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Who is my neighbor?

Thinking about relationships with our Catholic neighbors

By David Wiebe

I met my twin in Germany in 2012. His name is David Wiebe. I was struck by the similarity of our physiques. But unlike me, he was content to fold himself into a tiny car on a regular basis. We shared a chuckle when I said, “You’re like Mr. Bean.”

twinDavid told me about his church—part of the BTG* conference. They were growing and needed a new place of worship. A local Roman Catholic church building was for sale. They negotiated a deal and David’s church made plans to move in.

The many statues inside the church didn’t reflect the BTG congregation’s preferred idea of what the inside of a church should be like. However, they didn’t want to create offense by demanding the statues be removed.

The congregation prayed about it, and God answered. A new Catholic church was being built in Poland, and they needed statuary. This church could provide all that they needed.

After the Anabaptist judgments of Catholics 500 years ago and the retaliation that’s part of our history, I find the attitude of my twin and his congregation encouraging. The Roman Catholic church and Mennonite World Conference first held dialogues on “their respective understandings of key theological themes and of significant aspects of the history of the church” from 1998–2003, resulting in a new understanding between our churches. Theologians from both traditions wrote a booklet of about 200 statements entitled “Called Together to be Peacemakers.”

The booklet reflects the topics they worked on: our history, the church, baptism and peacemaking. Statements of regret and requests for forgiveness come from both sides. A closing statement reads: “The substantial amount of the Apostolic faith which we realize today that we share, allows us as members of the Catholic and Mennonite delegations to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We hope that others may have similar experiences, and that these may contribute to a healing of memories.”

Some solutions in the church take 500 years.

This might help contextualize the difficulties we have in our local churches and conferences.

I have a thought, inspired by David’s story. Do you know people who are Catholic? Rather than assume they are “not Christian,” why not seek to discover where faith is real—in you and them—and renew one another through prayer and dialogue, and extend the kingdom in your area.

Jesus prayed that the church would be one in him as he is one with the Father (John 17). We might start with expressing unity even across some long-standing broken relationships.

Did You Know

  • BTG is “Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden” – literally, the Union of Baptism-minded Congregations. They number some 30 churches with 7,500 members.
  • The BTG churches have been proactive in welcoming and assisting refugees in Germany. Its own members came from the Soviet Union to Germany some decades ago.
  • Aquila is a BTG ministry serving the poor in Russia by regularly shipping clothes, books and other goods.
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