Re:View: Never stop exploring
Thirteen people have occupied the driver’s seat at the MB Herald. Each person brought a unique perspective and a distinct voice to a particular time in the life of the magazine and the Canadian MB Conference. To celebrate our 50th year in print, “Re:View” welcomes back each of those men and women to reflect on their experience in the editor’s chair.—Eds
Why don’t you be the new Herald editor?” A pastor at my church said it first. Then a friend voiced the same challenge.
It was spring 1988. I’d just completed graduate studies, and was on the job search in a market that had few openings. I’d also just been appointed the Saskatchewan representative to the Mennonite Brethren board of publications; the board was on a search for a new editor.
The idea was percolating as we drove to that summer’s board meetings and convention in Winnipeg and Winkler. I decided to use the two events to detect whether this might be God’s call for me.
As our board meetings concluded, one member approached me about whether I’d ever considered the job. Aaah…(what do you say? – lying doesn’t exactly commend one to the position). During the convention, I sought advice from several insiders, including the previous editor, and the ball was rolling.
The hot issue when I began in April 1989 was higher education. A task force had recommended the structures of Canadian MB-supported post-secondary schools be reorganized for efficiency. Each province was voting on the plan. I attended the Saskatchewan and B.C. conventions, both of which voted it down. The institutions were left unaltered, with an ominous foreboding that not all would survive.
Those decisions ensured higher education discussions would dominate the agenda for three more years. In the end, Mennonite Brethren Bible College would morph into Concord College, Winkler Bible Institute would close, and B.C. would opt out of national schools; conference executives, and board and task force members would attend thousands of hours of meetings, and the airlines would dole out bonus reward miles to Canadian Mennonite Brethren as numerous as the sands of Lake Winnipeg.
There were other significant issues. The place of women in ministry was a growing debate, and the letters to the editor made sure that we stayed “informed.” Eventually, the growing integration of women into ministry positions challenged the board of faith and life to clarify/reconsider our collective MB position. A critical vote came at the 1993 North American convention in Winnipeg, when a motion to open up senior leadership positions to women was defeated.
The issue was still far from resolved when I concluded my tenure at the Herald at the end of 1994.
MBs in the Mennonite world
Discussions of how Mennonite Brethren fit into the larger Mennonite world were ongoing, prompted, in part, by the Mennonite World Conference sessions in Winnipeg in 1991, and by Mennonite Central Committee involvement in issues that seemed too political and too biased for some. But while these discussions were sometimes heated at the individual level, at the board level the larger issue seemed to be how Mennonite Brethren would react to a merger of the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church. Informal dialogue took place with smaller Mennonite groups and with the Brethren In Christ. Also, in 1990, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) was formed.
A related concern was our name. Both the “Mennonite” and the “Brethren” parts were challenged. The general conference board of reference and council considered the issue but, lacking consensus on a better alternative, eventually dropped it.
Several national and international events prompted debates over ethical stances. The Gulf War evoked dialogue on how to interpret and apply our peace position. A bill on abortion in the Canadian House of Commons drew attention to our stance on the unborn. The debate over the church’s response to people identifying as homosexual was just beginning as I concluded my tenure with the Herald.
Overall, I have fond memories of my time in Winnipeg and at the Herald. It was a time of diversity, challenge, and opportunity, all of which I am predisposed toward. I was stretched by diversity within the conference and beyond. I was (rightly) challenged in many of the things I wrote.
What did I enjoy the most? Probably covering conferences (Yes, I was a conference junkie!), with Banff youth conventions topping the list. Where was the fit most stretched? Probably in relating to the culture of journalism, a culture with which I could never fully identify.
Did I have an agenda at the Herald? Not a precise one, but I did try to be a voice against traditionalism (as opposed to tradition), institutionalism (as opposed to institutions), and church politics.
Unlike the previous editor, I did not preach much, being better with the written than the spoken word. But among the sermons I crafted during that time was one in which I likened the Christian journey to the exploration of a newly discovered cave. I cautioned against getting caught up in any one room, as glorious as that situation might be. “It is when we stop exploring,” I warned, “that we actually miss the adventure of faith. We should not become stagnant; we should anticipate, and reach for, new discoveries.”
That would still be my message to the MB constituency.