In September 1962 my husband and I and our four children crossed into the United States at Port Huron as immigrants. We waved our green cards and medical clearances before the officials and headed to Kansas in our overloaded brown Chevrolet.
But I continued to read the Mennonite Brethren Herald, the official organ of the MB church for these fifty years. Why, I ask myself.
My October issue arrived yesterday. I sat down in my easy chair and perused the contents eagerly. I turn first to the obituaries, scanning names to see if I recognize anyone. I stopped at Matilda (Tilly) Klassen. Familiar face, unfamiliar name. And then, as I checked details, I realized her family had been my family’s friends when my parents first came to Canada in 1923: David and Maria Epp, or D.D.P. Epps, as my parents referred to them. He remember him as short and red-haired.
At once I was back in their large two-story red brick farm house, sitting around their family table eating Zwieback and cheese, listening to adults converse. After a few moments of reflection I could retrieve family members from my memory bank, the little white church we attended. And much more.
Obituaries are times for celebrating the past. They are a way of honoring those who went before us. I think it is important not to let them just slip into oblivion.
Next, I turn to Letters, hoping for something pointed and well stated. Usually there is. The Herald is able to maintain a readership willing to share its views, especially about theological issues. Some publications never achieve this.
I like to know how others reacted to previous articles. Granted some writers keep whipping dead horses, others keep trying to resuscitate them. But that’s all right. Letters to editors in all publications are ways of finding consensus. A denomination which doesn’t converse publicly is stagnant.
Then I go on to editorials, usually well phrased and incisive. Editorials are best when they push an argument about a specific issue and don’t preach. When they preach, they aren’t an editorial any more.
Then on to the other pages. I wish the book reviews were longer, but for that I read other periodicals. Space is always at a premium in any publication, measured by the inch.
I watch developing trends in this church of my developing years. I sense a push/pull movement with regard to the theological direction the church should take – Anabaptist or evangelical – or a little of both.
I chuckle over the way terminology has changed since my first foray into religious journalism a half century ago. Nowadays no one ever “leads” or is described as “a leader.” They, mostly men, of course, just “give leadership” or “provide leadership” to a congregation or agency, as if leadership was an object that can be weighed out in precise amounts and handed over to a waiting congregation.
Buzz words like “partnering” crop up. I still would like to see someone simply cooperate. I’m never quite sure what partnering means, or missional, or some of the other words much in use today. And lots of acronyms are strange to me as an American reader. C2C keeps cropping up and I don’t know what it means.
As I check the ads, I ponder how church positions have changed. In my youth, it was important to consider everyone equal in the work of the church, but today announcements ask for applications not just for a pastor but for a “lead” or “senior” pastor. Gone are the days when pastors were part of the congregation, only with a different assignment than the lay people.
These advertisements for pastors are carefully worded in generic language, a shocker considering not so many years everything was “he” and “his.” No sense here that the congregations are looking only for a male applicant.
I know the climate has changed in Canadian MB churches a little, yet I wonder what the selection committee would do if a woman applied, or heaven forbid, a gay or lesbian. Why don’t the advertisements state clearly, “Only men of a specific sexual orientation need apply” if that’s the intent.
And I wonder today as I did in 1953 when my husband was ordained to the ministry what is meant by “pastoral couple.” What does the wife do? Does she become a little pastor? Is a pastoral couple a package deal?
That brings me to another matter—a woman editor. When I first started writing as a religious journalist in the 1960s, women in the MB church weren’t welcome even as writers, let alone editors. When I was considering the editorship of Rejoice!, the interdenominational Mennonite devotional magazine, someone said, “I don’t think it will matter that you are a woman.”
As I wrote in my essay on the history of writing in the MB church in For Everything a Season: Mennonite Brethren in North America 1874-2002, “Women were outsiders in the Mennonite Brethren literary world for many decades, other than as devotional writers. Their subject matter was restricted to the world of home and children.... Their contribution came mostly in the form of inspirational and devotional writing or correspondence in Mennonite publications like the Zionsbote.” Never main articles. Never editorials. Men didn’t expect to learn much from the writing of a woman. So I applaud a woman editor who through words is preaching to hundreds instead of only a congregation.
I read the Mennonite Brethren Herald because my roots were very deep in all the five prairie provinces for nearly four decades. Those roots continue to nurture me.