Visit to Vineland Mennonite Church

Yes­ter­day the fam­i­ly vis­it­ed Vineland NJ Men­non­ite Church.

We were com­ing after 8:30 Mass at Julie’s church and arrived a few min­utes before the wor­ship ser­vice while they were doing their reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­gram. But the dis­tinc­tion between reli­gious ed and wor­ship was min­i­mal, almost non-existent. Atten­dance at both was near-universal (about 110 total) and much of the wor­ship itself was reli­gious edu­ca­tion. There was a series of 15 minute’ish ser­mons (deliv­ered by var­i­ous men), bro­ken up by some four-part a capel­la singing (beau­ti­ful), recita­tions from a Bible verse they were mem­o­riz­ing and kneel­ing prayer (a sur­prise the first time, as they all spin around sud­den­ly to face the back, kneel and pray).

It’s prob­a­bly one of the most reli­gious­ly con­sci­en­tious com­mu­ni­ties I’ve seen. A lot of the ser­vice involved review­ing belief struc­ture. Their book of dis­ci­pline is very slim, not much more than a tract, but it’s some­thing they use and they spent part of the time read­ing from it. Much of the wor­ship hour was meant to rein­force who they were, why they were and how they were – to explain over and over why they led their dis­tinc­tive life. Theirs is a vol­un­tary asso­ci­a­tion for those who agree to fol­low the author­i­ty of the group’s teach­ings. I sus­pect that every adult in the room could give a detailed pre­sen­ta­tion on con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ite faith and give detailed answers about points of doc­trine. At the risk of insert­ing my own opin­ion I will ven­ture that the wor­ship ser­vice felt a bit dry (as Julie said, there wasn’t a ounce of mys­ti­cism in the whole pro­ceed­ing) but I don’t think the mem­bers there would feel offend­ed by this obser­va­tion. Excit­ing the sens­es is less impor­tant than review­ing the val­ues and liv­ing the moral life.

Visu­al­ly, the group is strik­ing. Every man in the room wore a long-sleeved white dress shirt but­toned all the way up, dark pants and black shoes; all had short hair and only one or two had facial hair. I was more dis­tinc­tive­ly plain in my broad­falls and sus­penders but the effect of sixty-or-so men and young boys all dressed alike was visu­al­ly stun­ning. Like a lot of plain peo­ples, the women were more obvi­ous­ly plain and all but one or two wore lightly-colored cape dress­es and head cov­er­ings (I lat­er learned that the excep­tions were new­com­ers who weren’t yet mem­bers). Seat­ed was seg­re­gat­ed, women on the left, men on the right. Gen­der roles are very clear. There were kids – lots of kids – all around, and a big focus of the ser­mons was fam­i­ly liv­ing. One extend­ed ser­mon focused on dis­cern­ing between pro­vid­ing well for one’s fam­i­ly vs. greed and the bal­ance between work­ing hard for your fam­i­ly vs. giv­ing up some things so you can spend time with them. Kids were present through­out the ser­vice and were rel­a­tive­ly well behaved.

The church itself was called a meet­ing­house and was plain – no cross­es of course. Peo­ple sat in pews and there was a raised area up front for min­is­ters and elders. The build­ing dou­bled as a school­house dur­ing the week and its school­rooms had a lot of Rod and Staff books, famil­iar from our own home school­ing. A mem­ber described the school as one leg of the three-legged stool, along with church and fam­i­ly. If any one part of the equa­tion was lack­ing in some way, the oth­er two could help insure the child’s moral wel­fare. School was free for church mem­bers but was open on a tuition basis to non-Mennonites. These out­siders were required to make cer­tain lifestyle choic­es that would insure the school stayed rel­a­tive­ly pure; the most impor­tant require­ment was that the fam­i­ly not have a tele­vi­sion at home.

My reg­u­lar read­ers will have one ques­tion on their mind right about now: did any­one invite us to lunch? Why yes they did! We didn’t even have to prompt it. We knew a cou­ple there – M and J, who run a restau­rant in the local farmer’s mar­ket, a favorite Sat­ur­day morn­ing stop for us. They took us under their wing when they rec­og­nized us, sit­ting with us dur­ing wor­ship and then show­ing us the school. J said that if we came back again we could come over for lunch. Then she back­tracked and offered that we could come now, explain­ing that the church had had recent dis­cus­sions over whether it was too pushy to ask first-time atten­ders to lunch or whether they should restrain them­selves and invite them on the sec­ond vis­it. Wow, a church that thinks about this?!

So we fol­lowed them to their place for lunch. It was a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask more ques­tions and get to know one anoth­er. Meals are impor­tant. Julie and I had won­dered why there were Men­non­ites in Vineland NJ of all places – and two Men­non­ite church­es at that! Short sto­ry is that there had been a civil­ian pub­lic ser­vice facil­i­ty in Vineland for con­sci­en­tious objec­tors and Lancaster-area Men­non­ites decid­ed that “the boys” sta­tioned there need­ed the ground­ing of a local church com­mu­ni­ty (appar­ent­ly oth­er C.O. camps were scenes of debauch­ery – Men­non­ite drag rac­ing in Col­orado Springs was cit­ed). This became Nor­ma Men­non­ite Church, which still exists and is anoth­er local church I’ve been mean­ing to vis­it for years (hi Mandy!). In the 1960s, there was a great round of lib­er­al­iza­tion among Men­non­ites, an unof­fi­cial aban­don­ment of the dis­tinc­tives cod­i­fied in their books of dis­ci­plines. Many church­es split and the Vineland Church was formed by those mem­bers of Nor­ma who want­ed to main­tain the discipline.

This prob­a­bly explains the strong focus on the rules of the dis­ci­pline. For those want­i­ng more of the his­to­ries, I com­mend Stephen Scott’s excel­lent “An Intro­duc­tion to Old Order and Con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ite Groups” along with any­thing else Stephen Scott has writ­ten. The Vineland con­gre­ga­tion is part of the East­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Men­non­ite Church con­fer­ence, pro­filed on pages 173 – 176. A lot of the Men­non­ite issues and splits are echoed among Friends and we’d do well to under­stand these cousins of ours.

The result is a church that’s big on group prac­tice: the dress, the lifestyle. M. told me that they don’t believe in the­ol­o­gy but in Bib­li­cism. He explained that they don’t think the Bible con­tains the word of God but instead that it is the Word of God and he paused to let the dis­tinc­tion sink in. The Bible is not to be inter­pret­ed but read and fol­lowed, with spe­cial atten­tion giv­en the gospels and the let­ters of Paul.

So no, I’m not going to go Con­ser­v­a­tive Men­non­ite on you all. I have a TV. My pro­fes­sion is web design (they’re not into the inter­net, natch). I’m mar­ried to a pracitic­ing Catholic (I don’t know how they would bend on that) and at this point my brain is wired in a curi­ous, out­ward way that wouldn’t fit into the nor­ma­tive struc­tures of a group like this. Doctrinally-speaking, I’m a Friend in that I think the Word of God is the Inward Christ’s direct spir­it and that the Bible needs to be read in that Light. There’s a lot of peo­ple who wouldn’t fit for var­i­ous rea­sons, peo­ple who I would want in my church (they main­tain a hard line against remar­riage after divorce and I didn’t even ask about gay issues). But I have to admit that the process and struc­ture puts togeth­er a real­ly great com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple. They’re hard-working, kind, char­i­ta­ble and not near­ly as judg­men­tal as you might imag­ine – in prac­tice, less judg­men­tal than a lot of pro­gres­sive reli­gious peo­ple I know. Non-resistance is one of the pil­lars of their prac­tice and they were gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in Julie’s Catholic church and my expe­ri­ences among Friends and we talked a fair bit about Islam.

Nor­mal­ly I’d give a big thanks to the church and M & J here, except I know they won’t read this. I am grate­ful to their kind­ness in shar­ing their church, beliefs and fam­i­ly meal with us.

Philadelphia Metropolis

Metropolis - Philadelphia News and Journalism

Metrop­o­lis is a “news, analy­sis and com­men­tary” site from vet­er­an Philadel­phia reporter Tom Fer­rick (Wikipedia). An alum of The Philadel­phia Inquir­er, Tom’s spent the last half-dozen years talk­ing to every­one who will lis­ten about the future of print and Philly news. He’s done talk­ing and is show­ing what can be done on a bud­get bud­get. From “This is Metrop­o­lis,” the lead article:

Local news­pa­pers, TV and radio sta­tions are retreat­ing from in-depth cov­er­age of region­al news either due to eco­nom­ic or audi­ence considerations.

The retreat has been grad­ual, but no one expects it to stop. The com­pa­ny that owns the region’s largest news­pa­pers — the Inquir­er and Dai­ly News — is in bank­rupt­cy. The size of the edi­to­r­i­al staffs at the papers con­tin­ues to shrink. The prog­no­sis for metro dailies here and else­where is not good. The jour­nal­ism prac­ticed by these papers is still robust, but the eco­nom­ic mod­el that has sus­tained it is erod­ing. If these tra­di­tion­al sources of news fal­ter or fail what will take their place?

The site was built in Mov­able Type. The most promi­nent fea­ture is the slideshow dis­play of fea­tured arti­cles. Tom has seen a sim­i­lar effect on anoth­er jour­nal­ism site and a search found the “Slid­ing Hor­i­zon­tal Ban­ner Rota­tor” at Active Den, a great site to pur­chase pre-built Flash files. Mov­able Type entries are out­fit­ted with cus­tom fields to enter images and links. Mov­able Type then cre­ates a cus­tom XML file for the “Main Sto­ries” feed, which is then picked up and dis­played by the Flash ban­ner. In addi­tion, the site uses Google Adsense to pro­vide income.

Vis­it: Philadel­phia Metropolis

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Kindley Law

John Kind­ley is a lawyer in a solo prac­tice in South Bend, Indi­ana. He came to me want­i­ng a web design make-over for his self-designed Word­Press site, along with some SEO advice and help with a form. John’s a bit of a tin­ker­er so he’s already moved on to a new design!

Vis­it: Kind­ley Law in South Bend Indiana

Client Testimonial:

“Mar­tin pro­vid­ed great val­ue in design­ing a web­site for my law
prac­tice
. He was acces­si­ble and facil­i­tat­ed the process, despite our
geo­graph­i­cal dis­tance, through email and tele­phone con­sul­ta­tions. He
was flex­i­ble in work­ing with me to achieve what I was look­ing for
with­in my bud­get.” May 1, 2009

John Kind­ley, Lawyer.
Hired Mar­tin as a Graphic/Web Design­er in 2008
Top qual­i­ties: Per­son­able, Good Val­ue, High Integrity

On job hunting and the blogging future in Metro Philadelphia

I’ve been qui­et on the blogs late­ly, focus­ing on job search­es rather than rant­i­ng. I thought I’d take a lit­tle time off to talk about my lit­tle cor­ner of the career mar­ket. I’ve been apply­ing for a lot of web design and edit­ing jobs but the most inter­est­ing ones have com­bined these togeth­er in cre­ative ways. My qual­i­fi­ca­tions for these jobs are more the inde­pen­dent sites I’ve put togeth­er — notably Quak​erQuak​er​.org—than my paid work for Friends.

For exam­ple: one inter­est­ing job gets repost­ed every few weeks on Craigslist. It’s geared toward adding next-generation inter­ac­tive con­tent to the web­site of a con­sor­tium of sub­ur­ban news­pa­pers (appli­cants are asked to be “com­fort­able with terms like blog, vlog, CSS, YourHub, MySpace, YouTube…,” etc.). The qual­i­fi­ca­tions and vision are right up my alley but I’m still wait­ing to hear any­thing about the appli­ca­tion I sent by email and snail mail a week ago. Despite this, they’re con­tin­u­ing to post revised descrip­tions to Craigslist. Yesterday’s ver­sion dropped the “con­ver­gence” lin­go and also dropped the pro­ject­ed salary by about ten grand.

About two months ago I actu­al­ly got through to an inter­view for a fab­u­lous job that con­sist­ed of putting togeth­er a blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty site to fea­ture the lesser-known and quirky busi­ness­es of Philadel­phia. I had a great inter­view, thought I had a good chance at the job and then heard noth­ing. Days turned to weeks as my follow-up com­mu­ni­ca­tions went unan­swered. 11/30 Update: a friend just guessed the group I was talk­ing about and emailed that the site did launch, just qui­et­ly. It looks good.

Cor­po­rate blog­ging is said to be the wave of the future and in only a few years polit­i­cal cam­paigns have come to con­sid­er blog­gers as an essen­tial tool in get­ting their mes­sage out. User-generated con­tent has become essen­tial feed­back and pub­lic­i­ty mech­a­nisms. My expe­ri­ence from the Quak­er world is that blog­gers are con­sti­tut­ing a new kind of lead­er­ship, one that’s both more out­go­ing but also thought­ful and vision­ary (I should post about this some­time soon). Blogs encour­age open­ness and trans­paren­cy and will sure­ly affect orga­ni­za­tion­al pol­i­tics more and more in the near future. Smart com­pa­nies and non­prof­its that want to grow in size and influ­ence will have to learn to play well with blogs.

But the future is lit­tle suc­cor to the present. In the Philadel­phia met­ro­pol­i­tan area it seems that the rare employ­er that’s think­ing in these terms have have a lot of back and forths try­ing to work out the job descrip­tion. Well, I only need one enlight­ened employ­er! It’s time now to put the boys to bed, then check the job boards again. Keep us in your prayers.