This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

30 minutes, three faith traditions

CBS television affiliates across the U.S. will explain a bit about Mennonites later this month.

CBS Religion and Culture producer Liz Kineke interviews historian John Ruth at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleys­ville, Pa., for a television program that will begin airing on CBS affiliates beginning Dec. 14. — Natalie Baxter/CBS Religion and Culture
CBS Religion and Culture producer Liz Kineke interviews historian John Ruth at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleys­ville, Pa., for a television program that will begin airing on CBS affiliates beginning Dec. 14. — Natalie Baxter/CBS Religion and Culture

CBS Religion and Culture visited the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pa., Nov. 3 to film interviews for one third of a half-hour “World Religions” interfaith special.

The annual program, which will begin airing in some markets Dec. 14, asks three faiths to share their beliefs, traditions, histories and modern voice. This year’s “explainer” show will feature Mennonites, Sikhs and Seventh-day Adventists.

“There are so many good religion stories being done,” said CBS Religion and Culture producer Liz Kineke. “We try to do those, but we also look for those communities being underrepresented in the media, like religious minorities trying to be an integral part of the community. . . .

“I think the Mennonites get a lot of great coverage after a disaster because they are on the front lines, but we thought it was time to bring them to the table for a look at who they really are.”

At the Mennonite Heritage Center, Kineke recorded interviews with historian John Ruth, MHC collections manager Joel Alderfer and archivist Forrest Moyer. Other filming took place at Indian Creek Mennonite Meetinghouse, which is a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church, as well as the more progressive Franconia Mennonite Church.

Alderfer said the approach and questions balanced history and the present.

“At least with me, it was a bit of both,” he said. “I tried to be clear in my responses the differences between religious faith and culture, which is hard to do sometimes.”

He sensed Kineke and her team had done their homework, with questions probing much deeper than just superficial differences like clothing.

“I talked about that today there are a lot of different expressions of Anabaptism, from very traditional and conservative to very progressive,” he said. “If we are honest, the Mennonite church is affected by acculturation and consumerism. But also, if we are respectful and honest, we can tolerate even in the Anabaptist tradition the different perspectives and appreciate the unique traditions and practices of each of these groups.

“Even if we don’t agree with each other, the basic core beliefs and values are the same.”
The challenge of remaining together through those differences was not lost on Kineke.

“I didn’t realize how schismatic the Mennonites are,” she said. “Well, you are human. Everyone has a diverse way of looking at things, but there is a freedom in your community to do that, and I think that’s really interesting.”

Impromptu harmony

Since the film crew visited on a Monday, it wasn’t possible to film a worship service or coordinate a midday hymn sing. Still, the producers may have acquired a soundtrack while visiting Pastor Donald Moyer at the Indian Creek Meetinghouse.

“When we were there, John Ruth just decided let’s just sing a few songs from the hymn books in the racks. One was the old black hymnal we all used to have,” Alderfer said. “We sang as a quartet. We knew they were filming, but I wasn’t sure if they were recording.”

They were, and Alderfer was told the following week the executive editor liked the sound and desired to use that.

“That’s exciting but very scary, because it was just the four of us very impromptu,” he said. “We’ll see what they do with that.”

The program will begin airing Dec. 14, and Kineke said it typically gets broadcast within a two-week window. When her department learns when each affiliate schedules it, they post details to facebook.com/cbsreligion.

The program will also be available online beginning Dec. 14.

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