During this week when Catholics around the world are celebrating the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, I find myself thinking about Mennonite Catholic relations. This is a subject matter near and dear to my heart especially since my extended family is made up of both Mennonites and Catholics. Here is a picture of my Mennonite dad and Catholic uncle-in-law standing at a corner in Rome.
At least 12 people closely connected with Rainbow were raised Catholic, and while this isn’t the case for everyone, many of them still strongly identify as Catholic. Rainbow is actually full of many bi-ecclesial families or marriages (spouses or family members with different religious upbringings).
This is what prompted me to host a Rainbow Mennonite Catholic conversation last Sunday evening. Five Mennonite Catholic couples came and shared what they appreciate about the faith tradition and upbringing of their partner, as well as what troubles or mystifies them. I have a feeling this will be the first of many bi-ecclesial gatherings and conversations at Rainbow.
While this might not be the case in Mennonite circles today, Mennonites have long harbored suspicion toward the Catholic church. Some Mennonites have been falsely taught that not only are Catholics not Christian, they are historical persecutors led by the anti-Christ. As Mennonite pastor Joetta Schlabach reminds us, “Anabaptism had its beginnings as a movement that broke away from the Magisterial or the Catholic Church because of what they perceived as the church’s inconsistencies and practices that weren’t based in biblical understanding.”
As a result of that persecution, says Joetta, Mennonites have had the tendency to isolate and self-protect, staying away from other Christians, especially those who had different views on war and personal living. In many Mennonite traditions, great emphasis was placed on the church being set apart, pure, holy, “without spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27). We’ve now had 500 years of nurturing those tendencies of separation and suspicion, says Joetta. This doesn’t give Mennonites a great track record in terms of ecumenical dialogue and cooperation. (You can view a 30 minute video of Joetta talking about Mennonite Catholic relations here: Mennonite Catholic relations )
Joetta and her Catholic husband Gerald belong to a Mennonite Catholic movement called Bridgefolk. Gerald is actually one of the founders of this movement which is described as follows on the Bridgefolk website:
Bridge folk is a movement of sacramentally-minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions, explore each other’s practices, and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s Church. Together we seek better ways to embody a commitment to both traditions. We seek to make Anabaptist-Mennonite practices of discipleship, peaceableness, and lay participation more accessible to Roman Catholics, and to bring the spiritual, liturgical, and sacramental practices of the Catholic tradition to Anabaptists.
One of these days I hope to attend a Bridgefolk gathering. I also hope to travel in Rome some day! Until then, I hope we can keep learning from one another, building bridges across religious difference.
If you are interested in learning more from those who identify as or work within Mennonite Catholic circles, here are two more links:
Mennonite Catholics and Catholic Mennonites: Bridging, not Splitting, the Difference
Tribute to Ivan Kauffman, co-founder of Bridgefolk (Ivan was cousin to long-time Rainbow member Ralph Kauffman)