Making a visit to the world of Mennonites http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/529486.html
By PETER DUFFY
BOTH children watch me shyly from across the living room.
Their mother, her hair partly hidden by a black headpiece, sits silently on a nearby couch.
Paul Reimer introduces us.
His wifeís name is Maria. Their modestly dressed youngsters are Leo, 10, and Laureen, 13.
The couple has four other children. Two are still getting dressed and the two oldest, the 15- and 17-year-old, have gone to work, one at a garage, the other at a factory that makes cabinet doors.
I glance surreptitiously at my watch; itís a little before 8:30 a.m.
This is Upper Kennetcook, Hants County, home to more than 250 Mennonites whoíve quietly been putting down roots since the early 1980s, drawn here by the peaceful way of life and availability of land.
Paul has agreed to be my guide this morning, even though I sense this quiet, reserved man would rather be tending his ripening fields of corn, his beef cattle and his small furnace business than answering my questions.
Heís also taking time away from the task of writing his next sermon because, as it happens, heís also one of five ministers in his community.
"May I see inside your church, later?" I ask.
I confess to him that my knowledge of Mennonites is sketchy. As I understand it, theyíre Christians who trace their roots back to the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe. I gather adherents chose their own path to distance themselves from what they considered was too much state interference in their lives and a church that didnít meet Godís exacting standards, or the needs of ordinary people.
My research also suggests Mennonites live simple lives, practice adult baptism and refrain from any kind of oath-taking, military service or the holding of public office. They also centre their lives on the teachings of Jesus and the Gospels of the New Testament.
Paul explains that this particular community originated in Manitoba and found its way to Nova Scotia via Mexico and Belize, in Central America. Members left Manitoba 50 years ago when the government there tried to stop them educating their children themselves.
Such official interference didnít work then; it doesnít work now. Mennonites still educate their own.
I gaze around the familyís austere bungalow, remarking on the lack of luxuries. Not even a radio or a TV.
Paul nods. "The radio, there is more junk coming over it than good," he explains. Itís the same with TV programs. Mennonites feel they do damage to children.
"I do not condemn TV," he assures me, "but I think it gives more harm than upbuilding."
"How about newspapers?" I probe. "Do you get The Chronicle Herald?"
"I do not really want it in my home," he replies. "I want to read upbuilding things for my spiritual life."
"But wonít your children be at a disadvantage, when they go out into the world?"
"No," he retorts. "If your head is full of bad stuff, you get used to it and go along with it."
"So what do you and your family do in the evenings?"
"At home Ö my main desire is to serve the Lord with my own family," he intones. "We have a lot of reading material in my house and whatever we need for the children, they can learn to get through life. We have a set of encyclopedia."
"Do you have a computer?" I ask.
Not in the home, he says. Some Mennonites have computers for their businesses, but they arenít hooked to the Internet. Thereís too much immorality out there these days.
I try nudging Paul toward the topic of modern morals and the way people today behave and dress.
"I donít want my wife to wear form-fitting dresses," he allows. "God gave us dresses to hide our bodies."
His wife reserves herself for him alone, he adds. "Not (for) others. Me!"
He feels sad when he sees women dressing to share their beauty with men.
"They do not know Godís word. They are not following His way, the way He wants people to live."
It all starts and ends with the Bible, he explains. It gives you direction to learn Godís plan.
I ask about the black headpiece worn by Mennonite women.
"Prayer veiling, itís in the Bible," he says simply. "Itís also a sign ĎIím obedient.í "
Mennonite women are subject to men because men have more responsibility. That notwithstanding, says Paul, both are equal before God.
"Doesnít a patriarchal attitude cause conflict in the home?"
No, says Paul. "Marriage is meant for love, not conflict."
He gets to his feet. Itís time for my tour.