Zwingli's and Luther's Kids

My friends, a Presbyterian minister, and a Lutheran minister are studying the Apostles Creed with a joint confirmation class. A nice experience of ecumenism: the children of Zwingli and Luther sitting in a class reading the Bible together, studying the historic creeds and confessions, and Luther's Short Catechism. As this class began to study the Apostles Creed, I was invited to speak on the first article from a Mennonite perspective.

Mennonites, after all, are perceived to be connected to the land. My years in Kansas affirmed that assumption. The emerald green waves of winter wheat draw your sight to ground, then to the horizon, and eventually to the big wide open sky. The earth, its sky and soils are a providential act of unconditional love.

I tried to explain a little of the Mennonite history of baptism upon confession and how it was interpreted as a protest against a state run church; how refraining from infant baptism was an act of treason against the state (a form of tax evasion); how Anabaptist folk were driven to the wilderness and countryside through harsh persecution. Persecution made all the more harsh by the wedded powers of the church and the state. Eventually transitioning to a rural and agrarian culture. It was hard to keep this moving forward for a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds. So I tried not to dwell on too much history.

We talked a little about the historic experience of Mennonites in Europe, fleeing to Russia. While not trying to slight the Swiss Mennonites, we spoke only briefly of the 13 families that came to Pennsylvania by invitation of William Penn. But manly, we spoke of the Dutch/Low German Mennonites who journeyed to Russian, becoming, at Catherine the Great's pronouncement, the "quiet in the land". These Mennonites quietly came to America beginning in the 1870s to the Great Plains, leading to the growth of Mennonite farming and the affected the world-wide production of wheat. A historical event that we still experience with every bite of bread.

But most interesting was the open conversation around the question of similarities and differences. What is the difference between Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Mennonites. When confronted by this question in front of kids in seventh and eighth grade, sophisticated answers don't cut it. While we have different interpretations of the Bible and the creeds, we had one moment in which we three pastors made clear to the kids that we read from the same text. And that that same text, the Bible, we all agreed was a document given by God to people.

The idea of a "normalizing norm," is just this kind of conversation. A conversation, not among esoterica and theological sophisticates, but with kids seeking to mature in faith - in this conversation we had to come to the norm we all hold in common and common esteem. It's not the differences we begin with, but our shared value of the Bible. Then, from a common text in which we can dwell we can begin to talk about the different histories and reflections that have shaped our theological imaginations and cultures.

It's not a big thing. This was a casual, relaxed encounter among three Christian traditions. The lasting power of the content of the evening will wane - quickly, most likely. However, if these young people in Christian formation can get a glimpse of the fact that we are all held together in the same body of Christ, then the lasting lesson is probably the best.