This post was dated October, 2006.
The second comment just came in tonight. Somehow, to my great satisfaction, the post is still being found.
I'm reposting for readers who may have missed it.
It will come as a surprise to most readers, but the Amish community now in the news is but a small part of a greater Christian tradition called Anabaptist. This is not the place to explain or discuss theology; that I leave to those who want further homework. Suffice it to say that I have always regarded these groups, along with the Catholic Worker communities, the Bruderhoff and Kiononia Community (from which Habitat for Humanity began) as touchstones of my faith. Among these groups I see the Christian faith in ordinary living approaching its most impressive realization Those who would claim that ideals are unrealistic are simply not informed about evidence to the contrary in these many small communities.
There is an Amish community in Georgia near Montezuma. A few years ago it was struck by a destructive storm (flood?) that left the place devastated. The response from other communities was immediate. Their men came with tools and went to work repairing the damage, coming fromm as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania. When they finished, they returned home. That is how they help one another in times of adversity.
Are they perfect? Far from it. I have linked on this blog to several painful accounts of former members of the Bruderhoff, and I have no reason to doubt that there are others who have left some of these groups with equally sad stories. But when I compare what I know of these simple groups with what I know of the society in which I live, I come away with the inescapable conclusion that they hit the Christian mark as a community far more often than we do. Others may argue their faith. These are people who live their faith, as this week's events in Pennsylvania illustrate.
The well-known habits of simplicity of dress and lifestyle vary from group to group. Some use automobiles and others do not. A group I knew of in the fifties used electricity in their barns but not in their homes. They needed electricity to operate milking machines. But as long as their homes were not electrical, they were able to maintain their simple lifestyle.
Eight years of schooling is normal for a lot of these communities, but the Mennonites have education continuing through college. Now get ready for this...I found online last year, much to my surprise, this link to Mennonite Weekly Review, the online presence of a printed weekly.
Mennonite Weekly Review is an inter-Mennonite newspaper published weekly since 1923. It is owned by Mennonite Weekly Review Inc., a nonprofit corporation in Newton, Kan. The company was founded in 1920 by a group of Mennonite church leaders and laypeople.
MWR reaches a readership crossing conference and regional boundaries, mostly in the United States. The nine-member board of directors, the governing body of the corporation, is composed of representatives from Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Brethren.
MWR is an independent journalistic ministry not sponsored or subsidized by any conference or agency. The newspaper's income is derived from advertising and subscriptions. That means MWR can be genuinely inter-Mennonite in its news coverage and editorial perspective.
MWR exists to foster communication and cooperation within the Mennonite family of faith, encouraging support for the work of the church, its structures and institutions. It seeks to be a medium for the preservation and spread of Christian beliefs and ideals as interpreted in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition.
To get some idea of the numbers and variety of Anabaptist groups, take a look at a map linked by this paper. PDF format.
Here are some stats I copied from the map.
Mennonite Church USA n 111,038 members n 943 congregations
Formed by a 2002 merger of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church. The most progressive Mennonite group. Main offices in Elkhart, Ind., and Newton, Kan. Twenty-one area conferences, five colleges, two seminaries.
U.S. Conf. of Menn. Brethren Churches n 29,701 members n 184 congregations
Founded in 1860 in Russia, with an evangelical and pietist orientation. Most congregations are west of the Mississippi River. Conference office in Hillsboro, Kan., mission board office in Fresno, Calif. Five district conferences, two colleges, one seminary.
Old Order Mennonite n 20,245 members n 138 congregations
Divided into more than a dozen subgroups, most of which split from the Mennonite Church between 1872 and 1913. They restrict the use of technology, reject higher education and practice a rural, separatist lifestyle. The two largest groups are the “team” horse-and-buggy-driving Groffdale Conference and the “black-bumper” car-driving Weaverland Conference, both based in Pennsylvania.
Independent conferences n 18,472 members n 276 congregations
About 20 conferences, almost all of which split from the Mennonite Church. Most wear plain clothing. The largest is the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church, with about 6,600 members in 50 congregations.
Church of God in Christ, Mennonite n 13,715 members n 135 congregations
Often called Holdeman Mennonites, formed in 1859 under the leadership of John Holdeman. Wear plain clothing. Largest number are in Kansas. Headquarters is in Moundridge, Kan.
Conservative Mennonite Conference n 10,817 members n 107 congregations
Organized in 1910, mostly of members from Amish Mennonite background. Some wear plain clothing. Largest number are in Ohio. Headquarters and Bible Institute at Rosedale, Ohio.
Unaffiliated congregations n 5,739 members n 108 congregations
Not an organized body, most of these congregations split from or have roots in the Mennonite Church. Most wear plain clothing.
Alliance of Menn. Evangelical Congregations n 4,347 members n 33 congregations
Formed in 2002 by former Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church congregations that did not want to join the merger that created Mennonite Church USA.
Independent congregations n 8,494 members n 80 congregations
Not an organized body, most of these congregations split from or have roots in the General Conference Mennonite Church. Evangelical Mennonite n 3,095 members n 11 congregations
Congregations that belong to the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., but retain “Mennonite” in their congregational name. The FEC changed its name from the Evangelical Mennonite Church in 2003.
Nationwide Menn. Fellowship Churches n 2,442 members n 52 congregations
Formed by congregations from several backgrounds, including Mennonite Church and former Beachy Amish, which began affiliating in the 1950s and ’60s. Congregations in 19 states.
Independent Districts n 2,188 members n 19 congregations
Two groups that were formerly districts of Mennonite Church conferences: Cornerstone Mennonite Churches, from Virginia Conference; and Hopewell Mennonite District, from Atlantic Coast Conference.
Biblical Mennonite Alliance n 1,670 members n 33 congregations
Formed by a split from Conservative Mennonite Conference in 2000.
Mennonite Christian Fellowship n 1,146 members n 23 congregations
A split from the Beachy Amish in the 1950s, this group adopted its present name in the 1990s.
Conservative Mennonite unaffiliated n 556 members n 9 congregations
Not an organized body, some of these these congregations have roots in the Conservative Mennonite Conference.
Reinlaender Mennonite n 465 members n 2 congregations
Formed by 1970s migrants from Canada and Mexico, with one congregation in Texas and one in Kansas.
Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference n 459 members n 2 congregations
These Texas congregations are an outreach of a primarily Canadian conference.
Evangelical Mennonite Brethren n 455 members n 4 congregations
Congregations that belong to the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches, based in Omaha, Neb., but retain “Mennonite” in their congregational name. The FEBC changed its name from the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren in 1987.
Old Colony Mennonite n 407 members n 1 congregation
Formed by 1970s migrants from Canada and Mexico to Texas.
Other U.S. Anabaptist groups
Founded in 1708 in Germany, Brethren began migrating to America in 1719. After a three-way split in the 1880s, the largest branch was the German Baptist Brethren, who became the Church of the Brethren in 1908. Headquarters in Elgin, Ill.
Amish n 130,778 members n 1,763 church districts
Major groups are the Old Order (115,455 members, with eight subgroups), Beachy Amish Mennonite (8,265), New Order (4,029) and Amish Mennonite (1,817). Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites drive cars. The Amish split from Mennonites in 1693.
Brethren in Christ n 22,818 members n 233 congregations
Emerged in 1780 in eastern Pennsylvania, blending features of Mennonitism and Brethren
pietism. Headquarters and college in Grantham, Pa.
Hutterites n 7,090 members n 125 colonies
Founded in 1528 in Moravia and named for 1530s reformer Jakob Hutter, Hutterites live communally in rural colonies. Most in the United States are in South Dakota and Montana, with much greater numbers in Canada. Divided into three branches: Schmiedeleut, Dariusleut and Lehrerleut.
This gives some idea of the variety and inclinations of the many groups. As I look down the list I cannot help but think of St. Paul's description of the Church, the Body of Christ with it's many members and variety of gifts.
A modern businessman looking at this list might shake his head and roll his eyes. It looks like a mission of herding cats.
But I can also imagine the Almighty looking down at His creation, watching all his many human creations not getting along with one another, shaking His head and rolling His eyes.