Barn Raising: Finding Community in Contemporary Life

Mennonites Barn Raising Lori Ann Reese BlogI grew up in Ontario, and sometimes we would visit the Kitchener Waterloo area, which was home to communities of Mennonites.  On the outside, much of the world knows their religion as somewhat of an obscurity; they abhor technology including cars, and dress and live consistent with values from the early 1900 farming communities.

The women are the most amazing bakers and cooks.  The men are resourceful builders and engineers, farmers and laborers.  Together the Mennonite community holds fast to values of modesty, kindness, pious faith, hard work and family.

I have never met one that was a jerk to be honest.  Every one I have ever met was kind, forgiving of my differences and non-judgmental and appreciative of the fact that I valued their values.   (I am the kind of weirdo that likes to talk to strangers if I think they are nice and my openness either freaks them out or inspires them to teach me something of value through the interaction.  That part I looove!)

If someone’s house burns down in the Mennonite community, the entire community jumps into action.  I’m not kidding.  Food is made for the family and a home is opened to them, while the community rebuilds their home.  Even if a barn burns down (it happens) or falls victim to storm damage etc., there is the community showing up to help.  And it’s not just their own community, if they are your neighbors and they know and care for you, they will do the same thing.  Even if you are not a member of their faith.

When a new couple is married, the community will help by giving land and helping them raise a home and a barn.  Big weekend “parties” if you will go into effect until all the work is done.  The Mennonite community believes that it is their job… to help a couple who is starting off a new life to become established.  But more than building the essential home and barn structures, there is something so wonderful and deeply spiritual about “Barn Raising” that no one really understands.  They are telling (and showing) the couple that the success of their marriage is something that the entire community is behind.  That they have support, love, wisdom, encouragement and strength that they can access as they begin building their married life.

What do we have?  A bridal registry?  It’s not the same thing.  Long after the toaster is broken the couple still needs that support because learning to live together, navigate the blending of two (sometimes three or four) different families in the case of second marriages… it’s hard.  Like, really hard. And it’s not that I think people, parents, Aunts and Uncles or cousins should be forking over cash.  I’m talking about time spent together, listening to a couple, hugging them, encouraging them… letting them know that they are not alone and that their success as a couple matters.

In first marriages in North America, what I see is pomp and circumstance.  Fluffy big spendy weddings that burden the couples with years of debt for the sake of one special day, and making an impression.  I’ve always called bullshit on that one.  I’m too practical for that, and managed to have two romantic weddings in my 42 years on the planet, both of them for budgets under $5,000.00

And I still got two toasters, yanno?  But nonetheless in first marriages, everyone makes a big deal perhaps because of the age and inexperience of the married couple.  The support is there (at the start anyhow) and then typically tapers off.   In some communities anyhow.  This is not true in Chinese or Japanese culture, the Muslim faith, and of course, the Mennonites to name a few.   The support and community never tapers off, and the divorce rates are lower?  I guess it really helps when you feel there are people who love you who are committed to the success of your life and marriage, and you in turn, are committed to their well being.

Ahhhh… community.  :)  I crave it.  I haven’t been able to establish it honestly, not yet anyhow.  But I want to.

Sometimes I see couples trying their best to build their life.  These are people I care about (married or engaged) who are working so hard to ‘win’ and establish themselves.  If it is their second marriage, or if they have had an adverse kind of romantic life previously, it is almost as though people expect them to fail.  Perhaps they want them to fail?   Who would want someone to fail!  That is the height of big-fat-jerkery…

Retiring couples need love and support as they transition retirement, income and other scary transitions we all face after the age of sixty-ish.  Divorced couples need love and support as they transition into single and redefine their lives.   Singles need love and support, and encouragement to define what they want in their lives and remind them that they can architect their own ‘happy’.  People entering second marriages who are navigating the landmines of split-custody and other adversities need love, encouragement and perhaps even a little protection and guidance to feel like they are not alone.  To feel like the problems ARE going to end someday.  They need spiritual juice… to keep going.

I grew up wanting more people like that in my life; those kind of givers.  I had a few and more as I became an independent adult.  But I became one because I know what it feels like to essentially, be going through a big storm of nonsense and feel like it will never end.  And a friend having dinner with you, hugging on you, making you feel like you aren’t alone and telling you that it will be okay … that is gold.  Emotional diamonds in fact.

I’m going to be a barn raiser.  For the record, I am not so great at holding a hammer and was previously banned from using a nail gun for very legitimate reasons.  And I completely wrecked a lemon pie about a week ago, and thus my baking will not stand to comfort (it may actually terrorize some) but I am working on it.

But I can hug you.  I can invite you over or visit you at your house.  I can hear your heart and shut my mouth and just listen.  I can give you some new perspective and I can comfort you, and remind you that there are people that are supporting your success, whether that means your single life or the life you are trying to build as a couple.

Community is built by truly being there for other people.  When I needed it the most, the people who stood by me were Angels to my heart.  And I’ll never forget what that felt like, similar to a candle in a dark room lit by someone who took the time to invest in me.   I want to be that light for other people.   So if it seems like sometimes I go out of my way to show you, it has nothing to do with “impressing you” and everything to do with demonstrating what is in my heart for you as a friend or family member.   I just believe in this crazy notion that people should support each other.  Always.  And I think couples need support too.

I love you.  I support you and I will be there to help you win.  But I could really really REALLY use some baking lessons… seriously, I mean, who manages to make an upside down lemon pie?  For reals… Kevin is feeling rather fearful anytime I say I am going to bake.