23 May 2014

Because We Have Church

Author's Note: Two weeks ago I became a member of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship. What follows is the testimony I gave during the service.

I am very excited about today. I think I'm probably as excited about becoming a member of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship as I was about being baptised at Beech Mennonite Church nearly fifteen years ago. I'm a person who loves symbolism. This morning as I was getting ready, I found myself gravitating toward symbols from my baptism in what I'm wearing. My bangs were pulled back like this when I was baptised because I didn't want the water to mess up my hair. This pearl ring is my mothers and she used to wear it everyday and probably had it on when she participated in my baptism. This is not the dress I was wearing when I was baptised, but it is the only dress I still own that I would have worn to Beech Mennonite, where I was baptised. I am taking this step on my adult faith journey intentionally rooted in the faith of my childhood.

I was born into a Mennonite family in Ohio and have been heavily involved in the Mennonite church my entire life. When I was five, my father felt a call to the pastorate and we moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia so that both of my parents could attend Eastern Mennonite Seminary. When I was eight, we moved to Harleysville, Pennsylvania and my father pastored at Spring Mount Mennonite Church. At age eleven, we moved back to Ohio where my father pastored Beech Mennonite Church and we lived there for nine years before my parents moved to Colorado while I was attending Goshen College.

I remember church being a place of friendship and support, but also of rules and obligations. Church has never been just Sunday morning for me. My family was always involved in activities during the week and most of the people we socialized with were people from church. Church was our community, it was part of the fabric of my family.

When I went off to Goshen College, I initially attended an on-campus Sunday morning service regularly. However, I didn't find myself connecting to the community there and so it didn't feel worthwhile to me to keep getting up early. Interestingly, my disinterest in church was inverse to my interest in theology. By my junior year at Goshen, I had declared a religion major and was beginning to question everything I had ever been taught about God. If you have never done this, I highly recommend it. Seriously.

As I was finishing up college, I was writing a lot about my theology and what I thought about God after all this questioning I had done. I was confronted with considering my own ideas about church, now that I had largely abandoned it. I spent time thinking very seriously about whether I thought it was important or something I wanted to be a part of my life. I thought about my own family’s history and what being a part of church had meant for us.

When my father was four his father died, leaving his mother with four children under the age of six to raise on her own. A few months later, their house burned down. In the midst of all of this tragedy, the church came together to help. The women made meals, opened their homes and helped with the kids; the men built her a new house and made sure that her children knew how to throw a baseball and ride a bike. When my grandmother was left with nothing, it would all be okay because she had church.

My own story, sadly, is not so different. I was twenty-one when my father died, leaving my mother with two grown daughters. I, being the unmarried one, took on the task of going home to live with my mother for a few months. It was during this time that I found myself living the story I had heard so many times from the perspective I never wanted. The immediate response of the church was to feed us. Every day new people would show up at the house bearing casserole dishes, salads, crocks of meat and whatever else they could think to bring us. And they didn't just bring food; they brought arms to embrace us, ears to hear our sorrows and eyes to cry with us. Those who were far away, prayed for us. Though I cannot explain it, we physically felt those prayers lifting us up. When my family was left shattered, it would all be okay because we had church.

Looking at these stories, I knew church was something that I needed in my life. But I also felt like I had become so liberal theologically that I might never be able to find a church that was on the same page as me (or even the same chapter). I wondered if in my adult life I would ever find a place that felt safe and like home the way church felt when I was young.

I attended Oxford Circle Mennonite Church when I first moved to Philadelphia four years ago, but I never became a member. There was a variety of reasons I did not, but part of it had to do with the fact that I felt my theology and theirs did not align in places that are important to me. I was comfortable simply attending there and had developed a wonderful community around me, but I felt like I was looking for more.

Then, this unfortunate theme in my life reared its head again when my best friend and roommate, Mercy’s father Crispin died. It was during this tragic time that I met many of you from WPMF while you brought food and comfort and sometimes much needed laughter into our home. And I saw something I hadn't seen since my own father died: I saw that it would all be okay because we had church.

I attempted to straddle my desires and attend both Oxford Circle and West Philly, but this was exhausting and complicated. I found myself feeling more fed and connected at WPMF's Sunday service and it quickly became apparent that I aligned theologically with much of the congregation. When I started working at Penn and investing more of my energy in the Cedar Park community, it became obvious that I needed to commit.

This brings us to today. When I was thinking about what this service would look like, I thought about baby dedication Sundays. I always love how Pastor Lorie walks the children around the congregation saying, “These are your people. They will love you and take care of you.” I almost wish she would do that for those of us becoming members today because what I am saying by becoming a member here is that you are my people and I am yours. We will love each other and take care of each other. It will all be okay because we have church. Thank you for creating a space for me that feels safe and like home.

Showing off mommy's ring during my testimony.


  1. Glad that you have found a place to call home--a place where you are cared for, about and can creatively engage West Philly as it becomes home too. Thanks for writing down the Good News.

  2. I appreciate your blog, Brooke! Thanks for sharing your faith. Your great-grandfather's faith was an inspiration to me as well!