Mennonite Funeral Service Rituals

Mennonite WomanThe Mennonites are Christians who share a belief system very similar to that of other Protestants, with some exceptions: they are widely known for their pacifism, their commitment to the separation of church and state, and their refusal to take an oath of any kind. They emphasize service to the community and living a simple life based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. Unlike the Amish, they are part of their surrounding community rather than insulated from it.

Mennonite practices vary widely, depending on the particular church—from the extremely conservative Old Order, which is somewhat similar to the lifestyle of the Amish, to the Moderate Mennonites who are practically indistinguishable from most other Protestant denominations. Do the Mennonites wear beards or shave? Use musical instruments or sing a capella? Drive cars or horse-drawn buggies? Wear plain clothing or bright colors? Cover their heads in church? Practice shunning (avoidance) of excommunicated members? Employ technology or live in the 19th century? The answers are Yes and No, because different churches have different practices or standards.

For the most part, if you visited a mainstream Mennonite church in North America (and there are far more Mennonites outside North America than inside), you would find little to distinguish it from other Protestant congregations. Perhaps you’d hear four-part harmonies in the singing, or see women wearing head coverings, or hear a sermon about pacifism. The congregation, though tight-knit, would welcome you and encourage you to explore their faith. Like other Protestants, Mennonites believe in salvation through Jesus Christ, the hope of eternal life, and a heavenly realm where they will dwell after death.

Likewise a Mennonite funeral may be nearly identical to a more familiar Protestant funeral. Although the Old Order Mennonites still tend toward very simple or “plain” arrangements, mainstream Mennonites use the same funeral homes, morticians, and cemetery services that others employ.

The funeral service is usually scheduled to take place three days after death. Friends and neighbors are encouraged to participate in visitation, which is generally held one or two days before the funeral service. A local funeral director may assist with embalming and purchase of a coffin or use of a hearse, although he or she may, in more traditional churches, have little else to do with the arrangements or service.

The clergy that may be involved in officiating funeral services include bishops, elders, and ministers. Both the visitation and funeral can be held in either the family home or the church or funeral home. However, when the services are held at the church, there may be a traditional procession from the house to the church. After services, there is a procession to the cemetery for burial.

Also see: Christian Overview

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