The Mennonite Game and other lessons from GC

CV Image FOR 26 YEARS, I’ve been married to an Elkhart Countyborn Mennonite who graduated from Goshen College. So I had some knowledge of Mennonites and GC before coming to work here even though I was born in Texas, raised Catholic, grew up in California, graduated from a state university and never worked around Mennonites. Still, my real education – and immersion in such things as the Mennonite Game – began only after I started working at GC.

As an outsider turned insider, I greatly appreciate Mennonites and Goshen College. While culturalsituations and campus realities have complicated my adaptation, many people are addressing those issues and making Goshen College more welcoming and hospitable. In that spirit, I offer these observations.

GC people are so kind. From my first day, through an injury, hospitalization and recovery, to the present, students, faculty, staff and retired faculty have been kind and generous. That’s been an adjustment because as a journalist, I was trained to maintain a healthy skepticism about people, to not join groups – and to keep my distance from news sources.

The Mennonite Game is problematic. I appreciate that Mennonites love to talk about family relationships and personal connections. But the “Mennonite Game” can be off-putting to a non-Mennonite with a name like Aguirre. I’ve often felt that my worth depended on my relationships with Mennonites, instead of who I am or what I can contribute.

Everyone isn’t related; it just seems that way. I embarrassed myself many times before I learned that my listener often was related to the person I was speaking about. So before sticking my foot in my mouth, I now ask, “Do you know?” or “Are you related to?” the person in question. And since my wife, Judy Weaver, works here, too, I’m now part of this intriguing reality.

Catholics didn’t corner the market on guilt. I love many things about the Catholic faith, but not the regular doses of guilt. Mennonites
seem to share this affliction, so I need to offer more grace in this regard.

Mennos have a rich alphabet soup. I’ve learned about AMBS, MC USA, SST, MMN, MCC; EMU, MEDA; MMA, MVS and OTM, which means “Other Than Mennonite.” Now that I know what these mean, I view myself as a translator to those new to this culture.

Like any place with a long history, you need to know the verbal shortcuts. People talk about the Church-Chapel, Kratz, the ’Fraker, RFC and Wyse when referring to places. They say “convo” and “first-year,” instead of convocation and freshmen. Professors often are called by their first names. And some married faculty members have longer last names than I’m used to (with multiple names and hyphens included).

The alma mater is great and people actually sing it! Some school songs are rarely sung and lame. So it’s a delight to hear a frequently sung alma mater that evokes a sense of nostalgia for proud alumni. The four-part harmony is awesome. And when I sing it, I feel connected to a wonderful legacy.

Applying what I’ve learned. With what I’ve learned over the past year and a half, I can play the Mennonite Game and use “Menno speak.” But those aren’t my goals. I believe I can be most effective by helping the world better understand Mennonites and Goshen College and by warmly welcoming all others to this “… spot in Indiana where the leafy maple grows …”

Richard R. Aguirre

Director of Public Relations