ENID, Okla. — Grace Mennonite Church in Enid is “the pie church” and Enid Mennonite Brethren Church is “the breakfast church,” according to Karen Eifert Jones, who handles publicity for the annual Mennonite relief sale, in which both churches participate.
“We know the different churches around the state based on what they bring to the sale,” said Eifert Jones, who attends Enid Mennonite Brethren. “So Grace is the pie church, Edmond has the Russian pancake church and we take care of breakfast.”
Every year Mennonite churches from the United States and Canada hold a relief sale, the proceeds of which provide aid to people in need all over the world.
The Mennonites are inheritors of the Anabaptist tradition, one of the four large Protestant traditions that emerged from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century: Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican and Anabaptist.
Most Oklahomans know the Anabaptist tradition via the Old Order Mennonites or the Amish, both of which feature traditional dress related to agriculture that makes them easy to identify. The Mennonite Brethren are a younger tradition, having split from the Old Order in the 19th century, and they adapted more readily to modern times, including modern fashion.
The Mennonite Central Committee, sponsoring organization for the relief sale, celebrated 100 years in 2020, and due to COVID-19 the sale moved online for the first time. The modern practices of the Mennonite Brethren came in handy when the internet became home to the sale.
Relief sale plans for 2021
For 2021, the plan is to move the sales back in person, and, in the case of Oklahoma, that means the Garfield County Fairgrounds on the first weekend in November.
“The sale began as a quilt auction,” Eifert Jones said. “In the early days, all the quilts we hand-made, and many still are, but we also have machine-made. Over the years, the sale grew to include handmade wooden furniture, other artisan crafted goods and ethnic German foods like bierocks, pfeffernusse cookies and verenika.”
The quilts still account for a majority of the revenue, according to Eifert Jones, but the food is a big draw. Many cultures have their own version of bierocks, whether runzas in Nebraska, pasties from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or even empanadas from Mexico, but verenika is new to many people. Steamed pasta dumplings are filled with seasoned cottage cheese – family recipes vary greatly – and then fried. The verenika isn’t ready to serve until a ladle of ham gravy is poured over the top. It’s easy to see why people line up for them at relief sales all over the country.
The relief sale is the one event that brings together the old and new Mennonite traditions.
Care for the needy is deeply embedded in the values of both orders, and so at the relief sale one can find different expressions of this old German faith working side by side to help people they’ve never met.
“Oklahoma churches have chosen to focus our efforts on clean water around the world,” Eifert Jones said. “The funds provide resources via the Mennonite Disaster Service so that our missionaries and volunteers can help provide access to clean water for areas that don’t have ready access to it. The emphasis is very much in keeping with the church’s missional tradition.”