What I learned and experienced this summer #6

where they studied in church basement

At the beginning of my Anabaptist class I ask students, “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word Anabaptist or Mennonite?” Among certain items of food, there are always a few who say, “old people, traditional.” Then I tell them that most of the first generation of Anabaptists were dead before they reached the age of 30. It was in many ways, a youth movement.

One of my favourite stories of 16th century Anabaptism is the emergence of the young radicals of Zurich: Andreas Castleburger, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock, who were all students of the well-known reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. I imagined their meeting place in a darkened corner of the Grossmunster [large church] where there was a semi-circle of built-in chairs with a podium facing. Their little band became known as “the school of heretics” who took their mentor’s teaching farther and implemented it faster, than he ever intended. In fact, some of them were arrested and killed by Zwinglian authorities.

As a professor and mentor myself, it caused me to pause and wonder about my own students and young adult children. What is my response when they take my teaching to new vistas I may not have intended or even imagined? We now laud these young men of Zurich for their courage, but today, I am Zwingli and my students and young adult children are the young radicals. Do we turn around and label our young people as heretics and say, “Whoa, not so fast… Are you sure you know what you are doing? We’ve never done it this way before.”

A short distance from the Grossmunster on a fishing platform in the middle of the Limmat River, Felix Manz was preparing for his “third baptism” by drowning. As he was being given his last chance of recantation, his mother shouted from the shore, “Stay strong Hans! Stay strong!” As we stood on the shore looking at the plaque in his honor, my wife wondered whether she would say the same to one of our young adult children. Maybe rather it would be, “It’s ok… you’ve made your point… don’t go to extremes… come home, get a job and live a nice life.”

What are the challenges in this story for parents/teachers? What are the challenges for young adults/students?