A Four Denomination Childhood

By Doris Unruh


My faith story begins in a small town in extreme southern Iowa where there were four different churches. These four churches held many community events together, and I was as comfortable attending the United Church of Christ or the Methodist church as I was my own Mennonite church. (I knew where the choir robes were kept for these two churches even though I thought it odd to wear a robe to sing!)  I even attended Baptist Bible School and other special church events in another small town with a childhood friend.  In addition, the Presbyterian church asked to share a pastor with our Mennonite church and the Yoked Mennonite Presbyterian Fellowship was formed. I don’t know too many people who can say that their catechism class consisted of Mennonite and Presbyterian youth. I bet that was a challenge for our Mennonite pastor. Is it any wonder that being involved with other denominations is comfortable for me?

With this kind of background, I experienced a bit of culture shock when I moved to Kansas and there were so many Mennonite churches to choose from to attend on Sunday morning. I was no longer in my small town where everyone knew who you were and which church you belonged to. There were choices!  (By the way, I was not aware of the Kalona, Iowa area growing up.  We didn’t have an Iowa Mennonite camp at that time, and I had to travel to Camp Friedenswald in Michigan on a school bus!)

I have never been narrow-minded when it comes to others’ faiths and because of my background, I don’t believe I ever will. Though I believe in the Anabaptist theology, I believe others have the right to their beliefs too. God is big enough for all of us. That being said, shortly after starting my teaching job, I was shocked to learn from my Baptist co-worker that she grew up believing that Mennonites were a cult. (No wonder my Baptist childhood friend worked so hard to save my soul!) Using my knowledge from my Iowa background, I convinced her I was not part of a cult. Amazingly, about 15 years later her family actually attended a Mennonite church for a year.

For some of us, where we grow up has much to do with what we believe when we are adults. My small town and its four churches sure left an impact on me.