Beryl Jantzi is Stewardship Education Director for Everence. Over the last few months, Beryl has been exploring our historic roots and current commitment to mutual aid as Christians using “Meditations on Christian Mutual Aid” by J.Winfield Fretz. This is the last post in this series.
Mutual aid is religiously motivated. At the core of this common concern for others is the concept that all of life and every person is sacred. There is not a separation between the sacred and the secular. In explaining the importance of Christian education for children, a Mennonite spokesperson said to a government official, “We have a duty laid on our conscience to teach them both religious and secular truth as part of one whole, that they may be holy and good and loyal and diligent and unselfish and cooperative in all their relations to God and their fellow man.”
As mutual aid societies continued to be created across communities, almost without exception they were grounded in biblical principles within their charters of organization. There was typically a clear separation between the church as an organization and these mutual societies but the meetings would often be held in meetinghouses and supported by the ministers. At the root of the theological underpinnings of mutual aid societies of the Anabaptist and Mennonite communities was the ethic of love. One cannot fully care for the soul of an individual without also addressing the physical and social needs of a person.
Mennonite mutual aid is motivated by Christian love but also as part of Christian duty. This is expressed so well in the beloved poem written by Menno Simons in 1539, entitled, True evangelical faith.
True evangelical faith
True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love;
it dies to flesh and blood;
it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires; it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul;
it clothes the naked;
it feeds the hungry;
it comforts the sorrowful;
it shelters the destitute;
it aids and consoles the sad;
it does good to those who do it harm;
it serves those that harm it;
it prays for those who persecute it;
it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord;
it seeks those who are lost;
it binds up what is wounded;
it heals the sick;
it saves what is strong;
it becomes all things to all people.
Winfield Fretz, in his classic book entitled, Meditations of Christian Mutual Aid, wrote this reflection in his summary. “It is my opinion that Christian mutual aid of the spontaneous type is the highest expression of social sensitivity and social responsibility. It is mutual aid motivated by love of God and love of man.”
Everence was founded in 1945 and for the last 70 years it is out of this rich history and tradition of Christ-centered, mutual aid that Everence is rooted and continues to serve.