Sunday, April 17, 2016

Liturgy and Mystery, or Why So Many Mennonites are Attracted to Anglicanism

Question: What’s the fastest-growing Mennonite church in Winnipeg?

Answer: St. Margaret’s Anglican.

That old joke came back to me last week when I learned that the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and Mennonite Church Canada will be voting this summer to enter into a five-year bilateral dialogue.

If passed, it would be the first time the Anglican Church of Canada has engaged in a bilateral dialogue with a denomination from the Anabaptist tradition.

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archdeacon Bruce Myers, formerly the Anglican Church of Canada’s co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, specifically referenced Winnipeg as an inspiration for the dialogue.

“There are all sorts of people who happily migrate” between St. Margaret’s and st. benedict’s table, another Anglican congregation in the city, he said, adding that this “creates all sorts of interesting questions for ecumenism.”

Through the dialogue, the two church groups could learn a lot of from each other, Myers said.

“The Anglican Church of Canada, is increasingly . . . becoming a church on the margins, a church away from the centres of power, when historically we were a church of empire, establishment and privilege,” he said.

Mennonites, he went on to say, have made “a conscious decision to be very separate from the principalities and powers, and to take a stance that is often in opposition to empire."

I’m not sure that Mennonites are as separate or as opposed to empire as they might like to be, so Anglicans might be disappointed on that score. But it is true is that a growing number of Mennonites and others from non-liturgical churches are being attracted to the liturgical style of worship of Anglican churches.

Harold Dick is one of them. The Winnipeg lawyer grew up in a Mennonite Brethren church in rural Alberta. He’s been going to St. Margaret’s since 1981. What appeals to him about that church?

“It’s the liturgy,” he says. “It’s the sense of mystery, the idea that God is not something we are expected to fully understand.”

He also likes the idea that “the service isn’t about you, but about God . . . It’s about celebrating what God has done, not just about what you need to do to make your life better.”

And he appreciates the connection he finds each Sunday to a long-standing tradition. “People have been worshipping this way for a long time,” he says. “It’s something that has gone on for a long time before me, and will continue whether I am a part of it or not.”

When he goes to church, he says, “I feel that my attention has shifted from my own life to this thing that is beyond me.”

Thomas Reimer, the parish administrator at St. Margaret’s, and Bonnie Dowling, a priest/curate at that church, also both grew up in Mennonite churches in southern Manitoba before becoming Anglicans.

Reimer was also attracted by the liturgy, the sense that “something bigger than myself is going on, a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years.” Dowling agrees, adding that she also likes how “the services are deeply rooted in scripture.”

I asked them: How has the presence of so many former Mennonites impacted St. Margaret’s?

The church was already “pre-disposed toward asking difficult questions,” Reimer says, but the presence of so many Mennonites “has heightened the social conscience of the church.” Dowling adds that it has led to more “robust” discussions about issues, such as just war and pacifism.

Andrew Dyck is Associate Professor of Ministry studies at Canadian Mennonite University. He understands why some Mennonites are attracted to Anglicanism.

“Mennonites place a high value on scripture, so how it is read so much in Anglican churches would be appealing,” he says.

As for the liturgy, it “provides a richness around the mystery of God, something that is neglected in Mennonite and evangelical worship,’ he adds.  

In Anglican worship, people can find a combination of “piety, intellect and mystery” that can be very appealing, he says, along with the liturgical patterns such as standing, singing, speaking and kneeling.

Whether or not the formal dialogue goes ahead this summer, Mennonites and Anglicans in Winnipeg may already be developing a new form of dialogue and worship that could be a model for the country.


  1. Why isn't there more discussion on a developing view of the Eucharist for Mennonite's - I would really like weekly table centered worship - I think this could really breathe some new life into our Mennonite worship. What if our Anabaptist forebearers were wrong in downplaying - spirtuamky encountering Jesus at this table where all who are hungry are welcome.

  2. Why isn't there more talk among Mennonites of adding weekly communion/Eucharist to worship. I afraid our forebearers may have wrong to downplay the way we encounter Jesus at the table.