Ok, so technically, I am a Mennonite. My dad's parents both were born to Mennonite families from the Ukraine area who immigrated to Canada before having them. They went to a Mennonite church for some time; long enough for my dad to join them (he was the youngest). My last name is Reimer. My grandma's last name was Harder. I'm distantly related to 70's singer John Denver, who married a Mennonite.
But what is a Mennonite?
Whenever I hear the term, I immediately think people group, like Hispanic or Native American. It's my heritage. I never was really told where my ancestors were from, except that they were Mennonite. This makes sense, since they did move around a lot to avoid oppression, military duty, or education. However, others hear the term and think religious group, like Jew. It is their religion that defines them, which also makes sense, because Menno Simons was an Anabaptist leader who began to preach a slightly different message and his followers were the first Mennonites.
Yet to describe Mennonites in these basic terms does not do it justice. Therefore, on my 22 years of observation of Mennonite practices, I have discovered three types of Mennonites.
1. The Old-School Mennonite
The fear of forced education. The fear of compulsory military duty. The fear of change. The fear of, well, pretty much everything. These Mennonites have spent generations moving from territory to territory in search of seclusion and to be left alone. First they were in Germany. Then the USSR. Then Canada and the US. Then Mexico. Then back to Russia. Old School Mennonites hold tradition in very high esteem and do not want anyone to change that. Let them farm and teach their own children what they need to know. That's how it's been done for hundreds of years and how it will be done for hundreds of more years. Please, just don't change anything.
2. The New-School Mennonite
These are Old-School Mennonites who just got sick of moving around, so they embraced some change. They still do things somewhat traditionally, such as separating the men and women and cooking perogies, , sausage, kuchen and all the other amazing foods, but for the most part, they seem pretty normal. You'll usually find them gathered in communities and still going to the Mennonite church where they're related to half the congregation. These Mennonites are also experts at the Mennonite game, which is an entertaining turn based game between 2 or more Mennonites in which the goal is figure out how your related to them, or at least know someone they're related to. Any New-School Mennonite can play this. If you can't, you're not a good Mennonite.
2a. The Transition Mennonite
This is still under the category of New-School Mennonites, but they have embraced more change and generally the children of New-School Mennonites. Most people you know with a Mennonite last name will probably fall into this category. They may or may not go to a Mennonite church (if not now, they probably in their past), probably didn't find it important to marry a Mennonite, and got a decent education (also a good chance that it was the highest of the family). These Mennonites have even lost some of their hesitancy towards those Russians, though try not to involve money. One of them won't give you the price you ask, and the other won't lower their asking price. For me, it was hilarious. For my dad...well, he wasn't allowed to get the golf balls without a bunch of other crap he didn't want. So nobody got what they wanted. Except me.
You may think these people sound very different from their New School parents, but the major aspect that they possess that keeps them in the second category is that they still can play the Mennonite game very well. My dad and girlfriend fall into this category. I had to laugh when Janelle's dad and my dad started almost immediately playing the Mennonite game when they first met. Then, of course, I got worried. Luckily, it's only an aunt that married into the family that's related to Janelle's mom. Phew.
3. The "I have a Mennonite last name, so that counts for something, right?" Mennonite.
This is where I fit in.
The only thing that's Mennonite about these people is that they have a good last name and some of the genetic traits, like introversion and fear of change. Yet most New-School Mennonites will assume that we are a good Mennonite and try finding out how much they know of our family. I don't even know all of my family. This is when a 2a Mennonite girlfriend comes in handy. When I run out things to say to my grandpa, he can talk to her about living in Rosemary, where she lives and where he grew up. She was the one who took me into my first Mennonite church. However, all of us group 3 Mennonites are pretty terrible Mennonites. We just like being one of them, because, hey, who wouldn't want to be a Mennonite?