The Voice of a Writer
Doug Heidebrecht and Valerie G. Rempel, editors
Kindred Productions, 2010
The lighting around Katie Funk Wiebe’s face on the book’s cover creates a halo effect. It may be as close to visible beatification any Mennonite will get, but seems delightfully appropriate. In honouring one of our leading women, The Voice of a Writer not only blesses her, it recommends to us her way of being and thinking.
Katie Funk Wiebe, born in Saskatchewan in 1924, attended Bible college, married, and settled into raising her family and supporting her husband. It was a typical trajectory for the time, except that she longed to do more – to use the creative gifts stirring within her. She began, tentatively. Doors opened. So did necessity: her husband Walter died in 1962, just as he was embarking on the “literature ministry” to which the couple had committed themselves.
It was Katie, then, who went on to fulfill that ministry in an astonishing output of articles, reviews, books, and speaking engagements, as well as teaching at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan. One of her themes over the years was the limitations women face in the church. Ironically, however, as Wally Kroeker notes, her regular column in the Christian Leader made hers “the most consistent pastoral voice heard by U.S. Mennonite Brethren” for three decades.
This volume’s 13 essays by various contributors, including editors Doug Heidebrecht and Valerie Rempel, consider that voice in categories such as historical context, book-writing, being a woman among the “brethren,” and themes like widowhood, Mennonite women in history, and aging. An intimate and moving perspective is provided by daughter Joanna Wiebe in “What Would Mother Do?” There is some overlap as the essays accumulate, but all are interesting and well-written. Each is followed by a sample or two of Katie Funk Wiebe’s writing. And, lest the extent of her contribution doesn’t register through the essays, there is a 97-page bibliography of her work.
The Voice of a Writer reveals a woman of integrity, courage, and influence. Katie Funk Wiebe was not content to rest on easy answers to life’s hard questions. Theology, she insisted, is the task of everyone, not just male professionals. She took seriously both the church and the wider culture. She was willing to change her mind. She was willing to share her own “stumbling through life.” Writing, she said, “pushes one into being.” This book demonstrates that it can also shape the being of others.