How to Be a Mennonite Presbyterian
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
- 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.