I am Anglican, but some days I call myself Menno-Catholic. While I was baptized as an infant through the Roman Catholic Church of my father, I was raised in the Mennonite faith of my mother. Both these ancestral strains of the Church have embedded themselves into the marrow of my soul, and I live in a perpetual dance between them.
My transition to the Anglican Communion was largely fuelled by this tension. I found within this broad tradition a place for my yearning for both mystery and action, for order and conscience, for sacraments and scriptures.
Yet, there is within me a still, small, Anabaptist voice that drives some of my deepest moments of piety. Serving as a priest, my congregation has known me to erupt in sudden moods akin to my Mennonite ancestors, with calls toward simplicity and practical faith. I call this voice within MennoMe and I often wonder what I would say to this part of myself. Thanks to the invitation of the good people at Pastors in Exile, I will embrace this present opportunity.
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It is my honour to write to you. I know it has been a long time since we chatted, but I wanted to speak to you about the gifts you have given to me, and also the challenges that I have found along the way.
You have always prodded me to take up the Cross, to embrace those less fortunate, and to know that nothing truly belongs to me. I hope you realize that community is your greatest virtue. There is no doubt about that. And I don’t mean community in the vague, modern sense of the term (e.g. community centres, online community), but with a recognition that sacrifice is bound up with human flourishing. It was you who taught me that everybody is a sinner, and yet everyone is a candidate for redemption.
Of course, MennoMe, there were reasons why you became a smaller part of my being. As I drifted from your ways, I discovered certain things for which I thirsted in the Church. I’d never heard much about it growing up, but there is a deep intellectual tradition behind the faith—not only for the Anabaptists, but for all of Christianity.
As I’ve embraced a more catholic tradition, I’ve realized that the Body of Christ will never be unified so long as we rest on the laurels of protest. The Protestant Reformation was a necessary event, but a tragic one. And any protest ought to be viewed as contingent upon the reform of its opponent, not a movement in itself. I hope you will pray with me for the unity of the Church.
Mystery is a part of life. Embrace it! I was baptized as a baby, and I am grateful for it. I know you uphold the dignity of choice, which is admirable, but there is a power to the sacraments that is transformational and beyond our understanding.
More and more, MennoMe, I am discovering that you were correct about one important thing. You embody the spirit of a pragmatic people: potlucks, sharing, barn-raising, thrift stores, and four-part harmony are all practical ways to get by in the world and add a kind of simple beauty. And yet, there is a stunning and stirring lapse in your practicality when it comes to violence. It is practical to fight: that is what makes it so tempting. Instead, you are devoted to peace at all costs.
Only recently have I realized that your dedication to peace is not a matter of practicality. Matters of war and peace are too serious to be reduced to pragmatism. I admit, when I first drifted from you, I used to make banal and embarrassingly utilitarian arguments in favour of the horrors of war. “We can prevent more deaths,” I would say, “by fighting rather than standing back.” How foolish! Is that what Christ would say?
I admit to you, I did not recognize that pacifism is a wholehearted dedication to the ways of the Kingdom of God, and to its sovereign King. Pacifism is divine trust. You know all too well that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Their hunters are dead, and yet the Mennonites continue to live.
I am indebted to your guidance for many years, for placing in me the love of God, and I pray that you remain a part of me for years to come.
In the love of Christ, our King,
Father Giuseppe Gagliano serves as a priest at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in the village of Sydenham, Ontario. He also blogs his sermons at frgagliano.wordpress.com. He was raised in the faith at Bethel Mennonite Church between Elmira & Elora, Ontario.