Guest post from…Jenna Liechty Martin lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland alongside the Edgehill Theological College Reconciliation and Integration Partnership Project and in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network. The goal is to help facilitate and guide Christian churches and church leaders in Northern Ireland and the border counties in their vocation of reconciliation and integration through education and training, practice and research. Jenna is a 2007 graduate of Bluffton University.
This post is another in a series of posts reflecting on what it means to be a Mennonite woman. Other posts in the series can be seen here. Jenna has been a dear friend of mine for a long time now, and I am grateful to her for writing this post.
I live on an island with nearly 6 million people and no Mennonite community. (While there are a scattering of Mennonites on the island of Ireland, there is no formal Mennonite church.)
One of the gifts of living away from a place where being Mennonite is assumed to mean certain things is that it presents the opportunity to continually refine my explanation of what it means to me to be a Mennonite woman. When asked if it means that I am a good baker and quilter and if I am allowed to drive a car or use electricity, I take it as an opportunity to offer a slightly different picture of what it means to me to be a Mennonite (and to remind myself that I really do want to learn to quilt.)
At times this opportunity is a gift, while at other times having to explain myself becomes tiresome and I struggle to find the right words to do justice to the faith tradition I embrace. I wonder…What am I really describing? If I speak from my personal experience, am I focusing too much on a particular sub-culture of the Mennonite church and ignoring the reality of a church with a global impact and identity?
Along with the excitement in being able to share about Mennonites there exists a self-imposed pressure of wanting to do justice to the richness of the tradition, while also struggling with not wanting to come across as being blind to the ways and places we, as a church denomination, fall short.
When people ask whether women can hold leadership positions in the Mennonite church, I quickly respond by saying that I was baptized and married by a woman pastor. When I’m asked how decisions are made within the church, I can describe the processes I’ve seen played out where the church community listens and discerns a healthy way forward. When people ask why Mennonite’s seem to be involved with so many peace-building and reconciliation initiatives around the world, I highlight ways in which the Mennonite church sees peace and justice as central themes to Jesus’ ministry and that we are called to be peacemakers.
But I sometimes wonder if I’m being completely honest…While all the things I say are true, the reality is that not all Mennonite people or churches are supportive of women in leadership; not all of our churches are healthy communities; and not all churches believe that peace is a central piece of the gospel.
Having lived away from a Mennonite community now for nearly three years, I’m slowly settling into the reality that I am a part of a tradition that is not simple to define. Yet at the same time my own identity as a Mennonite woman seems to be more well-defined than ever before. Yes, I still cook out of my Simply in Season cookbook (the only one that made the journey with me to Ireland) and still listen to my Sing the Story CD and yearn for some solid 4-part singing.
But my identity as a Mennonite woman has come to reach far beyond these more ‘cultural cues’. While I often struggle for the right words to describe what it means to be a Christian from a Mennonite perspective, I am becoming increasingly comfortable in that struggle. I might not have all the right words, but sometimes, when sharing a meal with friends around the table or working alongside others to fix up a community garden space, sometimes people really seem curious as to who these Mennonites are and what they are all about. And sometimes there isn’t a need for words and a shared experience is enough.