Mennonite Catholic Liturgical Spiritual Convergence

The Mennonite Catholic convergence we are seeing in the MB Herald is nothing new. The following was written more than eleven years ago:


As noted earlier there has been a movement in some portions of the Mennonite community toward pre-Reformation spiritual and liturgical practices in recent decades. This has produced liturgical changes at the congregational level and the adoption by many Mennonites of traditional personal spiritual disciplines. Although not directly ecumenical, this development plays an essential role in laying the spiritual foundations for a theological and historical dialogue.

Worship practices at congregational level: During the past two decades there has been a pronounced shift in some Mennonite congregations toward traditional liturgical practices. It is estimated that some 35-40 percent of Mennonite Church[49] congregations now use the common lectionary. The frequency of communion services in Mennonite Church congregations has increased from the traditional semi-annual schedule to as frequently as monthly in some congregations, and the average in North America is now estimated at 6-8 times a year. The liturgical seasons are now observed in many congregations, and resource packets for pastors are now published each Advent and Lent by the Mennonite Church.[50]

This interest in pre-Reformation worship practices has naturally led to various interactions with Catholics. Several leaders in the Mennonite liturgical movement have studied at Catholic universities, particularly the University of Notre Dame. Marlene Kropf, who has been the leader in this movement, attended Notre Dame and has close contacts with Catholic thought. At her initiative the Mennonite Church adapted the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) for use in Mennonite congregations.[51] When this new program was introduced to Mennonite pastors and congregational leaders in 1997 a Catholic couple was invited to describe the implementation of the RCIA program in their parish. Following the 1994 Believers Church Conference on the Lord’s Supper, Kropf organized a conversation for pastors on this topic at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries to which a Catholic representative was invited.[52]

It would appear there is a major opportunity for Mennonite-Catholic dialogue on the topic of worship. An exploration of the differing theological assumptions that underlie the two traditions’ practices would appear to be especially promising.

Individual Spiritual Disciplines: At the same time that many Mennonite congregations adopted elements of the pre-Reformation liturgical tradition, numerous individuals in the Mennonite community have adopted traditional spiritual disciplines. It is difficult to document this trend, since by its nature it involves individuals rather than institutions, but there is considerable anecdotal evidence of Mennonites reading Catholic spiritual authors, attending Catholic retreats and placing themselves under Catholic spiritual directors. The writings of Henri Nouwen have been particularly popular among Mennonites.

There is also an institutional development in this area that appears to be significant. In the past decade Mennonites in northern Indiana have established a retreat center in Three Rivers, Michigan called The Hermitage, which is closely modeled on similar Catholic centers. Founded and led by a husband-wife Mennonite pastoral team, Gene and Mary Herr, it offers silent retreats, guided meditation and spiritual direction, primarily to Mennonite pastors. The Hermitage has a long-standing relationship with the Spiritual Life Institute (SLI), a Catholic religious order of Carmelite origin. Bro. Eric Haarer, an early Mennonite supporter, is now a Catholic member of SLI and maintains a close association with The Hermitage, as do other members of SLI.



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