Mennonite and Catholic communion

Reflections on an experience at the Bridgefolk conference

September 12, 2012 | Young Voices
Michael Turman | Special to Young Voices

I had an experience of God’s presence at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, in July at the Bridgefolk conference. “Bridgefolk is a movement of sacramentally-minded Mennonites and peace-minded Catholics,” says its mission statement. Every year Bridgefolk holds a gathering of Mennonites and Catholics to celebrate, explore, and honour each others’ practices and traditions. In practice this happens through friendship and open discussion of shared values. Over the ten or so years that Bridgefolk has been meeting, a committed group has formed. Even though I was attending for the first time, it felt like a family reunion.

In some way, I was among family. The Mennonite and Catholic churches are both like home to me. As the eldest child of a Mennonite and Catholic marriage, I was raised in both churches. I learned the mystery and holiness of the sacraments of baptism and communion from the Catholics and I learned the holy joy of four-part hymn singing and the sacred value of community (and potlucks!) from the Mennonites. I have been spiritually sustained at times both by praying the rosary and by volunteering for Mennonite Central Committee.

With such committed, faithful Christians on both sides of my church family, why must we be Mennonites and Catholics? Why shouldn’t the two churches learn from each other? Bridgefolk was an interesting place to share my story. My journey in both churches as a “second generation Mennonite-Catholic” was unique to me but at the same time not unusual among those at Bridgefolk.

The moving moment of the weekend was our worship in the Sacred Heart Chapel on Saturday night. The focus of the service was a double Eucharist (Lord’s Supper)—something that Bridgefolk had never done before. In a single service we celebrated first a full Catholic communion liturgy (mass), led by a Catholic priest, then a full Mennonite Lord’s Supper, led by a Mennonite pastor. Though we all participated in both, we could not receive bread from more than one church’s table.

The Catholic communion service, though nearly identical to every mass I’ve attended in my life, made me weep. For me it was a painful reminder of just how separate our two churches are—we may not share bread at one another’s table. On the theology of the Eucharist, we are divided.

Yet that worship service was more than painful disunity. It was also astonishingly beautiful. When the song leader began the first hymn of the Mennonite part of the service my face became wet with joyful tears. “What is this place where we are meeting? Only a house, the earth its floor.” To sing these deep songs of my heart in a gorgeous sacred space with Christians from both sides of my divided family gave me hope. I knew then that the Gospel I have received from both churches is true, and it is a living Gospel. God was present on that little bridge of friendship between two traditions.

Both the Catholic Church and the Mennonite Church are beloved by God, and part of the body of Christ. I pray with all my being that they may yet be one.

Sometimes I wonder whether the Church actually knows what it’s talking about when it talks about God. Is the Church right? At Bridgefolk I experienced God’s presence with profound certainty, and felt reassured that the Church, with all its imperfections, points to Christ’s presence in the world. Thanks be to God!

Michael Turman is a Master of Theological Studies student at Conrad Grebel University College. He lives in Kitchener-Waterloo with his wife Alicia.

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