‘I have milked a cow…Didn’t like it. Seemed Intrusive’: 5 Questions with Charlie Kraybill

Charlie Kraybill is a missionary kid, born in Washington Heights, New York City. His parents were the founding pastor couple of Seventh Avenue Mennonite Church in Harlem. He attended Eastern Mennonite College, without graduating. During the 1980s he worked in the national office of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. He currently lives and works in the Bronx, not far from where he went to grade school. Charlie founded the Marginal Mennonite Society in February 2011. 

  1. What inspired you to create the “Marginal Mennonite Society”?
    • I had been carrying around the name “Marginal Mennonite Society” in my head for years, at least since the 1990s. Originally I thought about creating a newsletter, or a “zine.” But that would have required actual work, and I’m work-averse. It wasn’t until I was on Facebook for a couple years that I realized I could do an MMS page and let Facebook do the work. The research and posting part is all fun. And it’s been a barrel of laughs for me ever since.
  2. What is a “Marginal Mennonite”?
    • Marginal Mennonites are self-defined. If you say you’re a “marginal Mennonite” then you are one. No questions asked. My original intention with the MMS page was to create a space that would occupy the extreme left wing of the Mennonite universe, since it seemed unoccupied at the time. A home for radicals, reprobates, cranks, crackpots, curmudgeons, skeptics, freethinkers, curiosity-seekers, and other Mennonites of good will.
  3. Do you know other Mennonites in New York City?
    • A few. Most of the “church Mennonites” in New York City are of the pentecostalist/fundamentalist variety. The “marginal Mennonites” here are highly independent and not easily organized.
  4. Have you ever milked a cow?
    • I have milked a cow, as a child, when visiting the cousins and aunts and uncles in Lancaster County. Didn’t like it. Seemed intrusive. And New Yorkers generally don’t like to intrude on the personal space of others.
  5. What is your favourite hymn?
    • That’s a tough one, because the theology of most hymns isn’t very marginal. I’ll have to go with “God of Grace and God of Glory” because it was written by Harry Emerson Fosdick, the infamous liberal preacher of Riverside Church who set off the “Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy” in the 1920s with his sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”