New Sherwood

Mennonites and Catholics at a Country Faire

Every year, the historic Patrick Ranch in Durham hosts an old-fashioned Country Faire and Threshing Bee for two days. For the past three years our kids have played their bluegrass and folk music at this event with some of their fellow students in the area. This year it was just “Freedom Hill” – our children and those of another Catholic family – playing on the flat bed of an old farm truck. 

There are several close-knit Mennonite communities in this area, and every year we see some of them at Patrick Ranch. They are typically farmers, and the Country Faire has lots of things of interest to farmers – especially farmers who prefer the old ways. The Mennonites are easily recognizable by their distinctive dress, large families, and respectful behavior. Our girls take notice because the Mennonite ladies also dress in a feminine and modest way. 

As it happens, I was standing in the hot dog line behind one of these families – a young man, maybe thirty to thirty-five years old, with his wife and two very small children. He complimented me on the performance (as if I had anything to do with it!), and we struck up a very friendly conversation. I told him how much we appreciated seeing them at these events, and how they set a good example of family life for my own children. I spoke with his wife for a few minutes as well, and she told me about the music training all the Mennonite children receive. (They do not play instruments but are taught to sing and read music at an early age.)  We then got our lunch and went our own way.

About 30 minutes later, after we had eaten, this same gentleman walked up and wanted to introduce his grandparents. The grandfather looked every bit the part of a Mennonite patriarch with 33 grandchildren. He had many kind things to say about the Freedom Hill children, whose performance he had also heard, and asked me to contact him and let him know when the next performance would be. After talking a little while longer and finding even more common ground, he invited us to play music at their family home in exchange for a meal, promising me that his wife (who was standing beside him) is an excellent cook!

I accepted.  

And so, two traditional Catholic families and one large Mennonite family will soon be getting to know each other. I have always respected and admired these people – from a distance, of course – and am quite humbled by this warm and spontaneous invitation. It should be a very interesting encounter. I pray that we, at least, will be as much a credit to our Catholic Faith as they are to their own.

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June 14, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

8 Comments »

  1. Jeff — I can vouch for Mennonite cooking. Just had a family reunion (chicken BBQ and potluck) today with that side of the family — yum!

    peace,

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    Comment by Zach Frey | June 14, 2009 | Reply

  2. This reminds me of when my parents went through their Amish phase. They subscribed to the Budget, the Amish newspaper and we went camping in Lancaster, PA. Last year while driving my daughter to Chicago we stopped in Shipsewanna, Indiana, a large Amish settlement and an Amish gentleman gave us a ride in his buggy. In talking I told him that we had 8 children and he said that among the Amish you are not seeing the big families anymore. They are using birth control. He said with regret, “I never thought I would see that among the Amish.”

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    Comment by Mary | June 14, 2009 | Reply

  3. That sounds like fun, Jeff. The Lilies Apparel home company that I buy clothes from sometimes is a Mennonite family.

    What beautiful horses, by the way. I sometimes think I love the draft horses most of all.

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    Comment by Lydia | June 15, 2009 | Reply

  4. What great news! After 500 years, it is good to break bread together.

    We had a lot of traditional Mennonites in Western New York, who were known for their furnature and foodand one of my mentors was a modern Mennonite involved in our town’s VN community.

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    Comment by The Western Confucian | June 15, 2009 | Reply

  5. We met a family at Latin Mass about six weeks ago in a different province we were visiting. Mennonites who converted to Traditional Catholicism. They said others will follow. I found this both amazing and encouraging. That said, I can see where common ground exists – where our world and their world intersect – Gospel Poverty and Simple Living being two points of intersection. Good luck with your new friendship!

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    Comment by james | June 16, 2009 | Reply

  6. My hubby worships with local Mennonites. Their tradition of hymnody, the acapella choral, is recorded with shapenotes, related to chant neumes I would wager:
    http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/shapenote/index.html
    http://lphrc.org/Chant/

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    Comment by Clare Krishan | June 17, 2009 | Reply

  7. I suppose I should mention that my Mennonite relatives are modern rather than traditional Mennonites.

    Although I did once make the acquaintance of an Amish firefighter in Bird-in-Hand, PA and discovered that his last name is one in my family, also. I’ve heard rumor the name “Frey” is hardly unknown in The Budget. :)

    Clare, those links are fascinating, thank you! I’m familiar with shape note singing, of course, but I had no idea of a possible connection with chant notation.

    I once wrote about the state of Mennonite music in the extended Frey family: http://www.znfrey.com/blog/2004/07/frey-reunion-2004.html

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    Comment by Zach Frey | June 17, 2009 | Reply

  8. Interesting news, I can’t wait for the followup. Loyal blog reader checking in for my bi-yearly comment! haha

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    Comment by Tracy Fennell | June 18, 2009 | Reply


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