The best way to participate in an Anabaptist pilgrimage is to place oneself into the shoes of the early Anabaptists who walked and worshiped in the places we are visiting today. Obviously the circumstances are very different, but in our imaginations we can transport ourselves in order to experience and learn.
The cave near Baretswil where Anabaptists worshiped in the 16th century was about an hour’s walk uphill from where the bus let us off; the first part was on a farm road, but the last section was a significant climb up a ridge. Some of the seniors in our group struggled to make that last stretch but fierce determination got all of us there. The struggles of the early Anabaptists were probably quite different: There may have been physical barriers, especially in inclement weather or snow, but the biggest struggle was probably knowing that it was a forbidden meeting with possible lethal consequences if discovered. Yet they continued to meet. As we sang songs, spoke prayers, and shared bread and wine, a new gratitude for my faith community [the 15 in the cave, and also the larger community back home] welled up inside.
Today in North America we enjoy the “freedom of religion” that our ancestors in the faith died for. This freedom often means that we also have the freedom to sleep in or go for a walk on Sunday morning instead of gathering with our faith community. I have to be honest that the prospect of singing happy songs and then visiting in the foyer is not something that gets me up on a Sunday morning. I don’t go to church because I get a spiritual or social kick out of it. I go to church because I need my community. I show up because it reminds me that life isn’t just about me. I need that reminder more than occasionally.
The Anabaptists of the 16th century probably felt the need for each other and for God more desperately; theirs was a dangerous world for nonconformists. Ironically, in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527 “church attendance” is listed along with “winehouses” as places followers of Christ should avoid. Church attendance meant conformity to the state religion and all that went with it. Caves and barns were the usual meeting places [Not inappropriate for a faith that began in a stable].
Who are the conformists and the nonconformists today? What is cave worship today? Church leaders today ask, “How can we recapture the desire for participating in communal worship?” Make it illegal? Meet in a cave? More bread and wine?
Young adults in particular are encountering the church question anew. Is it time for a new reformation? Here’s a link to an article that has appeared in at least two different Mennonite periodicals.