If you have been reading my blog for awhile or have found another way to become educated in the basics of 21st-century Mennonite life, you should understand by now that Mennonites are not now (and never have been) contained to farms, farmers’ markets or quilting bees.
I know this can be an uncomfortable thought. Look around you. Unbeknownst to you, there might be a Mennonite lurking in your neighbourhood coffee shop, corner store, or cocktail bar (that last one would be me).
You might even have Mennonites in your workplace.
But don’t panic. While it may be technically true that we could be anywhere, it is also true that this is likelier if you happen to live in one of loci of Menno activity I like to call the Mennosphere and if you happen to work in one of the Approved Mennonite Occupations. Your chances of finding a Mennonite in the next cubicle are going to be higher in some fields than in others.
If you work on a farm or among farmers, there might be a Mennonite out weeding the next row. Although most of us have moved to the city, there are still a number of us out digging in the dirt. If your farm neighbours have a penchant for sunflower seeds, remark that pig butchering ought to be a communal activity (with vodka), or have suspect last names, they might be Mennonites.
The second most prestigious occupation for a Mennonite is one in which the employer is actually the Church or a branch of the Church. If you work for a Mennonite institution, you probably already know which of your colleagues are Mennonite. There are a couple of scenarios that you might not, however, have considered.
First, you might work for an institution or agency affiliated with a non-Mennonite denomination. Since Mennonites are not particularly enlightened employers, it’s not uncommon to find Mennos working for other Churches. Especially after one or two bad experiences at home.
Second, you might be working for a Mennonite institution without realizing it. We increasingly have a penchant for renaming our institutions to disguise their Mennonite-ness. This typically follows a period of market research and is ostensibly done in the name of inclusiveness. Only a cynic would believe that this is done to lure in workers blithely unaware that they will soon be working for Mennonites.
There are very few musical genres where you cannot find a Mennonite. Opera is a particular preference. This is not because Mennonites are loyal opera fans since childhood, spending their diligently-saved pennies on seasons’ tickets to their local opera company. No. It is, rather, that opera singers also sing the solo parts in the large choral works we love so much. Attending Handel’s Messiah year in and out, what child would not dream of growing up to be the one to musically ask why do the nations so furiously rage together?
Though we are perennially surprised when Mennonites start making music in genres less easily tied to sacred music, there are actually quite a few of us doing so. Folk is a popular genre and we tolerate that well enough since classical guitar comes in handy at the campfire on those long Church retreats where Pharoah, Pharoah or the Arky Arky song is a more normative group song choice than All We Like Sheep.
There are also a number of Mennonite hipster musicians. But you probably know that already.
Social Work, Activism and Other Do-Good Occupations
We’re not all farmers, musicians or Church workers.
After returning from the mission field or becoming disillusioned with the Church as an employer, Mennonites will often seek employment in other parts of the economy where they believe they might be able to make some positive change. If you make your living trying to improve the world, chances are you have colleagues with some connection to the Mennosphere.
These occupations have the added bonus of typically offering low compensation. There are many, many Mennonites with middle and upper middle class incomes but we tend to feel uncomfortable with our wealth. A career in the non-profit world helps the young Mennonite avoid an embarrassment of riches.
Journalism and other Writerly Fields
As the old Mennonite saying goes, “If you can’t farm, write.”
I would say that it sounds better in Low German if I actually knew enough Low German to know how it would sound. And if I hadn’t just made up the saying.
Proverbs aside, if you work in journalism, I don’t know how you can possible avoid us. We have pretty much infiltrated the media. We’re all over print, television, radio and even social media. It’s not as if everyone there is a Mennonite but, yes, working in this field is, indeed, a risk factor for finding your colleague to be a Mennonite.
I can’t explain why so many Mennonites become journalists and story-tellers of one sort or another. At least, I can’t explain it without resorting to making up proverbs. Though perhaps, just as all that four-part singing sends some of us down the path to the opera hall, all those vignette-filled sermons sends others of us down the path to the printing house.
There are also a surprising number of us who try our hand at careers in higher education. Some of us, it is true, stay there and teach courses in Anabaptist history, theology or social work. Even more of us, however, take our higher degrees in hymnography or quilt studies and then forge careers elsewhere. We might, for instance, become teachers, publishers or research administrators. If you have noticed that your colleagues have needless PhDs, you might have a case of Mennonites in the workplace.
Our long history of breaking up and starting new Churches has provided us, as a people, with an innate entrepreneurial spirit (yes, that’s how genetics work). Just as we can always start a new Church following disagreement, we have learned that we can also always start a new business should the whim come upon us.
As I have mentioned before, we have a proud history of entrepreneurial distillers of brandy and rye whisky. Nowadays, we tend to branch into other types of business. Which is a shame. I have yet to find a Mennonite-owned and operated cocktail bar. That does, however, mean that if you work at a bar, tavern or dance hall, the risk that your co-workers are Mennonite is fairly low.
Unless we’re just working there to pay our way through a PhD program after being laid off from our job in the Church, and having failed a social work program. You can never be sure. Unless you hear us humming bits of the Messiah while on break. Sometimes we give ourselves away.
Here’s a drink to sip while you work through the steps of investigating the menno-cred of your co-workers. The cocktail is pretty much a rip-off of the Billionaire and I thought of just going with that but, even though some Mennonites are pretty well-off, I though billionaire was a bit of a stretch. So I added just a bit of rhubarb and subbed a more frugal pernod for the absinthe of the original.
- 2 0z bourbon
- 1 0z fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 oz rhubarb simple syrup
- 1/4 oz pernod
- 1/2 oz grenadine
You could garnish this with a lemon wheel or a maraschino cherry if you like. I used the Classifieds from the Canadian Mennonite but they’re not really as tasty.