Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Simpler Life

Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites is not the kind of book I usually pick up, but as this month's book club selection, I was willing to give it a try. Though it took me about two weeks to read it, and I was relieved that the last hundred pages were appendices and indexes, there was a lot of interesting information to be found.

Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites is a study of the Wenger Mennonites, an Anabaptist group centralized in Lancaster County. It follows their history, and the decisive split over the automobile, coming into present day beliefs and codes of behavior. Living in an area with a large Mennonite and Amish population, it was interesting to gain more insight into why they live the way they do and the process in deciding what technologies are acceptable and what should be banned. By making conscientious decisions about whether things like cars, rubber tires, phones, fax machines, or computers should be allowed and to what extent, the Wengers have not only remained intact in modern times, but are actually a thriving community with church districts in many states and a growing population.

One of the most important aspects of Wenger life is what the book refers to as the redemptive community. The Wengers do not consider the church to be a building; rather, it is the group of believers. As such, they support each other in times of need but also are a strong enforcing element, holding fellow believers to a higher standard of behavior and adherence to church rules than "outsiders" (that would be the rest of us). I found many of their practices, such as the emphasis on family, connection to the land, and supporting the community in times of need, to be things the world at large could use more of.

The book itself is a little dry to read, but it is packed full of information and anecdotes of a lifestyle I knew very little about, even having lived in areas with Mennonites and Amish all my life. I think anyone who wonders what the difference between Amish and Mennonites would enjoy reading Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites.

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