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How to Be a Mennonite Presbyterian

July 7, 2015

My boss came to town recently, Amy Gingerich, editorial director for MennoMedia/Herald Press. She had cleaned off her bookshelves of items she was ready to discard.

I was amused to land two particular books, The Presbyterian Handbook and The Lutheran Handbook. I already had on my own shelf a copy of The Mennonite Handbook, purchased earlier. Both the Presbyterian and Mennonite handbooks are modeled on The Lutheran Handbook with permission of the original publisher, Augsburg Fortress. These handbooks are themselves a knock off of The Survivors Guidebooks or Worst Case Scenario guides or other “field type guides.”


It didn’t take me two seconds to realize that the three nifty volumes sandwiched my religious life in microcosm, which is frequently reflected here in this blog: a gal who grew up Mennonite, married a Lutheran, and found middle ground by joining a Presbyterian church.

These whimsical denominational handbooks tip their hands with cute caricatures right on the cover of their respective founding “fathers:”

A backwards cap (Menno Simons)


  Some cool shades (John Calvin)

And a wink (Martin Luther)

There’s good solid information in each—along with insider, informal stuff like “How you can tell if you’ve accidentally sat in someone else’s pew (or chair)” and what to do if you eat the communion bread before you’re supposed to (pretend you still have it in your mouth if everyone else is chewing). And basic stuff that you really need to know but no one tells you on what to bring to a Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Mennonite potluck.

I grabbed up the Presbyterian and Lutheran editions, not so much for instruction or information but looking for the differences. And was tickled to find a cache of fun: the Lutheran copy was all marked up with the editor’s changes (Sarah Kehrberg edited the Mennonite one) that needed attention for the Mennonite version.


(I know, what passes for fun for a writer/editor/bookworm quasi-Mennonite historian might not be such a hoot for normal people.)


But just in case you’re interested, some of the terms circled in the original Lutheran “Handbook” as needing editing or removal for a Mennonite edition include:

  • Fancy robes
  • Acolytes
  • Sanctuary
  • Communion attendance books
  • Baby illustration for “Anatomy of a Baptism”


The handbooks may strike some as a not-comfortable marriage of a modern telling of the Christian story while trying to be funny and hip. While they try to be serious in chapters showing key Biblical stories in pictograph fashion, sandwiched in between the lighter stuff, if I am a newcomer, I can never be sure which is satire, or oh my goodness, do they really do/think/practice that? (Which is what I worried about too when guffawing uproariously reading Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.)

The basic facts about the Bible and key stories are clearly for newcomers to the Christian faith. The Mennonite version also tells and depicts the story of Dirk Willems, an early Anabaptist/Mennonite bedrock story of amazing willingness to help a persecutor. It, of course, is not meant to be funny, nor is the depiction of Christ’s crucifixion. Some may find chapters on “How to Wash Feet” and “How to Survive a Church Split” amusing, but actually have useful and (unfortunately in the latter case) timely information.

More fun stuff is a drawing of Jeremiah in his filthy underwear (Jeremiah 13) and a reference to Saul relieving himself (1 Samuel 24:2-7). Potty humor in a church handbook? Well I never. Oh wait, that stuff’s in the Bible first. Okay…

Perhaps I need to write my own handbook/survivors guide/worst case scenario guidebook: How to Grow Up Mennonite, Marry a Lutheran, Live Out Your Life as a Presbyterian—and Find Harmony on the Journey. I have certainly learned much about all three denominations over the years including my husband’s Lutheran tradition where my husband’s brothers and a sister-in-law and family are members. I feel my faith life is richer for it. We all have much in common. Thanks be to God.


What faith traditions do you bring together in your family?


All the books mentioned are available on Amazon with links above, but you can also purchase The Mennonite Handbook here for just $5.

  1. Who knew three Protestant traditions could be depicted with their founders wearing a backwards cap, sunglasses, or winking. I never knew such books existed – too funny! Keeping in mind Menno Simons was first a Catholic priest makes that book all more satirical.

    As you know, I grew up Mennonite, married a Baptist who was formerly Methodist, and we got married in a Presbyterian Church. Like you, we have all the bases covered. Oh, and our children are both Lutherans.

    Yes, indeed, my life is certainly richer for the blending of traditions, but in my heart I’ll always be Mennonite.

    Peace be unto you, Melodie – a super duper post today!

    • I knew you would connect with this one. Glad to introduce you to the books, too. Good to mention that Menno was first a Catholic priest. I don’t think I knew your children are Lutheran. Right now two of ours are Presbyterian and one attending (and actively engaged in a very small) Mennonite congregation. I think if and when I eventually leave my employment with MennoMedia (today celebrating 40 years here)–then I will feel a new level of separation from my roots. My hub says I bleed Menno and it is probably true.

      • Congratulations on reaching this milestone – 40 years at MennoMedia, which we both new first as Herald Press, I believe.

  2. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler permalink

    Melodie, I am right there with you…grew up Mennonite, married a Presbyterian/Evangelical Reformed, and our children are ????

    I graduated with both an M.Div and a Spiritual Directors’ certificate from a Presbyterian seminary, but I am a member of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. While attending seminary I took several beloved classes at Pacific Lutheran Seminary. I still, often, attend the Presbyterian church with my husband.

    Just last Sunday I went to the Presbyterian church, and it was communion Sunday, and the guest preacher pulled out some more traditional points and activities and his sermon subject was “worthiness.” (We are all unworthy, but we are all invited to the table….) During the communion time, for which we all went up front to partake, we sang “Just As I Am….” and I was happy to notice that my body was ok with it. A couple years ago, at my Mennonite church, we sang “Just As I am,” kind of as a way to ‘launder’ it for those of us who grew up with it as an altar call. That time, while singing it, I got the creeps.

    I know that I ‘got’ how Grace flows in our lives from going to a Presbyterian seminary, and, as a quasi historian of my childhood Mennonite church, I’ve noticed a lot how some Mennonite practices seem(ed) to block Grace.

    Peace. Paz and Shalom.

    • Dolores, how nice to hear from a new voice. You have an interesting and varied background. So is Joanna Shenk on your leadership team there at First Menno of San Fran??

      Your mention of the invitation song Just As I Am and how it had to be “laundered” before you could appreciate it reminds me of how I learned to appreciate the song. My sister’s college friend Marty was a deeply spiritual Mennonite but not traditional, and one time when I was visiting my sis and they were having some kind or prayer meeting or sharing time or something, (this was Goshen College), Marty talked about how beautiful the words were, “just as I am” — and to try and forget any revival meetings or altar calls and just think about the words that we are accepted and loved just as we are. Ever since then, I’ve been ok with that song too!

      You bring up grace–a fellow Mennonite belonged to “my” Presbyterian congregation for about 10 years; she frequently talked about the grace she felt in the Pres. church, versus her Mennonite (strict) background.

      Nice chatting with you, hope you come back!

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler permalink

        Melodie, I lurk here a lot….

        Yes, Joanna Shenk joined our leadership team last October. I really enjoy having her here.

        Funny how the words and the tune of “Just As I Am” can strike such different experiences, depending on which one focuses.

        Congratulations on your 40 years of commitment to words!

  3. Lurkers welcome! I do think you commented before but I didn’t go back and research it. 🙂

  4. Elaine permalink

    I had to chuckle when I read “informal stuff like “How you can tell if you’ve accidentally sat in someone else’s pew (or chair)”. When my husband would fill the pulpit as a guest/supply minister invariably I would sit in someone’s place, but they were usually gracious about it. 🙂 When we first started visiting the Presbyterian church that we currently attend, after a few Sundays I began to realize that we were sitting in other peoples seats. We certainly are creatures of habits, aren’t we?

    I grew up Brethren In Christ, married a Wesleyan, and later became a Presbyterian, but I am still very thankful for my Anabaptist upbringing. It definitely influences my world-view.

  5. Yes, creatures of habits. But we can change. When our children were home, we almost always sat on one side of the sanctuary, and now that we’re empty nesters, we have switched sides, but depending on when we arrive, we sit wherever there’s an opening! Our congregation sits in a large semi circle. I like knowing your denominational history–I didn’t know you were a combo + Presbyterian too! Thanks for commenting and your little story of affirmation.

  6. I am a Mennonite and an editor and I love your photo of the Lutheran handbook page “How to Sing a Hymn” edited “properly”!

    I recently did research on Lutheran church music for a textbook sidebar. I was fascinated to learn how Martin Luther influenced church music and instigated the tradition of vigorous congregational singing. I think perhaps we Mennonites actually have him to thank for our rich tradition of singing.

    I too love “Just as I Am,” both its music and its words. They pair beautifully. I grew up Old Order Mennonite so do not have the baggage of its being used to manipulate emotions at altar calls as Old Orders don’t do them. We sang it often at baptisms, which is wonderfully appropriate.

    • I would love to know where you serve as editor (textbooks?) and I love it that my photo of the edited handbook page connected! I’ll have to confess I didn’t know that about Martin Luther but now that you mention it, I do think Garrison Keillor alludes to the Lutheran tradition of 4 part singing as well.

      So, you grew up Old Order. Yes, “Just as I Am” would be perfect at an adult baptism. I’m just now reading the book we published earlier this year, Called to Be Amish, by Marlene Miller, and it is giving me lots of pause–along with fascination. I hope to “review” it here on the blog even though I can’t be objective totally–it will be more my own thoughts on the book. My grandpa was Amish and while our own family never was, some of the Pa. Dutch she uses in the book is like “oh my, that was a Pa. Dutch word and I never even knew it!” Thanks for finding this & I’m happy to know about your blog too.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Called to Be Amish: How I Connect with Marlene Miller’s Well-Told Memoir | findingharmonyblog
  2. Why Did I Want to Go to Mennonite World Conference in Pennsylvania? | findingharmonyblog
  3. Getting Personal: Unexpected Gift of Mennonite World Conference 2015 | findingharmonyblog
  4. The Word That Renders Evil Powerless: The Mighty Fortress Who Is | findingharmonyblog

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