry, sending the rich away with nothing. Why, if Fox News ever hears about this, they’d call Blessed Mary a Marxist! There are many, many wonderful musical settings of the Magnificat – which you can frequently hear at Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral – but I was struck by hearing this passage read by a young woman. It is amazing to note the different ways a text can change depending on how or by whom it is read.
Secondly, I was impressed with the ecumenism of the service. In his sermon, the pastor spoke about attending Mass in South America while vacationing there, and despite the language barrier and theological differences, how he felt a powerful connection to his Catholic brethren. He also spoke about his ever-growing appreciation for Mary and her importance in the saving work of God.
Thirdly, I was struck by the lovely Advent wreath which, in addition to the traditional purple and pink candles, was surrounded by a cityscape which the children of the congregation had created. The wreath was a simple reminder of this particular congregation’s mission of peace and justice as an urban congregation serving the inner city.