Bridgefolk models grass-roots ecumenism

 — Aug. 17, 200717 aoüt 2007

by Heather Grennan Gary, National Catholic Reporter

Margaret Pfeil wants peace. She wants it so much that three and a half years ago she moved into St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker community, a house of hospitality in South Bend, Ind. She believes in radical political participation, so she doesn’t vote except in local elections. Once her student loans are paid off, she hopes to practice tax resistance by living below the poverty line. Pfeil, an assistant professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, wants peace but sometimes she finds she needs to look outside the Catholic church to find the resources and support to help her live her faith.

George Dupuy is the pastor of Big Spring Mennonite Church, a small, rural congregation in Luray, Va. On Saturday evenings he and his wife, Abbey, a Catholic, attend Mass at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in nearby Harrisonburg. “Even if we weren’t married, I’d still go to Mass,” said Dupuy, who finds something in the Catholic liturgy that he doesn’t get elsewhere. “I’ve drawn deeply from the Catholic tradition.”

So it was no surprise that at Pfeil and the Dupuys found themselves in Elkhart, Ind., July 26-29 with more than 115 other peace-minded Catholics and sacramentally-minded Mennonites for the sixth annual Bridgefolk Gathering. Participants came from as far as Nova Scotia and Hawaii. “This is the main event I look forward to each year,” Pfeil said.

According to Bridgefolk’s Web site, the grass-roots group seeks “to make Anabaptist-Mennonite practices of discipleship, peaceableness and lay participation more accessible to Roman Catholics, and to bring the spiritual, liturgical and sacramental practices of the Catholic tradition to Anabaptists.”

Mennonites trace their roots to the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century when early leaders such as Menno Simons — a former Catholic priest — challenged the Protestant Reformation for not going far enough. Anabaptists faced decades of persecution from both Catholics and Protestants for their beliefs, which included separation of church and state, adult baptism, nonviolence and the importance of discipleship over doctrine.

“This is something neither Mennonites nor Catholics could have imagined just 10 years ago,” said Marlene Kröpf, director of the Office of Congregational Life for Mennonite Church USA and co-chair of the Bridgefolk board along with Benedictine Fr. John Klassen, abbot of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

As informal connections were forged through small Bridgefolk meetings in the late 1990s, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Mennonite World Conference held an International Mennonite-Catholic Ecumenical Dialogue, meeting for a total of five weeks between 1998 and 2003. Its report, “Called Together to be Peacemakers,” covered points of agreement and divergence between the two Christian traditions, as well as their troubled history. In 2005 Bridgefolk produced an abridged version of the report that is available for parishes, congregations and classrooms.

Local Catholic-Mennonite groups have sprouted up in a handful of locations, including Minneapolis/St. Paul; Winnipeg, Canada; northern Indiana; Newton, Kan.; and Wooster, Ohio. Many use “Called Together to be Peacemakers” as a jumping-off point for joint service activities or informal dialogues.

“The best way to start a group is just to start,” said Gerald Schlabach, Bridgefolk’s executive director. “There’s no one model. The diversity among the groups indicates the wisdom and effectiveness of proceeding in friendship.”

Thomas Finger, a Mennonite theologian from Evanston, Ill., said that in a time when governments refuse to talk with each other “our efforts for dialogue are more crucial than ever.” Finger said that a delegation from the Mennonite World Conference will be returning to the Vatican in October. Other conferences discussing the “Called Together” document are happening this year in Colombia and Germany.

Barbara Berger of Sacramento, Calif., said that spending time with Mennonites has given her a global perspective. “These people have been places. When you listen to them, you feel like you really know what’s happening on the ground in Bangladesh or Nicaragua or Iran. It’s discipleship in action.”

But the dialogue reminds Berger of what she loves about her own Catholic faith, including the deep sense of mystery in the Mass. “I hear Mennonites expressing that they want to experience some of that feeling.”

George Dupuy agrees. “Since many of the early Anabaptist reformers were Catholic clergy, our task is one of recovering what we lost, not simply learning something new,” he said. “We relearn the beauty of mystery and holiness in liturgy from the Mass.”

Dupuy’s wife, Abbey, points to traditional Mennonite values as reminders for her as a Catholic.

“Peace and justice work is part of our Catholic tradition, too, and we could do more to follow the church’s social teachings,” she said. “Also, there’s a strong sense of community among the Mennonites I know. They truly share each other’s journeys, and that inspires me to want to reach out to people in my Catholic parish and to be more connected to them.”

Abbey Dupuy added that she appreciates the Mennonites’ gift of music. “I often wish we could help more Catholics to feel comfortable with congregational singing!”

Social justice activities first put Patrick O’Bryan in touch with Mennonites in Ohio. “We weren’t looking for these relationships. We were just drawn to each other,” said O’Bryan, who works for Catholic Charities in Cleveland. He says it’s likely his experience is not that unusual. “I imagine there are a lot more Bridgefolk out there who don’t know it yet.”

Bridgefolk’s next gathering is set for July 2008 at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. Brenda Bellamy, a once Mennonite-now-Catholic from Seattle, said she hopes to be there. “What we’re doing won’t change the whole church,” she said, “but it’s a small step toward unity.”

Posted: Aug. 17, 2007 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Bridgefolk, Catholic, Mennonite, spiritual ecumenism
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Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Bridgefolk, Catholic, Mennonite, spiritual ecumenism

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