The depth of relationships between members matters deeply to the people of Rochester Mennonite Church. For charter member Lois Kennel, these connections are what she values most about her congregation.
"It has been a total family for me … as much as blood," she said. "And anybody who joins should feel that, too. That's the hope."
Now approaching her 85th birthday, Kennel has been a Mennonite from birth. She was raised about an hour outside of Philadelphia. Her strong roots within the denomination began many generations ago.
Growing up in a family of five siblings, Kennel reflects warmly on her youth and its connectedness to the local congregation there.
"Our whole social world was the church," she said.
After she and her husband, Art, moved to Rochester in 1963 for his job at Mayo Clinic, they began looking for a church family. They participated and enjoyed a variety of other denominations through the years, but the pull of their spiritual roots inspired them to begin gathering informally with other Mennonites in homes in the early 1980s.
By the late 1990s, the community agreed they desired to form an official congregation. Rochester Mennonite Church called its first pastor in 2001. Its current pastor, the Rev. Galen Penner, came to the congregation several years ago. The congregation has met in a variety of locations through the years and now meets in the same building as Christ United Methodist Church, 400 Fifth Ave. SW.
Asked about the core characteristics of the denomination, Kennel reflected, "We are a peace church. Nonviolence has been a core value since the beginning because that's what Jesus taught. We believe Jesus was born to show us what God is like."
For those who walk the Mennonite path, a common characteristic is their collective commitment to giving and receiving what Kennel described as counsel.
"We believe we are to find out God's will about things together," she said. For Mennonites, spirituality isn't only an individual pursuit; it also is a shared experience. "We are all on a journey, and we hope to encourage each other," Kennel said.
On Sunday mornings, Rochester Mennonite Church meets for worship and adult Sunday school. Christ United Methodist offered to collaborate on a Sunday school program for children, and so the two congregations now partner for Sunday school as well as mission trips.
Kennel's commitment to learning is supported by her faith community's priorities. For members of the Rochester Mennonite Church, faith development is lifelong.
"We learn from our leader, Jesus," Kennel said. "Nobody is there yet. We're all on this journey throughout our lives."
Visitors on a Sunday morning can anticipate following a traditional order of worship, including Scripture readings, prayers and singing out of the Mennonite hymn book.
The official mission statement of the congregation is: "Our mission is to seek peace and justice in our lives, our community and the world by sharing God's word and love with others."
To learn more about the Rochester Mennonite Church, Kennel suggests exploring the congregation's website, rmcmn.org.