Thursday, February 02, 2012

On Leaving

Someone who goes by "Life of a plainlady" commented on a recent post, speaking of the Mennonite subculture:
"If there is so much 'coziness', I wonder why so many leave and go elsewhere?"

So I decided to explore that just a bit. These are my observations. Feel free to add your own.

There are at least three types of "leaving" if you're Plain.

1. You leave the community you're in and move to another one that's roughly the same scale of conservative as the original.

2. You leave the church you're in to join one up or down the scale.

3. You leave the Amish/Mennonite church entirely.

Here are some reasons people leave:

1. Practicality. A better job, getting married, living closer to aging parents, that sort of thing.

2. They want to do something with their lives that simply doesn't fit the practical parameters of an Anabaptist community. If you want to work in the space program, be a lobbyist in Washington, DC, or design bridges in California, it's really hard to do that and be a part of a rural, established Mennonite church.

3. They don't agree with the doctrine and interpretations of the church they're in. Surely it isn't necessary to part your hair in the middle and wear only solid colors--that sort of thing.

4. And I really think this is the most common: they have been badly hurt in the setting they're in. It's sad--the elements that make for a close cozy community can also make for opportunities to do some phenomenal damage.

5. I guess I should add the reason that gets the most blame--"Because they are stubborn and rebellious and wicked"--but I really don't think that's the real reason very often.

Often, it's a combination of the above.

I thought some of the Beachy-Amish rules were silly, but I could have stayed Beachy if I felt called to stay where I was (I didn't) or if I had been part of a church that didn't have the painful relationships mine had at the time. Paul was Mennonite--well, sort of--but not a member anywhere and still maybe half Wesleyan Methodist after going to Allegheny WM College. Definitely not Beachy. So we got married and joined a Mennonite church.

And eventually left that one to go on the mission field.

And came back to this Mennonite church because we had family here.

And have felt called to stay here ever since.

It's a different journey for everyone, and it's not for me to tell anyone what theirs ought to look like. However, it's definitely mine to make sure it isn't any cruelty from me that drives them away.

I think most people will stay a part of a congregation where they feel loved and welcomed and useful and nurtured and valuable and helped, and if those ingredients are present, an odd rule or two won't matter very much.

Like I said, feel free to add your observations and experiences.

Quote of the Day:
"It's like with Smucker men, if you keep asking, they dig in their heels. You ask one time and then you be quiet and then after a while you say, "Uh, did you hear me?" and they're like, "I'm THINKING."
--an observant young relative and friend of Jenny's


  1. Hmmm. Food for thought :) Ya, not to many Anabaptist NASA scientists around. :)

  2. i think sometimes people leave because they aren't getting all the things you mentioned in the last paragraph.

  3. I haven't been around Mennonites very long, but from what I have heard about people leaving various churches, have all pretty much been in your categories.

    What jenny said about Smucker men might also be true for Birky men, at least Leon. I'm used to asking a question, then getting at least an "ummmm..." but from Leon I get NOTHING! He is thinking about it and he is hearing me though...I have learned to just be patient and wait for his reply :)

  4. Alvin M Miller2/02/2012 7:08 PM

    I am a 72 year old man, married for 48 and father of 2 sons and 4 daughters and have 27 grandchildren. We left the Old Order for Beachy when our oldest son was 12.
    Partly because of restrictions regarding telephone useage, etc, but the (by far) main reason was that I had gone thru a lot of pain and confusion back when I turned sixteen and discovered that the same culture that had cared so well for my well being, was now going to wink at sin with the "hope" that I would sow my wild oats and then "settle down".
    I agree that being badly hurt,and having no place to go to relieve the pain is the most common reason for leaving.

  5. I agree with everything you say. It covers most of the ground. I would only add that sometimes one just needs a fresh start where no one knows them. When one is raised in all that coziness, one poor decision can ruin a lot. and while in such a tight knit community forgivness is most often one really forgets for a very, very long time.

  6. good post and I would agree with the reason's people leave are so varied. However, I have been to so many non mennonite churches where you see little to no young people and by this I mean no young married very few middle aged people because they all left. I'm wandering we're people get the idea that there are such large percentages of young people leaving Mennonite churches compared to others. Because in my experience the opposite is true.

  7. Interesting... I would say that I am most blamed for reason #5 for my leaving the conservative Mennonite church. How they treat their own is far different than how outsiders are treated....I don't remember much "coziness". I know God today and have a close relationship with Him. I have peace in my spirit. However, I would say that I left for a number of reasons.... pain and betrayal being a big part. In the end, my reasons for staying out would fall between the lines of the other reasons you mentioned. I am grateful for the journey because it has taught me a lot. My family and I are still working on our relationship. I don't want to hurt anyone, so I am remaining anonymous.

  8. Hi Josh! Well, here is one Anabaptist scientist... chuckle...

    But Dorcas, someday you are going to have to tell us how a Beachy girl and a Wesleyan / Mennonite fellow got acquainted and came to love each other.

    My dad was a Wesleyan Methodist pastor for a while but most of my childhood was in the Quaker (Friends) Church. But I have never felt more loved and accepted as I do among the Mennonites.

  9. I believe we also need to learn how to get along better. As soon as something isn't quite as I like it, or there's someone I can't see eye to eye with...I'll just start another church or go 'over here'. There's something wrong with that. If we all had the heart of Jesus, there would be less leaving and less splits. Sometimes we're too focused inward and we forget our real purpose here, to show the love of Jesus.

  10. In this community I hear that there is a group(s?) of Amish meeting for Bible Study on Saturday nights. I expect they are on their way out of the Amish. Because when one starts searching the scriptures and wanting to know more of God and salvation, they too often get "pushed" out. Or, they want a church where they get fed spiritually. Sad, but too true in many church districts.
    But, there are a fair amount that leave for the other reasons you mentioned.

  11. I like your observations, Dorcas. You articulated what I've felt in the past but couldn't state as well as you did.

    You're right, it's hard to do some things and still be a Mennonite. We are currently living in Europe, two-and-a-half hours from the nearest Mennonite church, so my husband can study veterinary medicine. We are still happily Mennonite, but many of the "benefits" of being one just don't exist where we live.

    Not sure where I'm going with these rambles. Thanks again for the post.

  12. We were with the Nationwide Fellowship for several years and left in 2011.
    When we got to know them first, we saw them mainly as people who try to follow the Bible closely.Eventually we moved to a community, but the longer we stayed with them the more we realized that we have a very different view of God's grace.Trying to maintain one's salvation by perfect obedience/always keeping a "clean slate" means trying to earn your way to heaven (they would never admit that they do just that). It can't work. There were those who tried hard (and felt depressed). The majority, however, lived a life that was somehow adapted to community standards,but mostly they didn't really care.The youth was under tremendous pressure to join the church and I don't think many of them really knew God.
    I'm glad we left, this is not where I want my children to grow up.But I also struggle sometimes with feeling lonely

  13. I like your blog alot :)

  14. On leaving...I left the church I grew up in (from 13 to 21, and not a mennonite one) when I felt a lack of support for my problems...I needed help, not criticism. Sadly, I think there were more who supported me than not, but all I could feel was the negative. I found a home eventually in another church, but close-knit subcultures will always have their problems as long as we live this side of heaven. I love your comment about being sure I am not the reason someone leaves. I wish I had had that wisdom and grace 20 or 30 years ago...and I hope I have it sufficiently now!

    My mom left a little community (religion beside the point) because of the gossip mongers...Why can't gossips pass along GOOD things rather than bad? My mom has never, will never, go back to church or small community for that reason...It's sad. I expect there will be a lot of "formerly homeless" people in heaven.

  15. I think your observations apply to more than those leaving the Anabaptist churches. In fact, I would go so far as to say they apply to non-Christian religions. I remember the first time I read a Chaim Potok novel that dealt with the Hasidic group and the Orthodox Jews and being surprised at the similarities, in terms of attitudes and conflict, that we see in the different Protestant denominations. At the end of that book a young Hasid had determined to stay within the group, but pursue a career that was definitely not within their typical parameters of acceptability. In the sequel he made some changes in his life that brought criticism and distrust from those in his community, and he probably would have been "excommunicated" had his father not been the Rebbe.

    Anyway, all that to say, the reasons you listed can apply across the board, with any group.

  16. In those who leave, unrealistic expectations, with underlying cynicism, arrogance, and stubbornness can be present. In that condition, people often make no investment in the group--either in relationships or ministries, and consequently experience few rewards. It's true, of course, that such people still need to feel the love of other Christians, and when they do, some stay, with those negative things still present in their own lives. However, they will not be a blessing to the church and they will not be happy there unless their own baggage is dealt with and they begin to experience the rewards of church life as an invested, involved, supportive member. Incidentally, that's also the only way dissatisfied people can ever help bring about and enjoy the changes they'd like to see.

    As one who has always stayed behind, I feel deep grief when a person leaves--for whatever reason--who is obviously and actively living a life of faith. When someone leaves who has always lurked on the fringes, critical attitudes intact and visible, I feel a sense of loss and wistfulness for what might have been, but their absence is sadly less noticeable and less regrettable.

  17. Wow, lots of interesting perspectives here. Chloe and KaraBeagle and Kim, it's somehow comforting to know this is more broad than just Anabaptist churches. Miriam--I hadn't thought of that angle but I know exactly what you mean.
    Thanks for all your insights.

  18. I have never been able to reconcile the fact that those who come from more conservative churches to "ours" are welcomed with open arms, while those who leave "our" church to more liberal churches are considered stubborn and rebellious. That would make the ones we just welcomed the rebellious to the church they left! Wouldn't a blessing be in order to those who leave?

  19. Wow, I'm flattered (I think)that my little comment lead you to write a post:) This week I visited my former Amish community and friends in a Mennonite commmuity. I also visited my parents who are in the Bible Holiness Church and my sister who is in the Nazarene church. Needless to say, I've seen quite the spectrum and, guess what, there are discontents everywhere! I think it all boils down to someone purposing in their heart to find God's will, go to the church that is in that will and being content to abide by said church's ordnung. I think God's will will always include help for a soul that has been hurt. Someway, somehow there is help to be found.

  20. I've been a member of the same Mennonite church for 40 years. I see many strengths among our churches but have to admit there are some real weaknesses also. (one being that I'm a member!)The thing I think I have the most trouble figuring out is how we can go to, lets say, a seminar somewhere that has a wide variety of Mennonites there with varying shades of "conservativism". We have the warmest fellowship while there but if we tried to "have church" together on a local level?? I'm afraid we would come apart at the seams in short order, in other words we would be "leaving" each other because we couldn't agree on the fine lines of application. I'm thinking people sometimes leave when, yes they do disagree with the application, but leave not so much from that but rather their position is unheard,dismissed, disrespected and unacceptable because it may be a little different from "the way it's done here".

  21. We left a conservative mennonite setting 11 years ago. Making a long story short, we are about to visit another one very soon. There may be people in their fellowships who are not really Christians, but that is found in any church. Yes, there are problems, but they are a committed, hardworking, caring, God honoring people overall, and they truly desire to see you walk with the Lord in the light of His word. From what we have experienced in other churches, they are the closest you are going to get to a people who are likeminded and committed to the cause of Christ. There is so much "religion in other churches" but they all go home and do what ever they please. If you are looking for stability, consistancy, and God centered preaching and lifestyle, there is no where to go but to a Mennonite setting.

  22. Why did we leave the mennonite church? Because of improper doctrine being taught and too much emphasis on extra biblical practices. Yes its cozy and yes it has perks but that should not be a reason you join a plain church. To merely be accepted is not a valid reason. Plain churches are not perfect.

    In our case we wanted believers who followed Christ in every area. Mennonites do that well. However we don't agree with Anabaptist doctrine so it didn't work. My family is still Christian today.
    When we decided to leave I can't tell you how many gossiped behind our backs. Who were concerned we would throw it all away. I think that is the most dangerous and judgemental thing that many plain people are guilty of. They automatically assume that because you leave you are doomed. It doesn't occur to many of them that you can still be Christian and not be plain. That maybe just maybe you'll continue to follow Christ. Too many extra biblical expectations that are very dangerous. Unfortuanly it is a works based gospel. They say it is grace alone but then they say it's really grace plus my obedience. That is not a biblically accurate view on how salvation really works. It is God and God alone. Not God plus my work. But that's another topic.
    Another comment above said it well on their misunderstanding of Grace.

  23. In modern terms its called bullying. Unfortunately, in a sub-culture that values community, bullying, or its variants, become especially strong for anyone called to do something out of the "norm," like attending University, designing bridges, etc. And this from people who pontificate about "evangelizing the world" while sitting in their cozy houses never relating outside their cozy little Mennonite tea parties and coffee groups. People whose extent of "mission work" never goes beyond VBS, or baking cookies for the underprivileged, or taking a two-week trip to a "mission center". None of these are bad, but none of this actually engages the society around us with the compelling power of God at a meaningful level. Rather than engaging in meaningfully ways with the world, the efforts are spent bullying those actually putting years into a calling to make a long-term difference. The hateful, mean-spirited things I've both witnessed and experienced are shocking, hurtful, and sinful. I've genuinely experienced more kindness from some agnostics and those "horrible liberals" than from many Mennonites--particularly women who are ingrown-- going by the name of Christ. There are marvelous social media posts about kindness to others, etc. etc. and ad infinitum by people who snub, slander, and operate in down-right mean and jealous ways towards people like myself, who are doing the unusual. The world calls this bullying. Thankfully, Jesus came for those who've always been "bullied" by the Mennonites on the top of the "In group" totem pole. The unfortunate reality is that this phenomenon has created a scenario where the conservative Mennonites, as a group, are completely ineffective and irrelevant in today's world. They use mean-spirited bullying to push out those who would be relevant.

  24. Just came across this old blog. I left the Nationwide conference Mennonite Church because I felt so much pressure and like I was being controlled all the time. Yet I sometimes miss it, especially the sense of safety and family. It was a two edged sword. But I do agree that their view of GRACE is a not altogether scriptural, but if they are motivated to do what they do because of love for Christ/pleasing God rather than trying to earn their salvation, it's not necessarily a bad thing.

  25. I left the Mennonite church because of severe abuse that happened to me not only in my own home growing up, but also from church members. When I was 15 years old I was placed in foster care outside of the Mennonite community and learned about different ways of life, and about a loving, forgiving God. And after that year when I was placed with my mom again after my dad was out of the home, I had seen a different way of life and I knew that I could never go back and live in that community, the past 7 years have been difficult, but I am getting and education and am fully self supported financially and am successful with very little support from family because I choose to leave the church, so some family members don't talk to me and other family members only talk to me to try and convince me to come back to a Mennonite church which I know I will never be able to do. One day I might share more of my experiences with people, especially law enforcement to educate them about all the child abuse that happens in Mennonite communities that gets covered up because "the church will take care of it"

  26. Bad things can happen in any church denominations, in any faiths, in any family. I was a member of a Conservative Mennonite Church and I saw nothing but trying to keep children innocent and children as long as possible, but who knows what goes on behind closed doors. Ultimate trust can only ever be in Christ...people WILL fail us. I still love and respect the Mennonites very much, even though I couldn't "hack it" in their church, with all the standards and rules. But I realise alot of the standards are safeguards and scriptural applications. I am in a friendly Gospel centred church now, and whilst I don't feel uncomfortable about the teaching, preaching and emphasis on Calvinism, I do feel uncomfortable about the way the women dress, the lack of covered heads in public worship (I am the only lady who covers) and the WORLDLINESS of the members. But I HAVE grown to love this fellowship even though I sometimes miss the Mennonite folk. Please, if you have a bad experience with a particular set of Christians/Church, don't think everybody in the same group will be the same. I would also say abuse should NOT be hushed up! Keep clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is EVERYTHING.