What do Mennonites mean by “community”?
Most Mennonites feel like community is a very important part of their church experience and faith, even though for most of them it does not mean physically living together, communally in one large compound or complex. A few families, couples or singles have worked at shared housing or finances; but for the vast majority, community is a feeling of connectedness to others who share some common values, goals and outlook. However, it is possible to have community with people who are very different from ourselves.
“If we haul our flesh and bones out and down to the meeting, we are doing the work of community. We are combating isolation—the urge to privacy. We let ourselves look each other in the eye, smell the smell, shake the hand, give the hug, experience the body language. Community doesn’t happen by remote control.”
– Brent Alderfer and Vern Rempel The Mennonite, March 2, 1999
Theologically, the idea of community comes from the early Christians as described in Acts 4:32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” In the 1500’s the early Anabaptists believed that each person should be able to read the Bible for him or herself (a radical idea for the time) and that the larger church community helped to interpret and figure out what God was saying to them. Therefore the church community was very important to these Anabaptists. As they were persecuted, they gathered strength from the support they felt from the community.
In the past, Mennonite “community” probably had more of an ethnic or family feel (German, Dutch, Russian). But today, Mennonites in North America and around the world come from many different ethnic groups. So the idea of community is more emotional than literal.
Mennonite congregations desire to make all feel welcome and a part of the group. A church community often offers love and support in tangible ways, especially during times of crisis, such as providing food, transportation, babysitting, and cleaning.
For an additional article/perspective on community, read Philip A. Gunther’s article.