When I was growing up, Saturday mornings were a marvel. If I went "uptown," I was sure to encounter some old-school Mennonites. They spoke German in the stores where they did their business. That was a marvel. And so were the horse-drawn buggies some of them used to come to town. It was amazing, and it wasn't. I knew there were even more Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley. They were part of the cultural scenery there and where I grew up. The Mennonites were different in an interesting and appealing way.
And I think the American church has become a little bit odd, too. The church in the United States increasingly finds itself on the margins of American society. It doesn't have the same influence it had in the 1950's. The church is still alive and well. But it is also struggling. How will it be relevant in a culture where there are lots of spiritual options and competing faith claims? Will the church tell its story or just try to survive?
I have tried to answer that question and others like it with the Mossy Creek Chronicles. I discovered the church and community that was the inspiration for the Chronicles while I was doing a seminary internship in the Shenandoah Valley. The community and church were small. But the folks who lived and worshipped there were committed to a "peculiar" way of life that made perfect sense to them. It was their way of enacting the Gospel. It was their everyday story.
Folks in that commuity and church were committed to the task of following God in the way of Jesus. They were His disciples. They used the Bible as their guide for what to believe and how to live. It wasn't unsual for them to appeal to scripture as a way of deciding what to do. The Bible was their "book," and they used it to write their own life-stories. It was a story-based community and community of faith.
So the Mossy Creek Chronicles are a way of telling their story. I think they understood that they weren't going to transform American culture or society by themselves. But I also think they were committed to the hard work of being a particular kind of community and church. So what they were doing was their lived story. And by the 1990's they may have seemed as odd in some ways as my Saturday-morning Mennonites who spoke in German and drove horse-pulled buggies. But they were OK with that. The Presbyterians in that church and community understood themselves to be a "city on the hill."
Jesus said to His disciples, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:14) That is how the Puritans in Massachusetts saw themselves. That is how the old-school Mennonites and the Amish see themselves. They aren't concerned with their survival. They are committed to a particular and visible way of life. They do that for the community and world they live in. Then they leave the folks who see that life to figure out what that means for them and how it might change what they believe and how they live.
In Mossy Creek, the members of Our Savior Presbyterian Church are a story-based community of faith. They represent Christians who make their decisions in their churches and then live out their choices in their communities. I am persuaded that kind of life increasingly looks a like a horse-and-buggy life in a community that drives cars. Their neighbors have to decide what to do about the story they are seeing and hearing.
And that is why I like horses and buggies. When I was growing up they were a visible witness to a different way of life. It wan't about what was practical. It was just the Mennonites' story. The Mossy Creek Chronicles are also about a story-based community that reads the Bible as their way of explaining and understanding the world they live in. It is also how they write their own story. Who knows? Maybe people will find that story interesting and appealing. I hope so.
So in the Chronicles, you hear words, phrases, and accents many of you are unfamiliar with. I am hoping you will read the Chronicles and use them to interpret your own lives and write your own story. And I do hope that story will increasingly sound like Jesus' story. I admit to being a Presbyterian pastor who isn't a "company man." I owe a lot to the Mennonites and Amish. I like their story. I like the way they tell it. It's all about being strange in an interesting and appealing way. That is what I'm shooting for in the Mossy Creek Chronicles. Thanks for stopping by.