Re:view: Unexpectedly, and with joy
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
Like a number of others who have sat in the “driver’s seat,” I got my MB Herald driving lessons from Harold Jantz. I came to work for him in 1973, as his first assistant editor. I was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity, for I’d long had the desire, inarticulate as it was, to work in the area of writing.
During the next two years, I learned a great deal about the MB church and its personalities, and I learned the tasks of putting out a magazine. I also became convinced that a church paper plays a vital role in a denomination’s cohesion and sense of itself.
Many years later, I learned a name for this when I did MA studies in communications history and encountered Benedict Anderson’s notion of “imagined community.” Although Anderson’s work concerned print media’s role in nation building, I think it applies also to groups such as a national church. Most Canadian Mennonite Brethren will never meet in person, yet they do meet, as it were, in the magazine, through their mutual reading of texts by and about others in the group. Thus, “in the mind of each lives the image of their communion.”
In 2003, I landed at the MB Herald again, once more unexpectedly. And, once again with joy – because I like almost everything about an editor’s work, from selecting articles, to interacting with writers, to preparing copy, to the unique rhythm of the publishing cycle!
Much had changed at the magazine and in the conference over the decades, but some themes were still in play. How heady and hopeful it had felt to me, a young reporter at the 1975 Canadian MB convention in Regina, as the door to women’s participation opened an inch when a motion they could serve as delegates and on conference boards was accepted. What a privilege, in 2007, to report from the Calgary convention that women had been blessed for every kind of ministry leadership. I don’t think I’d realized until that moment, when the resolution passed, how long I’d been holding my breath.
Many other memories come back to me. I’ll share just a few from 2009, the year I was interim editor.
Interim positions are probably hardest on regular staff, who have to shift for a time to the working style and idiosyncrasies of a new person. I have nothing but praise for the support, flexibility, and good humour of my team – Barrie McMaster in Abbotsford and Helga Kasdorf, Karla Braun, and Audrey Plew in Winnipeg. I was moved by the immediate, enthusiastic “yes” offered by two young staffers when I suggested – nervously, because I’m unsure of myself around the latest technologies – that we try some blog-type reporting of an upcoming event. It’s been gratifying to watch the Herald emerge onto the internet – to augment the print edition and foster new kinds of “imagined community.” (And can we hope for live streaming or Twitter feeds of the 2011 study conference?)
Attending the Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay was a highlight for me, as was the study conference in Saskatoon. We ran Tim Geddert’s fine introduction to atonement in anticipation of a planned conference workshop, not foreseeing however, how the contentious subject would dominate the event the way it did, or that we would still be working on it into another study conference. In the process, though, perhaps we’ve sidelined the important direction Tom Yoder Neufeld was giving us on professing Christ in a pluralistic culture.
Each month’s edition became its own story, but I felt especially invested in the ones on our aboriginal neighbours and on seniors in the church. There were small and sometimes larger answers to prayer, such as when Russ Toews agreed to share his family’s experience of suicide. Receiving “letters to the editor” was one of the nicest parts of the job. Writing editorials was the hardest. I was surprised when an article I thought might be controversial garnered not a single response, while our rather innocuous (to my mind) issue on peace provoked long and passionate (though “not for publication”) responses.
One frustration concerned the Herald’s lack of direct access to the boards and meetings, where much conference decision-making now happens (as opposed to conventions). The reasons for this lack of access lie in the current structure, in a new “public relations” approach to conference communication, and, perhaps, in residual fears and mistrust. I wonder if readers realize they’re no longer getting “press” coverage of many debates and strategic developments within the Mennonite Brethren conference. Surely it should be possible for the Herald to be present within a mutual posture of trust; surely allowing access could only benefit constituency awareness and interest.
Most of all, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to serve at the MB Herald. Blessings in this your 50th year!