I really do like tapioca pudding. It’s smooth, white, creamy, mild goodness feeds my nostalgia and my sweet tooth. But, when said tapioca pudding has tapioca large as fish eyes, when it comes congealed and pink, when there’s a great big bowl full of it, then I–at least a seven-year-old but NOT-a-picky-eater me–gagged and could not eat it when it showed up in my lunch pail and on my supper plate multiple times.
Tapioca pudding and serving the community? I’ll connect the two eventually.
As I read the other voices for this piece, I realized just how much community means to our people.
I am grateful for the way that our culture values community. We care about relationships with people, spending time together, sharing worship as well as social time, and hospitality.Kayleen Atkinson
[Church] has provided me with automatic ways to serve and give and participate. It is healthy to invest in a community. To give. To know that your time and skills are useful and needed. Active service is not a natural posture for me. It was good for me to be handed jobs and responsibilities. I really enjoy Sunday school teaching and being on committees.*anonymous contributor
A well-developed church community provides security, space to grow, and a place to cultivate and share our talents. I’d like to look more closely at the liturgies of community and servanthood in Anabaptism, the practical ways we live it out, and finally, how we allow the church community to serve us, too.
Confession: I personally find the latter hard. Maybe I should label this particular installment “Values that My Culture Is Trying to Teach Me.”
Before Covid, I could honestly say that the only reason I missed Sunday worship was if I had to travel outside the country. Those weeks without church (even if I had solid quiet time with the Lord) always felt stretched thin. Sunday morning worship with the people of God has never been optional in my church. Rarely do I see other people missing it either: it’s part of our psyche that we gather with the community and worship together.
One of the more visceral ways we do this is by singing together. Our services start and end with a song where old and young blend their voices in soprano, alto, tenor, and bass in beautiful harmony. We also sing at various intervals (pun intended) throughout the service, like between speakers and after Sunday school. Singing harmony requires that we contribute our voice, but it also requires that we listen to and blend with other voices. We may be tired and only sing along halfheartedly. We may be full of energy and sing with gusto. Yet in the end, it is one song that rises.
Twice a year, we have communion services. (I’ve written some about it here.) Often, as the bishop passes the bread or the grape juice, he reminds us that it takes many grains of wheat to make a loaf and many grapes to make the juice. (See I Corinthians 10:15-17) So we all are part of something greater than ourselves. Each one of us must sacrifice our independence to contribute to the whole. Then, we eat the bread together–solemnly chewing, swallowing, trying to discreetly scrape the bread off the roof of our mouths where it insists upon sticking.
One of the most beautiful liturgies of community that we include in our communion services is a literal application of Jesus’ command to His disciples to wash one another’s feet. We find a partner, however it randomly shakes out, and take turns washing each others feet in a basin, using a white towel to gently dab off the drops. Then we exchange a few words of appreciation for each other and give each other a hug or a kiss on the cheek.
Marshall Hess, whom I had the privilege of meeting through teachers’ college, shared some details about his German Baptist communion services. For them, communion is a time for members from individual churches to attend and commune with other German Baptists. They take turns hosting and being hosted. They sit around tables and pass the bread and cup. When they do feet washing, they do so in groups of three and share the same water and towel. “There are lots of little symbols and tiny practices that reinforce the whole concept of sharing, serving, and communing together.”
Still, all these liturgies would be empty if they did not also lead to lives of servanthood.
I am glad for the ways my culture values helping people. I know that communities often rally around each other to help financially and physically when people are grieving, have lost a home or possessions, are facing another hard situation, or are busy with a new baby or moving.Kayleen Atkinson
On the back bulletin board at church, a little sheet appears when a lady has a baby. Other women sign up to bring her meals through the first few weeks of the little one’s life.
The youth group sings for the elderly a couple evenings a month, often songs about heaven. I have many memories of singing song after song and then answering the question, “So whose grandchild did you say you were?” Or, “I know your mom. She used to teach some of my children.”
Anabaptists spend many Sunday afternoons enjoying a delicious lunch around a long wooden table with other families from church. Hosting groups is so much a part of our culture that one of the nearly essential pieces of furniture for a young-married couple is a solid table with plenty of leaves.
The other night, my parents slipped an envelope into a mailbox. I’d seen them do this before and asked a few questions, because I knew it had something to do with “Mennonite insurance.” Turns out that when someone suffers a big loss (like a barn burning down) in one of our Anabaptist communities, a little committee gets together and figures out what each other member of the Anabaptist community contributes to help out with that loss. This is based off each member’s net worth–what they are capable of contributing. Then those who suffered the loss can start over well. Like many other generous acts of my people, it’s rarely mentioned, part of not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3)
Generosity is encouraged. Before you can be generous, you must be aware. This is one thing that my Mennonite culture has taught me. Quietly look around you, and then quietly give where you see a need. Money is not the only way to give. Give your time, your skills, your energy, and your ideas. In giving, you receive. Generosity is a habit and a mindset that can be developed with intention and practice, and I have seen so many people in my Mennonite church cultivating that in their lives.*anonymous contributor
A local, successful, Anabaptist business man was once commended for his generosity. He responded by saying that he needs to be generous with what God has given, or he will become greedy. “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
A teacher of mine once wondered if Anabaptists are the hands in the body of Christ. (See I Corinthians 12:12-27) I’m inclined to believe he is right.
I have experienced the service of the Anabaptist community in many tangible ways. Losing a mother to cancer and having a sister battle it as well has made me the benefactor of innumerable casseroles, just-because gifts, teddy bears, and sympathy cards. Complete strangers with veils on their heads would stop me in town to ask how my sister was doing.
And I wanted to shut them out. When they’d pray for my family at church, I’d shrivel into a ball inside. I’ve never felt comfortable on the receiving end. Let me sign the cards and make the casseroles, and you can have your pink tapioca–thank you very much.
I sound ungrateful.
Slowly I’m learning that allowing others to give to you is a gift to them. Receiving is not a sign of your own inadequacy. We all have seasons of need and of giving. If I never need others, I am full of pride. Yes, he Bible says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35), but even that implies that it is still blessed to receive.
The patterns of giving and receiving in my culture–“It’s about time you came our way again.” “Thank you for babysitting. Let us know when we can do the same for you”–reminds me to receive with grace.
In conclusion, I share some other beautiful words from an anonymous contributor.
Someone I spoke with once said that when making decisions as a group, the focus should be on how we journey together. That is just as important or perhaps more important than the actual decision. I picture us all being woven together as we ebb and flow in our giving and taking, over and under and around each other, until we are a cord of many, many strands. It is a miracle. A gift from God.*Anonymous contributor
Fellow Anabaptists, how have you experienced the blessings of a church community? What values do you see here? Curious outsiders, what looks compelling or confusing? Have you experienced community in your church as well?
As always, I am deeply grateful for those who shared their experience and words with me for this piece. I would welcome your contributions to my next article “Accept Authority as a God-given Grace,” which will be live October 14ish. If you have things to say, e-mail me at email@example.com.
 Marshall Hess, “On Being German Baptist” (Guys Mills, Pennsylvannia, 2020), 3.