*This picture is not an actual one of my community. Just similar to give an example of the process. You can find a few more pictures and other information here:https://www.lighthopetruth.com/post/baptism
Communion for the Old Order Mennonites started the day before. Saturday morning all members were expected to abstain from any food as a tradition of preparing for Communion the next day. All members(women) were required to wear black to signify the suffering Jesus went through on the cross to save sinners. (The men wore white dress shirts and black suits but that was always their Sunday wear.) The young girls would usually wear their darkest dresses.
The Saturday service was called "Fashtag" (fast day) or preparatory services as it was to be a day of preparing for Communion the next day. The men sat on one side and the women on the other. Only the very little boys under 6 sometimes sat with their moms. The service started at 9:30 am and usually lasted till 12 or later. The ministers would sit in the anteroom and the song leaders would start a song. Soon the ministers would come out and shortly the first song was stopped and a minister would announce the second song and a few verses would be sung probably lasting from 15 minutes to half an hour. This will give you an idea what the singing was like: https://youtu.be/s33oc9vk5WE
Then there were always the certain Scriptures that were preached on that day, I think it was Isaiah 58. It's been so long I've forgotten a lot of details. The first minister had the opening part which probably lasted about half an hour or more. After he finished everyone knelt in silent prayer. Next the deacon would read the text. He was not allowed to preach. After he was done the next minister would stand up and preach from the text for probably at least an hour or more. Then everyone would kneel and he would pray out loud. I don't know if he used a prayerbook or not. Then everyone would stand and he would pronounce the benediction and everyone sat down again.
Another song was sung but instead of dismissing like usual the people remained seated and probably for the next half hour the bishop would read off the rules and regulations of the church. Only the ministers had the list, none of the members. Some of the things were no musical instruments except an accordion. (Sometimes the youth would use them at their gatherings when they danced which was not really acceptable but still happened.) No rubber wheels were allowed on farm equipment unless it was something people didn't use to ride on. Tractors were allowed maybe a 2" block of rubber in the wheel to help absorb shock. Buggies had to have steel rims on the wheels. Bikes were allowed to have rubber tires. (As the oldest child who had no younger brothers old enough I had to help with the farm work and my dad taught me how to fix bikes as we would have a 2 mile trek to bike to school. I remember I would sometimes wonder how it would be to drive a steel wheeled bike even though I was thankful that we didn't have to as it would have been a bone-jarring ride.) Jackets and bonnets, socks and shoes were all supposed to be black, with the exception of navy for every day wear. Head coverings had to cover at least half the ear and the covering strings were not allowed to be untied or stuck down the back of the dress. Internet, radio, cell phones, tape/CD players, and pleasure trips were not allowed. Wrist watches weren't allowed. The watches had to be in the pocket or under the cape of a woman's dress. Any jewelry was not allowed. Certain magazine subscriptions were not allowed. Hunting trips weren't allowed. The bonnets and hats had to be worn in public. There were specifications on how decorated the buggies and horse's harness could be. Ritsy looking furniture and other home accessories or the actual building was not supposed to be because we were not supposed to act like rich folks making our home on this earth but rather to live simple lives. There were herd and farm equipment regulations so that businesses don't get too big. Tractors were not allowed to be used for transportation. Cars and drivers licences were not allowed. Instead either the neighbors or some specific "English" person made a living driving people around. ( looking back now,it seems so selfish from a Mennonite perspective. It was as though we just used them to accomplish our goals at times rather than to accept them as people with lives to live too, but that is somewhat the mindset I grew up under...more on that in a later article...) There were so many more specifications that I don't remember.
The rest of the day was supposed to be spent somewhat as a day of rest, a time to reflect and make sure we are in right standing before God and with our fellow man so we can all take Communion with peace in our hearts.
Sunday morning we could eat breakfast and then church started half an hour earlier than usual, at 9:00. Every female member wore their black dresses again. The service would begin with one song, maybe singing about 2 or 3 verses before the ministers came out of the anteroom. The preacher who had the opening would begin in Genesis and retell the story down through the ages until he came to the Israelites, if I remember correctly. When he finished his part everyone kneeled for silent prayer. After about 5 minutes everyone got up and sat down again. Next the deacon would get up and read a passage though I don't remember what it was
(perhaps 1 Corinthians 11:18-?). Then another minister would stand up and take up the story where the first minister left off and continue on down until just before Jesus was tried before Pilate. He would sit down and the bishop would take over and continued the story until Jesus ascended to heaven. The emphasis was not on the resurrection but rather on what Christ suffered on the cross. (Knowing you can be saved is seen as being proud and that we just hope to be saved at the end of life which may be the reason that there isn't much emphasis on the joy of living a life following Jesus but rather on the seriousness of life and somehow thinking that living a certain way will get us to heaven which is a works based religion. )
After he finished the story-telling part he would switch to the part of taking Communion together and the importance of doing it in the right manner which often made me feel like I shouldn't even be taking a part in it because I'm so unworthy and undeserving. During this time the deacon and 1 or 2 ministers would go back to the anteroom and bring out the bread and the wine(yes, real homemade wine. The bread was homemade bread with the crust cut off and then cut into 1"square cubed sticks of soft bread.) They would set it on the edge of the table.
First would be the bread. The bishop would talk about the Scripture a bit on the bread and the meaning of it. Then when he was ready the deacon would uncovered the sticker of bread and the bishop would pick up one and (I think he would ask everyone to stand while) he said a short prayer. Then he would pinch off a small piece for himself and eat ashe proceeded to hand a small piece to every member, women first and ladies last. * the picture above somewhat shows the procedure except the men and women did not sit together. The deacon would carry along the plate with the bread while the bishop would take a stick whenever he emptied one in passing it out to the congregants. At this time also the ladies would start taking out the babies and little children to the "shtivli" (anteroom or coatroom) and assigning them to older girls who weren't yet members to take care of them for the rest of the service because it was hard to take care of babies while washing feet which happened later on. After the bishop thought he got to everyone he would ask if anyone got missed and then that person would stand up or somehow signal that he/she had been missed.
Next was the wine. He talked a bit about the wine and it's part in Communion and exhorted members to not drink in excess but only a little bit because we were sinful people unworthy of this. Again (congregants would stand while) he said a short prayer and then proceeded to hand the cup to each member(men first and women last) as the deacon walked along behind with the jug, filling up the cup as needed.
This was the kind of jug the wine was in.
This was the kind of cup that was used.
Since passing out the wine took a lot longer, part ways through they songleaders would start a song that continued until the bishop was finished. Occasionally the song would get done and they would either wait or start another song depending how many people there were yet that hadn't had their wine yet. It may be well to add as well that there could easily be 150-200+ members in a service like this. It probably took about half an hour if not longer to pass out the wine.
After the wine was passed out, then came the foot washing part. The bishop would preach on that subject for a bit in which space of time the ministers and deacon and their wives along with some of the elders of the church along with their wives would file back into the "shtivli" only to reappear in about 5 or 10 minutes bearing tubs of water and towels and distributing them across the congregation usually every 2 or 3 benches, the ladies delivering theirs on the women's side and the men on the men's side. After all the tube were distributed, they took their seat again. After the bishop was done preaching about feet washing, he would sit down and every member took off their socks and shoes. Then everyone proceeded to take turns washing each other's feet (usually whoever sat next to them) and then when finished would give each other the holy kiss. Men and women didn't wash each other's feet rather women with women and men with men. Occasionally it was an odd number of members and so someone might take part in a second round with someone who didn't have someone to wash their feet with.
We used brown tubs like this which were filled half full with warm water( brought from the nearest neighbors in a barrel). The towels were basically white bath towels that had a white band sewn along the one end extending into strings that were then tied around the waist. The other end was then used to wipe your partner's feet after you swished some water over them.
After the ministers were done and had their shoes and socks back on they started a song that pretty much lasted till everyone was done. When everyone was done he would announce the benediction and dismiss everyone and Communion was over for another half year.
Communion was always a special time though there was always the fear of spilling the wine or some other embarrassing mishap that might happen. I think the feet washing was my most favorite part even though the kiss wasn't. I was sincere in doing my part but expressing emotion or affection was not really acceptable and so kissing was weird.
When I began to realize that I will need to choose between pleasing my parents or pleasing God in whether I'd stay in my parent's church or leave, one of the biggest things I knew I'd miss would be Communion. There is just something
special about it. Little did I know that I'd wait for 4 years before having the privilege to partake in Communion.
The last church I had been going to was 3 hrs away. I went there for almost 2.5 years, making the trip every weekend as possible. In 2019 we had a baptismal service one afternoon at the Opequon River near Martinsburg WV which I shared about in one of my other blog posts. There was also talk about a Communion service, which to my disappointment never happened.
Near the end of January I started going to a Calvary Chapel church about half an hour away and the day or so before last Sunday I saw on social media that Communion was in the plan for the Sunday morning service. Of course I couldn't hardly believe at first that maybe my wait was nearly over. Since I've never had Communion in any other settings other than the Mennonites I didn't know what to expect. Neither did I know if I'd be allowed to take part in it either since I wasn't particularly a member yet.
Sunday morning rolled around and I asked one of the other ladies about it and was assured that I could take part if I'm right with God. Of course due to the pandemic things were done slightly different than normal(and I'm not sure what a normal Communion service would be like in that setting) so there was these prepackaged wafer and grape juice packs of which every Christian was to take one as they were passed around. It was new. It was different. But the joy I felt as the tears threatened to spill over was awesome. That there is a God who cares so much for me that He sent His Son to die on the cross for me and rose again so that I could have life. That there is a God who has such an important plan for my life that He intervened before I could take my life. And even though I am currently going through a tough time trying to adjust to some of the huge changes in my life, my life is still better than I ever dreamed was possible as a teenager. I didn't want to live as a teenager. I saw nothing to live for. Nothing that I wanted except to be a hermit(so much so I drew blueprints of what my homestead would look like and how I wanted to live far away from people so I won't get hurt anymore. I think I still have them too.)
But God as usual had other plans. I'm not the same person I was as a teenager in that I have come full circle and the thing I crave the most is strong relationships and connecting with people. Due to some of the things happened to me over the years I am somewhat hindered but am in the process of seeking help for these issues.
I believe God has so much more for each one of us and sometimes it is different than we envisioned early on. I never dreamed I'd be where I am today. I used to think of leaving the Mennonites but never thought I would because I was a "good" Mennonite person and I tried to keep all the rules. I never dreamed I would go to a Holiness Pentecostal church for 4 years. When I did, I never dreamed I'd leave. But I have. I dreamed I'd be where I am today. In fact, as an 18 year old, death looked much better than life and certainly would get me out of the hell of a life I was living in. I had no dreams. I had no "bucket list" of things I wanted to do one day like other people did.
I don't know why I'm even saying all this, just rambling on with my thoughts, but maybe somebody needs to hear it. Sometimes I just have to remind myself to of where God's brought me from. Maybe that's why I'm rambling.
But hey, I hope perhaps you learned a little bit more about the Mennonites and what an Old Order Mennonite Communion is like. I hope you enjoyed it and if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me, either through social media or on my website...
Have a great day!