The Mennonite game that too often shames

IMG_1595 (1)My good friend and Mennonite Church USA and Western District Conference pastoral colleague Joanna Harader often gets strange looks when she introduces herself around fellow Mennonites, especially when those said Mennonites are more accustomed to the last name “Harder.” Sometimes she’ll show up to Mennonite events and her name will be spelled Joanna Harder. I guess people just assume she made a mistake and spelled her name wrong on the registration form? Or maybe it’s just that we often see what we’re accustomed to seeing. (I’m kind of jealous that she gets an extra A. Plus, I wish Joanna and I would have gone to the same elementary school together because I’m sure we would have always ended up in line with each other, and I have no doubt we would have created mischief together.)

I’m told that last week the delegates of Mennonite Church USA went around their designated tables and shared about the significance of their last name. Apparently this was the opening get-to-know-you question and I guarantee that some people felt uncomfortable with this exercise and others probably loved it. When you are the only one at a table who can’t trace family lineage to anyone else around a table, or God forbid to anyone in the entire delegate hall, then you quickly feel like you on the outside looking in. If, on the other hand, you are someone with rich Mennonite blood, whether Type Swiss, Type Russian, or Type German, this question is great. In fact, often when I see Mennonites making family connections, it includes some kind of long, sustained, and excited “Ohhhhhhhhhh.” I have started to jokingly (and inappropriately) refer to these as Mennogasms. For many, it is quite pleasurable to play the game of who’s who in the Mennonite Church.

Personally, I’m rich in Type Mennonite Brethren blood. This means that when I introduce myself in Mennonite Church USA circles, people often go down the list of all the Harders they know and after each one I have to say, “No, I’m not related to them…I’m of a different blood line.” Even that gets exhausting and I even know most of these other Harders!

For Mennonites who insist on playing the name game, maybe at the very least we should start with the significance of our middle names. Then again, that isn’t always comfortable either. My husband’s middle name, for example, is “P”. This is usually met with a chuckle or two (at least I still chuckle).

It’s natural to want to establish connections with people. We ask questions in order to locate people, to find commonalities or shared interests or history. This is all fine and good so long we don’t make assumptions within our very questions or so long as we are ready to spend just as much energy getting to know the person next to us as many of us do connecting the family lineage dots.

Speaking of connecting the dots, I’m starting to look toward the next big Mennogasm, I mean gathering, which will be the Western District Conference (WDC) annual assembly on October 30-31 in North Newton, KS. I found what I think is a full listing of all the pastors in WDC. I wrote all these names out the other day and decided to play the connect the dots game. It was a way for me to be in prayer for my fellow colleagues as we prepare for our own delegate sessions. It was a way for me to connect to these beautiful names/people: Harader, Pellecer, Tlumang, Limones, Kreider, Schmidt, Mascho, Cazares, Klingenberg, etc.

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This Sunday I will pick up on some of these themes of who’s who in the Mennonite Church. My working sermon title is “Mennonite (y)our way.”

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2 Responses to The Mennonite game that too often shames

  1. Linda Graham says:

    When Dale and I started going to Rainbow and saw the name game for the first time I was fascinated. Later I felt like I was on the outside looking in. Not because we were treated differently but because of all the folks who knew each other in richer ways. Now I just understand the joy it brings ethnic Mennonites. I have decided I’m a pure Rainbow Mennonite anyway. I love our community and what we accomplish and stand for. The rest of the church rhetoric makes me sad.

  2. I’ve been at Rainbow since age 6 when Rev. Bohn knocked on our door and invited me to Vacation Bible School. As I was growing up at Rainbow the church stayed relatively small, so everyone knew my reason for not having an “Ethnic Mennonite” name and maybe unbeknownst to me others explained my name to the newcomers, so I was never questioned about my name. When our pastor, Frank Ward, was asked to be Camp Minister at Rocky Mtn. Menn. High School Camp he asked me to be a Camp Counselor. First we went to Newton for a ‘get to know you’ meal with the other counselors, my first Mennonite gathering outside of Rainbow. All had an “EM” name, so when I introduced myself and saw their collective look of confusion or maybe disappointment that they couldn’t play the ‘name game’, I was a bit startled and stumbled to explain, “No, I’m not an ethnic Mennonite, but I’ve been at Rainbow since I was 6.” Ward talked with this Campbell about it on our drive back to KC. Later when all the campers had “EM” names, I found myself saying, “I’m not an ethnic….” over and over! I started getting the feeling I needed more qualifications than that to be their counselor, so I started adding, “I work for the church with Frank.” For the first time in my life I didn’t feel Mennonite enough, I felt like an outsider. I think that says more about how accepting Rainbow has always been to me and others without “EM” names than about the young campers. That was 1976, so I’m surprised and sorry to hear things have not changed that much for some people.

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