One of my favorite things in life is to talk about being Mennonite. I like it because people don’t really understand it and because they always have the funniest questions about it. I also love it because it’s this entire culture that exists and so few people really know about. It’s a little sub-world and I feel lucky to have been a part of it growing up. So, what I know about Mennonites:
1. Rumspringa is a real thing. It’s mostly an Amish thing, but Mennonites loosely practice it. It technically means a “sowing of the wild oats.” For example, I got caught for drinking in high school (I only did it once) and sobbed as I told my dad. He giggled and said, “Oh, I thought you were pregnant or something.” First, thanks for your confidence in me Dad. Second, I should have tried to get away with a lot more.
2. The Mennonite and Amish religions span a broad spectrum. I use the word “a” because the spectrums intersect and get all entwined. I am constantly asked the difference between Amish and Mennonite. A gross simplification of the answer: There was an Anabaptist movement in the 16th century led by a man named Menno Simons. In the 17th century, a subgroup led by Jakob Ammann was formed which was a bit more conservative in practice. They became the Amish. But now? It’s way more confusing. There are car-driving Amish (called “beachy”) while some Mennonites still only use a horse and buggy. There are Mennonites who still firmly believe women cannot speak in church or be pastors, and there are others who have woman pastors and allow gay members. (I’m not inserting any opinion here, just laying out the facts.) See? Spectrum I tell you.
3. Mennonites think oregano is spicy. Therefore, all food is just salted and peppered all the way baby. And buttered. And sugared. Whoopie pies, regular pies, fresh baked breads, soft pretzels, doughnuts. Buttered noodles, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes. No one ever accused the Mennonites of being health freaks. I gain a minimum of 4 pounds on every trip I take back to Lancaster. Also, smorgasbords.
4. There is an Amish/Mennonite version of Vegas. It’s called Pinecraft and it’s tucked into an unassuming corner of Sarasota, Florida. And let me tell you: what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft. Rollerblades, electricity, bikinis! My family has a house there, because Mennonite, and we’ve been going for Christmas every year of my entire life. It is by far the weirdest place I’ve ever been and it’s easily my favorite. I want to live there for a least a year at some point in my life.
5. Mennonites love to play tricks. If you’re into pranks, I guess you could find it funny. But I don’t find pranks funny; I find them annoying. Mennonites love to toilet paper yards, put cattle indoors where they don’t belong, steal headlights, and drive alongside you at dangerous speeds on back roads. But all in the name of good fun. I hate pranks and this was my least favorite part about going to high school with Mennonites.
6. They don’t believe in birth control or war, technically. See number two, as different churches will believe different things. But my family was one of the smallest at the Mennonite church we attended growing up and I have four siblings. Yep, smallest. Oh, and I have upwards of 30 first cousins. First.
7. Mennonites live simply, they work hard, and they serve humbly. I’ve never been part of a stronger community and I doubt I ever will. Barn raisings are no joke. If someone’s barn burns down, the whole community shows up to rebuild it. You have a baby? You have meals for a month. Hipsters like to talk about villages and tribes and all that and community has become a hip word. But Mennonites are the original tribe; they’ve been doing this for centuries. They take care of their own with no questions asked. These qualities are woven into their (my) culture and when I find myself getting off track, I strive to be like the people I grew up with.