Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 12, 2008
A Mennonite moment touches the heart
There's the high cost of living and then there's the cost of living high." Coming from anyone other than Aidan Sauder, it might have been just a glib phrase that somebody remembered from a book.
But Aidan was an Old Mennonite living with his wife Lucinda on 100 acres of land near St. Jacobs, Ont. The couple, aged circa 70, invited members of the Canadian Church Press into their lives for about an hour on May 1.
Today, there is a movement toward voluntary simplicity, an attempt to pare down the many accoutrements of modern living. But the Sauders have never had to pare down. They have lived simply all their lives . . . voluntarily.
Our annual CCP convention this year was held in Cambridge, Ont., yet another city of strip malls and box stores located just outside of Kitchener-Waterloo. Just outside the city, however, are more Old Mennonites than I dreamed existed, driving down the country roads in their horse-drawn black buggies.
I asked Lucinda why they didn't have electricity in their home. "Oh, about three-quarters of our people do have electricity. But we've never had it and we don't see the need for it," she said gently and without pretense. Lucinda cooks over a wood stove in a kitchen lit by a naphtha lamp. She cans a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables in the fall and, with her neighbours, enjoys quilting in the winter.
Their home is simple, but not small. When they need more space, they build an addition. Some of the Old Mennonite homes around St. Jacobs have several additions sprawling off the original house.
Aidan has a shed where he works with leather, making collars and harnesses for some of the hundreds of horses in the area. Most of the horses are racehorses that have been "Mennonited."
Aidan used to farm until he realized that the son-in-law who was working the farm with him could handle it himself. So Aidan created his job in the leather shop and let his son-in-law run the farm using one of the few motorized vehicles around - a tractor.
"Can you make a living off 100 acres?" someone asked Aidan. "Well, one fellow feels he needs 145 acres, another can get by with 45 acres."
It used to be that busloads of tourists would come into St. Jacobs every summer weekend. The tourists scrambled to take photos of the Old Mennonites as they came out of church on Sunday. That was offensive to the Mennonites who believe that it is sinful to have your picture taken.
So a group of people in St. Jacobs started an Old Mennonite Museum that tells some Mennonite history - both local and global. And, yes, there are photos of beautiful, smiling Old Mennonite children in the museum. On our visit to the Sauders' farm, we were asked not to take any photos, even of inanimate objects.
The museum took some of the heat off the Old Mennonites. Our group of Christian journalists was given the rare privilege of being invited into the home of an Old Mennonite family. We were allowed to see them as real people, not as oddities to be gawked at.
What gentle, vibrant people they are! They have a way of life free of all the stuff and vanity and aggressiveness that is destroying the soul of North American culture. The inner peace they have found is palpable.
As we headed back to the bus, Aidan began to query me about my life. His face was eager and curious. I would have loved to have had that conversation, comparing notes from our two very different ways of life and talking about our common bond in Jesus.
I have always liked Mennonites and this couple have something special that is worth knowing in greater depth. But the bus was leaving. I was the last to get aboard. Time, for us at least, marches on.
- Glen Argan
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