The Mennonites were one of the original Anabaptist sects that emerged at the time of the Protestant Reformation. They live generally simple, reverent lives focused on the family, service to others and dedication to one's faith. Some Mennonite groups follow traditional, conservative teachings, although most in the U.S. have chosen to live free of strictures on modern conveniences, such as television and automobiles. Mennonites in communities in the Midwest and Pennsylvania still observe long-standing traditions and customs, including worshiping through song and women wearing prayers caps or scarves.
Mennonites and the Amish arose from similar roots, but the Mennonites in general are less bound by rigid rules regarding clothing and other lifestyle choices. Conservative Mennonites dress in very plain clothing, much as their Amish peers, but are also permitted to wear fabrics with small prints and clothing with zippers. Less conservative Mennonite groups wear clothing much like that of the "English" -- the term used to refer to non-Mennonites -- although flashy, revealing or overly bright clothing is still frowned upon. Traditional Mennonite women keep their hair tied back or covered by a small white prayer cap, to symbolize reverence and the importance of their spiritual life.
Conservative Mennonite communities may contain schools just for their members, but most modern-day Mennonites in the U.S. attend regular public schools with their non-Mennonite neighbors. They can also go on to college or university, although the traditional emphasis on faith and family make higher education less of a priority for conservative young Mennonite women. The Mennonites have relationships with several Midwest seminaries for those adherents seeking to further their religious education.
While singing in church is part of many belief systems, it's typically limited to a few hymns and familiar prayer responses. In Mennonite religious traditions, however, the entire practice of worship is performed through song. Singing, often in four-part harmonies by the entire congregation, is used for praise, worship, sharing scripture and prayer and virtually all other aspects of the religious service. The most conservative Mennonite groups do not permit instrumental accompaniment, so all the singing is a capella. Less strict groups permit musical accompaniment by piano, organ, guitar or brass.
Two key virtues inform the lifestyle choices of many Mennonites: pacifism and service. As a result of the first, Mennonites often elect service to their church rather than military service. And while other Anabaptists also emphasize the importance of service, many, such as the Amish, focus on service among their own people. The Mennonites, on the other hand, practice their tradition of service outside their own communities, often performing missionary work in other parts of the U.S. or abroad. This tradition means Mennonites are frequently living and working with the "English" or foreigners, and they are not required to limit their contact with non-Mennonites.
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