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Interesting inquiries: Mennonite Media tackles questions of faith, sausage
Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Media release
Harrisonburg, Va. — A few years back, a firefighter pilot with the British Columbia government was stationed in Williams Lake, B.C. “Our dispatchers were Mennonite ladies and would bring some sausage to the base for us,” this pilot wrote to Third Way Café early this year. He is now retired, lives in Washington state and misses those sausages. “[They were] absolutely great. I would appreciate any help in finding a place near here when I can find some more of your sausages.”
Third Way Café (www.thirdway.com) is a one stop web site for anyone wishing to know more about Mennonites. For years Mennonite Media, the site developer, has fielded all kinds of unusual questions and inquiries that people have about Mennonites, generated from their contact with the public through media programs on radio, TV, print and now the Internet.
The questions increased exponentially with the advent of the Internet, when people could quickly and anonymously be in contact with a few keystrokes. Beginning with the earliest days of e-mail discussion lists, various Mennonite agencies have forwarded the “questions nobody else has the time or patience to answer, for us to handle,” according to Mennonite Media director Burton Buller.
Each question that comes in to Third Way Café, is personally answered. Jodi Nisly Hertzler, a stay-at-home mother from Front Royal, Va. who spent two years working as a Service Adventure leader in Portland, Oregon, has been fielding most e-mail responses for the last two years.
“We receive a rather stunning variety of questions,” remarked Hertzler. “My personal favorite for the year was a student asking for an assignment she had, using wording that was probably almost verbatim from a teacher, ‘What do the Mennonites do? Why do they do what they do? What benefits do the Mennonites expect from defining themselves as ‘other’? What are the disadvantages of this group? How does the mainstream culture put pressure on such a group?’” (See sidebar for list of 20 “Best” Questions.)
Mennonite Media response coordinator Melodie Davis oversees the response work and handles the regular mail and phone inquiries. Some of the more difficult questions are batted to seminary professors, pastors, historians, or genealogical researchers who answer them on a volunteer basis. Another volunteer, Tom Kauffman of Harrisonburg handles ongoing correspondence with inmates seeking spiritual guidance and pen pals.
Many times the questions shimmer with pain barely kept under the surface. A woman who is blind called in response to Mennonite radio spots on grief and almost shouted her frustration into the phone over the ineptitude of people in the church dealing with persons who are blind. A woman wondered why, as a divorced person, she didn’t feel welcome at a conservative church she was attending. A man (formerly Mennonite) whose wife filed for divorce the day that he had to go on disability five years ago, said all he has now is his dog. “We’re content being alone but [I] am hungry often and freeze in winter,” he wrote in a long letter.
Over the years, a “glossary” of more than 100 frequently asked questions was gathered and posted at Third Way Café under “Who are the Mennonites?” The glossary answers many of the more common questions like “What are those white hats that Mennonite women wear?” and “Why do some wear beards and some not?” that previously were answered one-by-one via e-mail.
Still, there always seem to be new questions in the 25-30 inquiries sent each month. The Third Way Café staff is currently working on a glossary addition to handle several inquiries regarding where to find Mennonite organic farmers.
Interested readers can ask to be put on an e-mail list to get a summary of questions every two months (readers cannot self-subscribe) by e-mailing email@example.com
Sidebar: Twenty best questions of 2004 at Third Way Cafe
Harrisonburg, Va.— The top twenty favourite questions received by Third Way Café this year, chosen by staff, reflect a wide variety of questions including those that pick up on Mennonite quirks, “glad-you-asked-that” questions, and “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-but-probably-aren’t” questions. Even questions that may appear silly or plain-to-see, but as one questioner below acknowledges, these things are not always obvious. The questions appear in no special order and are direct quotations, when possible.
WHERE WAS I BAPTIZED? “I was baptized by immersion by a Bishop (Jacob)? Martin, from the Kitchener area in the early 1940s, together with several siblings, but have no record of it. The baptism took place in Fraser Lake, near Fort Stewart, Ontario. I believe my brother Daniel and a sister Faythe were the other two baptized at that time. Our parents are both dead and there are no certificates to be found.” – Ernest
A MORTGAGE THE SAME AS USURY? A caller wanted guidance on whether Mennonites think that since in a normal mortgage, you pay about 2-3 times the price of the loan in interest, whether that equates to the biblical “usury” practice that persons were urged to avoid, and whether a 401K is gambling.
NEED MENNONITE INTERPRETER FAST A staff person from an employment office, which does interpretation by telephone, needed a “Mennonite interpreter” by the following day. Someone who came to them needing services said his language was “Mennonite.” A referral was made.
ARE MENNONITES PUNCTUAL OR LATE? “What do Mennonites believe about their personal space and the use of touch in that setting? Are Mennonites usually punctual or late to appointments? Are they past, present or future oriented? What do Mennonites think about exercise, work …?” – Bethany
MENNONITES AND MAPLE SYRUP DISEASE “I am just learning about a disease called Maple Syrup Urine Disease. I found that this mostly happens among Mennonites. So now I am also learning about them as well. I wondered if you could tell me more about their beliefs and how they live? Also, do you know why this disease is so common among these people?” – Tara
NOT OBVIOUS QUESTIONS “Is the Bible Mennonites use the same as any other? Can a head covering be worn with regular clothes by a Protestant? Do you ‘convert’ or just decide to become Mennonite? If there isn’t a church around, can you teach yourself? Does a Mennonite have to go a Mennonite church? Sorry if these are obvious questions, but I really don’t know anything about it, so thanks!” –Stephanie
MENNONITES AND STEM CELL RESEARCH “My daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, is in a debate about stem cell research. I was wondering if you have anything or can direct her to web sites with Mennonite perspectives about this issue.” – Christine
PUPPY MILLS AGAIN “In the past I have held the Mennonites in the highest esteem. Your devotion to God and simplicity is wonderful. You have had a reputation for peace and gentleness. It has come to me that there is a problem in your midst. I don’t know if it is an approved undertaking, or if individuals are responsible, but I hear that there are groups of Mennonites that run puppy mills. Any time animals such as faithful dogs, are kept in cages piled high, with droppings and feet falling through large wire mesh, there is a problem. ... Two words come to mind, greed and callousness. In my opinion, these are not words that should come up when people think of Mennonites and Christians.” – Kathleen
SPIRITUAL MATURITY “I have read most of your website. It’s very interesting. I am a seminary student and investigating three different communities, the 16th century Mennonites being one, as to how they saw spiritual maturity develop a biblically functioning community. Any ideas for original writings would be best.” –John
SHUNNED FAMILY “Can the third generation of a shunned family return to the Mennonites?” –Thomas
MENNONITES AND CONFLICT “I am looking for information on how the Mennonites resolve conflicts. I am currently doing a study as a research associate with the Center for Conflict Resolution in Salisbury, Md. My main focus is to compare the various conflict resolution techniques used by different faiths.” – Tim
SIMPLE LIFESTYLE IN TODAY’S WORLD “How should a Mennonite discern and understand the simple lifestyle in today’s world? How do we maintain this lifestyle in our home? These questions are very important to me.” –Mary
CATHOLIC PASTOR LOOKING FOR SIMPLE LIFE RESOURCES “I am Father Rick and was told by someone recently that the Mennonite community had some good resources for helping people adopt more ‘simplified lifestyles.’ Could you possible direct me to some related information?” –Rick
WANTS TO TALK “Over the years I have been drawn to Mennonites. I don’t know why. Could you please tell me who to contact near where I live to talk about Mennonite beliefs?” – Pam
Y U R CALLED MENNONITES? (All original spelling) “I whould like to know y u r called Mennonites and were it started. Thank U.” – Lynzz
LOOKING FOR MENNONITES “I live in an isolated rural community 225 miles from the nearest Mennonite church. Recently I tried to bind myself with a Mennonite Church in several locations. Because of the distance factor the congregations were less than enthusiastic. How does one such as myself who wishes to become a Mennonite and share a faith community proceed?” –Thom
NEVER HEARD OF THEM BEFORE “I am doing a project for school. I chose the Mennonites because I knew truly nothing about them, never even heard of them, so now I need some extra information if it’s no trouble.” –Bethani
MENNONITES AND PRIVACY ISSUES A reporter in Missouri wondered if there were Mennonite groups concerned about pending legislation in that state regarding everyone having to have a photo on their driver’s license or ID card and how this impacts those with scruples against religious photos.
WHAT DO YOU CALL A MENNONITE CLERGY? “What is the proper form of address for a member of the Mennonite or Anabaptist clergy? Is it Pastor, Reverend, or something else? Your prompt response would be appreciated. We have a Mennonite clergyman giving the invocation of an upcoming meeting and want to be able to include his proper title in the agenda.” – from Tucson
RULES ON MARRIAGE “Are Mennonites allowed to get married?” – Jeff