The question caught me off guard: “What church did you say you belong to?”
“Mennonite Church Canada,” I responded, and continued to explain that we are a Protestant denomination.
“Oh, I know the Mennonites,” interrupted the U.S. Border Patrol officer. Then he continued to question me about some of our theological positions. I was a bit alarmed, not anticipating that a theological debate would determine whether I would be allowed to board the plane.
“I am just talking with you,” explained the officer. But he held onto my passport and fixed his gaze on me as well.
“I know the Mennonites,” he continued. He explained how the Mennonites were good people who believed in service and helping others.
This is not the first time I have experienced such accolades for our perceived peaceful character. But this conversation was different. The Border Patrol officer also proceeded to explain Anabaptist history to me. I was about to give him a passing grade, until he credited Menno Simons with the selfless act of Dirk Willems, pulling his pursuer from the frozen lake. He did seem to know a great deal about us. I almost suggested that maybe he should become a Mennonite as well. But he still had a firm hold of my passport.
The conversation ended and he wished me and my family of faith God’s blessing and wisdom.
Each time such a conversation occurs I am left feeling somewhat overwhelmed. We do have a good reputation. Such a reputation has been formed by generations of faithful living and humble service to God.
To accept the benefit of a reputation is to also accept the accompanying responsibility. It is a responsibility to our past, present and our future. A good reputation bears accountability to our past. The sacrifice and testimony of past generations requires a consistent display in the present if the reputation is to remain intact.
But a good reputation is also accountable to the present. The repute of our current faith movement requires the ongoing display of generosity and self-giving service.
This is a not a responsibility unique to us as congregations and individuals in Mennonite Church Canada. It is a common responsibility for all who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. A cynical secular society demands more of faith movements. The integrity of service, generosity and joyful sacrifice is the only platform acceptable for faith claims of redemption, restoration and salvation. No matter what we say, or how we say it — the hearing will only come through the experience of radical, self-giving love. This is how the Word of God came to us.
I often shudder at the responsibility of living up to the expectations modeled by those of my past and present community. To be a church that bears the reflection of Jesus Christ is not an easy endeavor. Jesus is rarely restrained by rules. He rejects stereotypes and prejudices. He never plays it safe. But a church that resembles him is a church that awakens a divine hunger in all who experience it. The character of our engagement with life today will either solidify or erode a good reputation of the church.
May we continue to be a family of faith that will provide generations of commendations for our children and their children — so that all who speak of us wish to bless the God we serve.
Willard Metzger is executive director of Mennonite Church Canada. He writes here, where this blog post originally appeared.