Having grown up attending church on a regular basis, I’ve been programmed to view Sundays with a certain kind of sanctity. They must be treated differently than the rest of the days, whether that means actually getting to church (which we do on a fairly regular basis), or doing a special activity as a family, or entertaining guests. Sunday, for me, is absolutely not just another Saturday, which can flit by relatively unnoticed. Sundays must be made to stand out, and it’s usually the presence of people that do it for me.
That’s why yesterday was such a perfect Sunday. It met all the requirements I’ve ever had for that day of the week: church (happy conscience!), family activity (happy kids!), and – even better than entertaining – being entertained as the guests for a change (happy tummy!).
The morning began at a Mennonite church located about forty-five minutes from our house. Mennonite is my background – the modern version, obviously – and I’d been wanting to check this church out for a while, but always thought it was too far to drive. We gave it a shot the week before and were warmly welcomed by a whole number of people. When one of those warm welcomers invited us for lunch the following week, we had to make the trek again, or risk looking quite ungrateful! (Secretly, I was thrilled, since my Catholic husband was demanding his share of representation and I was not in the mood for all that male-centric liturgy…)
Church with little kids can be quite stressful, yet there was an air of such total relaxation at this church that I was able to sink into my chair and stop worrying altogether. Nothing is worse than knowing your child is irritating people around you, especially the minister! My baby slept, then I nursed him during the sermon. The toddler sat surprisingly still through the entire service. The minister’s baby wandered around, getting scooped up by whoever needed a baby fix. Other little kids played at the back or at their parents’ feet. Their little whispers and cries and requests merely blended into the service – an accepted part of what it means to have children in a congregation.
Then the singing began. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mennonite churches, every single one has a built-in choir- the congregation! We grow up singing in four-part harmony, whether it’s hymns at church, or songs at home, or a sung grace around the table. It gave me goosebumps to hear the voices rise around me like well-rehearsed waves of sound, yet everyone was just sight-reading. This kind of song makes me feel joyful, energized, at home.
After church we drove to the place where we’d been invited for lunch. Not knowing what to expect, I was delighted to find ourselves on a beautiful, snowy, tree-lined driveway leading to an old farm, at least as old as 1865 but perhaps older, we were told. A large barn housed dozens of curious cattle, who lined up along the fence to stare at my deliriously excited toddler with their big soft eyes. Then my son nearly lost his mind with glee when he saw the two hundred organically-raised pigs racing around their pigpen. The cherry on the cake was the huge combine parked in the drive shed, with two tractors beside it. Life doesn’t get much better than that for a two-year-old boy!
Upon entering the farmhouse, I was greeted by the smell of a hot Sunday noon dinner – homemade sausages, scalloped potatoes, squash, peas, and, of course, homemade blueberry pie with ice cream. The delicious smells and the coziness of the room transported me instantly to my grandmother’s kitchen. She’s still very much alive, and still cooks the same wonderful food, so it was eerie to be surrounded by such familiar sensations, yet be in a completely strange place.
After lunch, we visited in the living room, which also reminded me of my grandmother’s. The children played with toys and read books with the couple who’d invited us. Forgive me for sounding overly dramatic, but I wanted to weep with gratitude! My kids’ real grandparents live far away, and one grandparent refuses to have any contact with us. How lovely it would be to have grandparent role models in our area, and it made me so happy to see them getting a bit of that yesterday.
As we drove home, I mulled over the day’s adventures. First of all, it makes me sad that something as simple as sharing a meal together in a beautiful setting and warm, loving home is such a rare thing. That should be commonplace, in an ideal world. Secondly, based on the conversations we’d had over lunch, I was struck by the conscientious way in which these people live. Perhaps it’s biased to say it’s a culturally Mennonite way of living, but, from my experience, modern Mennonites (as well as many non-Mennonites) live in a state of awareness and alertness – aware of what’s happening in the world around them, alert to its many shortcomings. They make conscious choices about their lifestyle and refuse to “default” into whatever society considers normal.
I like to think we live that way, too. For example, we don’t have a TV in our house because we believe our home is a better, healthier place without it. Another young couple at lunch doesn’t have internet at home, because they spend enough time online at work each day that it would erode precious family time. Our hosts can only watch movies at home, no TV, because they prefer reading books. While I usually feel like the odd one out for not having a TV or wireless connection, yesterday I felt at home with these people who also have made conscious choices about how they want their home lives to be, not just doing what society expects. And let me reiterate – these are modern Mennonites who drive new cars, drink alcohol, wear stylish clothes and makeup. Erase any mental images of black buggies pulled by horses and women in long dresses and head coverings!
I’ve had a smile on my face all today. What a wonderful way to end the week!