Third Way’s 2016 Top 10 Quirky Queries

News Release
December 21, 2016

Third Way’s 2016 Top 10 Quirky Queries
Bonus list: Top 10 questions worth pondering

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.—Many millions of people will never pick up a book or magazine about Mennonites or enter any Mennonite church. But they will drop in anonymously to Third Way website (thirdway.com) to get a quick glimpse of what Mennonites are about.

Erwin and Angela Rempel, who previously worked many years in mission settings around the globe and for church agencies in the United States, volunteer for MennoMedia and responded to 60 to 70 email queries this past year, sometimes with multiple follow-ups. The site averages more than one thousand hits a day, nearing a third of a million annually. Third Way is one part of the media matrix offered by MennoMedia and its book imprint, Herald Press, based in Harrisonburg.

Six sponsors, Mennonite Mission Network, Everence, Abundance Canada, Mennonite Health Services, Conrad Grebel University, and Goodville Mutual currently help sponsor the all-free website, which was founded in 1998 to help dispel myths about Mennonites and to convey solid information. While a fluffier FAQ titled “What’s the difference between Mennonites and Amish?” gets the most clicks (146,000 this past year), the second most accessed section, “Key Teachings of Jesus,” is a meatier section that totaled 65,000 clicks this year.

The inquirers offer windows into the questions—and misconceptions—people still have about Mennonites. Here, in two lists, discover what people in the general public wonder about regarding Mennonites. (You might consider holding a small group or church school class discussion around these lists.)

Top 10 Quirky Queries at Third Way

  1. MENNONITE MOABITES? Were [Mennonites] from the Moabites in the Bible?
  2. BEARDS, MODESTY, AND COVERINGS. What is the view on beards for men? Modest dresses for women? Headcoverings?
  3. BUY A BONNET? Can you tell me where we might purchase a traditional Old Order River Brethren bonnet? So far we’ve seen several pictures but nowhere to obtain one. It would be a good and modest bonnet for a woman attending prayer services.
  4. MENNO VEGETABLES IN PERTH? Do you grow vegetables and sell to the public? Are you located in Perth, Australia ? Thank you for getting back to me.
  5. BC? Which year [was] Jesus Christ born?
  6. SEPARATE WOMEN AND MEN? Why do the women sit separate from the men at church services? I asked a young Mennonite roofer this question and he wasn’t sure why but sort of knew the answer. I’m curious as to why?
  7. INQUIRING NURSES WANT TO KNOW. I’m doing some research on the Mennonite culture for nursing school. What are your verbal and non-verbal communication patterns? Any slang/dialect? How do you view personal space (how close when talking to someone)? If you were in the hospital, would there be anything that you would want the nurse to do/not do?
  8. BLACK AND WHITE. I am an African American male who is married to a white woman. Do the Mennonites accept this marriage?
  9. INFANT BAPTISM? Why do some people baptize infants?
  10. WANTS TO FARM. I’m interested in becoming a part of a Mennonite community, in an agricultural community somewhere in the U.S.

Top 10 Probes Worth Pondering

  1. GOSSIP CAUSING LOSS OF FAITH. I am not Mennonite but my boyfriend is. I understand views on divorce in the Bible. . . . I just have one issue. I have been talked bad about, against and to my face. I have been through a lot in my life and faced a lot of demons. But none worse than my boyfriend’s parents. I am pained to say this but due to the way one Mennonite family talks, it’s forced an opinion on me and is causing me to lose faith.
  2. KINSHIP WITH AMISH IN ADELAID. I have been brought up as a Christian and I find what the Amish believe, from what I can see, is a lot closer to what I believe then what a lot of other Christians believe. Is there a church or discussion group or someone in my area that I would be able to discuss or have meetings or get together for some drinks of some sort every so often? I am from the southern suburbs of Adelaid, South Australia [Numerous inquiries this year about Anabaptists in Australia have been referred to Mark and Mary Hurst, workers Down Under.]
  3. DESPERATELY HOMELESS. I am a homeless woman, 41 years old. I am in desperate need of help. I have nowhere to live and I am having a very hard time finding work in the Leola, Ephrata, Pa., area. I clean houses and repair anything that needs fixing, refinish and build wood furniture and install wood and tile flooring. But I am having trouble and do not even have the money to eat anymore. I try so hard to be a good person and because of that people take advantage of me. I cannot live on the streets anymore and I have no family to help and I am feeling hopeless. [She was given a local help number to call.]
  4. THE BIBLE A JOKE? The Bible still has no credibility to me just because of how stupid the verses are. I couldn’t even name all the dumb things that are listed there that don’t make any sense and are just so laughable. It’s a joke that this is what people live by and believe. “The Bible is holy and sacred and God’s word.” Please. I highly doubt that this is what God wanted people to live by. This sounds like a mockery of God.
  5. HOPE FOR ME? I was raised Catholic. Many many years later I was rebaptized as a born-again Christian. I have lost my faith. But sometimes I still believe. I want to believe in Jesus. I want to believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I want to believe that there is hope for me.
  6. IDENTITY QUESTIONS FOR MENNONITES. I am a student at Texas A&M University. What do you consider your identity to be as a Mennonite? What aspect of your identity do you want to be remembered by? What do you believe others in different cultures view your identity as?
  7. JUDEO-CHRISTIAN? Does the Mennonite church consider the United States a Judeo-Christian nation?
  8. MENNONITES AND JEWS. Two of my very dear friends are Mennonites. They shared with me that they are taught to love and help one another, especially the Jews. Could you provide more information regarding the Mennonite/Jewish relationship?
  9. WANT TO BE SAVED. I am looking to get saved. I was reading about the Mennonite church. I tried to find a church near Augusta, Georgia, but had no luck. Is there a Mennonite church in Augusta?
  10. ANGRY JESUS? I have heard Mennonites refer to Jesus as the Prince of Peace. According to scripture, did Jesus ever display signs of anger or violence?

MennoMedia Staff 

Photo Caption: Angela and Erwin Rempel volunteer on the annual Everence Day of Generosity for MennoMedia, and year round answering questions at Third Way website.

For more information on this news release:

Melodie Davis
MennoMedia 540-574-4874
MelodieD@mennomedia.org

For a book with 50 common questions asked over the years, see Ask Third Way Café 50 Common and Quirky Questions About Mennonites by Jodi Nisly Hertzler.

Ask Third Way Cafe

The Church and Criminal Justice: What it Looks Like “On the Ground”

I am fortunate to work on the edge of the Eastern Mennonite University campus—known around the world, literally, for the amazing and effective Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice. One of CJP’s graduates, Leymah Gbowee, went on to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, and I was happy to meet her on one occasion at EMU.

When my daughter spent a college semester in Belgium in early 2002 (just months after 9/11/2001) I was surprised to learn that her roommate, a cultural Muslim from Cyprus, had heard of EMU. One of this roommate’s textbooks for her international studies major with a focus on conflict transformation was Changing Lenses by Howard Zehr, published by Herald Press.

Recently I participated in “A Day of Learning: Criminal Justice and the Church in Our Community” in order to get better acquainted with one of MennoMedia’s partners, Mennonite Central Committee, as we publish the Third Way* website (check under Third Way’s “Justice” tab, or the Wider View archive you find there). But more importantly, I wanted to find out how our area, with its huge Mennonite, Old Order and Church of the Brethren population, (to say nothing of many other religious groups interested in reform for the criminal justice system), is doing in applying the principles of restorative justice. In a nutshell, restorative justice aims to right the wrongs that have been done rather than just punish offenders.

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Jason Gerlach and Ben Risser (at left) address the Day of Learning on criminal justice. Your truly on far right, heart t-shirt. (Photo by Joshua Russell, MCC)

At the Day of Learning, two pastors from Harrisonburg, Jason Gerlach (associate pastor at Community Mennonite) and Ben Risser, (pastor of Ridgeway Mennonite) talked about their prison ministry.

Jason was a beginning pastor at Community when one day an article hit him between the eyes. At the time, his office at the church overlooked the local Rockingham Regional Jail facility, housing over 400 inmates awaiting trails or sentencing (including some maximum security and federal inmates).

The article he was reading, “The Church and the Concentration Camp: Some Reflections on Moral Community”** reflected on the disconnect between an Orthodox church in Hitler’s Germany in the 1940s located outside the perimeter wire of the Dachau concentration camp. The author of the article, Duncan Forrester, pondered whether those inside the concentration camp ever wondered about the beautiful singing or organ music they heard coming from the cathedral, whether any Nazi camp guards went to worship there, or what, if any, interaction there was between camp and cathedral.

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Rockingham Regional Jail, Harrisonburg.

And there was Jason, within a stone’s throw of a prison of another type. Surely the suffering is not as grave, but the irony hit him and he began to explore how he could at least try to reach out to the residents of the local jail next to his church and his work—which is a worthy question for any Christian to ponder. Both Ben and Jason help lead Bible studies at the Rockingham Regional Jail. Many inmates there are just awaiting the next step in their judicial process, which means these pastors have limited long-term contact with inmates. But they feel called to at least be a presence—to bridge the gap between jail and church.

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Restorative Justice Circle in library of Eastern Mennonite University.
Photo by Joshua Russell, MCC. Raymond (story below) is seated at the right end of the circle participants, gray jacket.

In the afternoon at EMU, we met with two graduate students in the Restorative Justice program, who introduced us to the “circles” they use to make sure everyone gets a chance to say what’s on their minds in mediating an issue. Raymond served 20 years in a penitentiary for selling and using drugs. One day Howard Zehr, the author of Changing Lenses and also the book, Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences (Good Books, 1996), was taking photos for a project.

Raymond began asking Howard questions about what he was doing. Ray learned about restorative justice and Howard’s work, which “changed my life.” He couldn’t really read or write, in spite of graduating from high school; he failed his GED twice. But eventually he got a bachelor’s degree and is now working on a graduate degree in addition to doing motivational speaking. Raymond said he went from the “halls of the penitentiary” to the “halls of Congress,” most recently in a day of advocacy spent talking to members of Congress in Washington, D.C. He sees a need for the U.S. to work at its systemic racism issues because of the relationship of racism to the justice and incarceration problems here.

I was fascinated by my six hours of learning about restorative justice and the local issues workers here face. Harrisonburg has the blessing of EMU’s programs and people, but that doesn’t automatically translate to local implementation.

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Gemeinschaft Home and the FairField Center are two area organizations that also work on the ground in this field. Gemeinschaft offers both day and residential opportunities for helping offenders integrate back into society upon being released from incarceration; residents have to find employment, become more independent, and participate in counseling designed to help them become successful citizens. (Above, Richi Yowell, program director at Gemeinschaft Home addresses the group.)

Although FairField Center wasn’t present for the day of learning and advocacy I experienced, later I talked to Sue Praill, director of Restorative Justice there. I asked about the efforts they’re making to work with the local courts, police officers, and jails. These include:

  • Victim impact training with juvenile offenders: This is a program that has been running around 18 months, consisting so far, of ten groups of juveniles, to educate youth on how their actions impact their victims and their own families. The youth who participate are part of the juvenile court diversion program that aims to give young people an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. The victim impact training has been generally well received, with parents reporting very good feedback, and the youth talking about wanting to “turn their lives around.” According to Sue, statistics do show that when people (adults and youth) understand the impacts of their behavior, they are less likely to re-offend.
  • Victim impact training with adult inmates. Sue has been part of an effort to educate adult inmates on the impact of their actions on victims and their own family members (Federal Correctional Institute, Petersburg, Virginia). “We talk about their own experiences as victims; we discuss case studies that enable them to put themselves in the shoes of others; help them take responsibility for their actions; and learn how to repair relationships with their families, who are also victims,” she said. The men who participate are in the eighteen-month Interfaith Life Connections Program that prepares them for release and reintegration into society. Counselors from that program have been “blown away” by the response of the men and the intensity of their engagement.
  • Collaboration with Harrisonburg Police Department. FairField Center is part of a coalition of partners, (including HPD, EMU and JMU) to broaden the impact of restorative justice in Harrisonburg. The goal is for police officers to divert certain cases to be processed restoratively. As part of that program, Sue and the other partners have been training city police officers in the basics of restorative justice so that they understand the benefits, both to those affected by crime, and the police department. When the victim and offender are willing to participate, they work together to create a plan to repair the harm done.
  • There is also considerable effort to work in the local public school systems here at all levels from elementary through university. Two daughters of our director Russ Eanes at MennoMedia, Allison and Carolyn Eanes, were interviewed by a local NPR station on their efforts to bring restorative justice to their 6th grade classrooms.

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More learners and practitioners at the Day of Learning.

Much remains to be done. I’m encouraged that there are good, smart, people working on these efforts locally and in many locations. One woman present at the workshop had worked in helping restorative justice efforts for 18 years in Colorado. Google “restorative justice” and you’ll find examples all over.

May the numbers of effective programs spread. And so gratified to know that Changing Lenses (see below) by Howard Zehr has had such a huge role in changing the way the world thinks about justice. And to meet one man, Raymond, whose personal life was changed for the better by this book and Howard Zehr.

–Melodie Davis
Managing editor, Herald Press; Curator, Third Way website. Photos by Melodie Davis, except for those by Joshua Russell.

Contact info: Joshua Russell, Legislative Assistant/Communications Coordinator
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office washington.mcc.org 

***

To purchase Changing Lenses by Howard Zehr, click here.

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*Third Way website has information and resources on Mennonites, beliefs, and activities. In addition, the MCC Washington and Ottawa offices supply a current issue “Wider View” blog post (you can sign up for here) two to three times a month on various critical and hot button issues in North America and around the world.

**The article by Duncan Forrester titled “The Church and the Concentration Camp: Some Reflections on Moral Community” can be found in the book Faithfulness and Fortitude: Conversations with the Theological Ethics of Stanley Hauerwas, edited by Mark Nation and Samuel Wells.

When googling an answer doesn’t quite cut it: ThirdWay.com’s quirky questions of 2015

News Release

JANUARY 13, 2016

When googling an answer doesn’t quite cut it: ThirdWay.com’s quirky questions of 2015
Relaunched website recovers robust traffic

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Angela and Erwin Rempel, volunteers

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ontario—In April 2015, Third Way website was relaunched. All visits to Third Way came to a standstill for a few days during the massive switchover, handled ably by 427 Design in Akron, Ohio.

By late 2015, daily visitors to Third Way were averaging 750 or more. After a slight and normal lag over the holidays, visitors have rebounded to more than 800 a day. In 2014, the site was averaging 500 to 650 visitors a day.

Erwin and Angela Rempel serve as volunteers who respond personally to the twists on questions that the site doesn’t answer directly, or when seekers are looking for a Mennonite church in an area where there aren’t many. Students ask for help with research for school reports, ranging from elementary to graduate school. The Rempels generally offer links to parts of the website or other sites that will answer their questions. When questions pertain to specific Mennonite beliefs, they respond in keeping with the current Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

The questions asked—and common search terms—often reveal still-pervasive curiosity and confusion between Mennonites and Amish. “Difference between Mennonites and Amish” is the most used search term for people accessing Third Way, but search terms about “who is Jesus” come up frequently as well. Five of the top 12 searches centered on Jesus in the last year.

The Rempels reported that by far the most compelling story and comment (no question) came from a woman named Haida, who gave permission for her comment to be shared more broadly:

“I don’t have the same faith as you (if anything I consider myself a Buddhist), but I have the utmost respect for your faith, and the way a lot of you walk the walk not just the talk. I was abandoned by my parents at the age of 16. I was babysitting two young children at this time; the family found out about my situation and without a moment’s thought invited me into their home. I was a severely neglected angry teenager who had no idea what a peaceful, loving home even looked like, and I found love in that home. They never judged me; they never tried to convert me; they just led by graceful example. That was 25 years ago and they are to this day my family. Out of all the Christian denominations, the Mennonite church is the one I respect and admire the most. I wish more people knew how much good honest work you do around the world. People can have such a negative, often justified reaction to Christians that I wish they had experienced a Mennonite interaction, ’cause you guys are different.”

ThirdWayCafeBelow are some of the more interesting questions Third Way received this past year (spelling and punctuation corrected, and names withheld).

RACE, LAST NAMES, AND MONEY. I am a Mennonite born and raised in South America. I do agree [with your site] that Mennonites are like that in Canada. But have you ever been in South America? It’s so sad and unbelievable how they treat each other depending on race, last names, and money. I am very proud where I come from. But [I] do not applaud what they do in some places.

GOOD STEWARDS OF THE PLANET? Jesus was all about nonviolence and [loving] God. Why is it that there are so many Christians [who] don’t seem to care about the earth? Doesn’t God wanted them to be good stewards on this planet?

MY BROTHER SAYS HE’S AN ATHEIST. Is my brother going to hell because he rejects Jesus (and all religions)? He is the most giving and caring person I have ever known. He is also very knowledgeable of the Bible, Torah, and Qur’an. He has an advanced degree in religious studies and went to seminary. He said that’s what made him an atheist. I am confused. Please help. Thank you.

SEEKS CONSERVATIVE CHURCH. I am looking for a conservative Mennonite church in my area. These are my beliefs: baptism of the Holy Spirit, no TV, no movies, no sports, limited Internet (I use it only to research things and check email). [The Rempels referred him to the Beachy Amish.]

WHAT ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT? Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues is important to me! I would like to know what Mennonites believe. Do you speak in tongues? I have Mennonite neighbors and coworkers whom I love and respect. I want to know but have been reluctant to ask. I love God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Thank you for listening.

NOT HAPPY WITH LEGALISM. I attend [name withheld] Mennonite Church. My son left the church at 21 and went away from us. My other is still a member but not happy with the legalism; neither am I. I am more unhappy because I am single and [don’t have] much common ground. Their main emphasis is on outward appearance and following standards than love.

DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE. I’m been married two times. Can I become a member?

DIDN’T USED TO DRESS PLAIN. Recently, when looking through old family photos after my mother-in-law’s death, we had the following question. Seems like our great-grandparents (1870–1920 or so) did not dress plain. The ladies wore jewelry and fancy dresses. Then the next generation, the grandparents, were all dressed in plain clothes. Any idea what brought about this transition?

MORAL OR IMMORAL? How do Mennonites determine which sexual relationships are immoral and which are moral?

VIRGIN BIRTH? Do the Mennonites believe that Jesus was born from the virgin Mary?

VISITING YOUR ARCHIVES TODAY. We are searching for genealogy family records. Please contact me as to when we could visit your church archives. We want to visit today.

MENNONITE PRAYER BOOK? I am a senior at Saint Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, and for my final exam in my religion class, I am doing a presentation on the Mennonite faith. I would like to include some traditional Mennonite prayers in my presentation, and I was wondering if some may be suggested to me.

WANTS A RIVER BRETHREN BONNET. Can you tell me where we might purchase a traditional Old Order River Brethren bonnet? So far we’ve seen several pictures, but nowhere to obtain one. It would be a good and modest bonnet for a woman attending prayer services.

Third Way is a ministry of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada through the office of MennoMedia, with current major website sponsors Everence and Mennonite Mission Network.

MennoMedia Staff
Hi-res photos available

for more information on the news release
Melodie Davis
MennoMedia
540-574-4874
MelodieD@mennomedia.org