The food of words

This issue of the Herald celebrates food in all its relationship-building and spiritual potential. We hope it inspires a summer of picnics, potlucks, and long evening coffees!

There’s another kind of eating also on my mind, however, and that’s the food of words.

In May, assistant editor Karla Braun and I attended the annual gathering of Meetinghouse editors. Meetinghouse is an association of Mennonite periodicals in North America that pools funds and shares coverage of events of common interest, such as the upcoming Mennonite World Conference.

Being together with those of like faith and profession is always a highlight, and this year’s meeting was no exception. Ideas and wisdom were there for the taking, as was relief in the laughter over our similar frustrations and occasional bloopers. (None of us, though, had anything quite as embarrassing as the recent front-page typo in a Brigham Young University newspaper that called Mormon church leaders “apostates” instead of “apostles” and led to the recall of the entire 18,500-copies run.)

Some news was discouraging, however. A good number of Meetinghouse periodicals, particularly in the U.S., have been adversely affected by the recession. We heard, for example, that The Christian Leader, the Mennonite Brethren U.S. magazine, will publish only six issues instead of 12 this year because of conference budget shortfalls. To us editors, this seemed the worst possible place to make cuts, at least in terms of maintaining some regular sense of “conference family” that might rally people together in crisis.

We were very grateful to report that the MB Herald currently enjoys solid financial support from conference funding and our advertising revenue. (And I do mean “very.” Thank you, to you, our readers and churches, who support the conference with your gifts.) It’s a privilege to host this family gathering in print once a month, as well as on the web, where we meet to talk and learn and sometimes disagree, but most of all, to stay connected.

Under stress

Another ministry of words within our conference, however, has been under stress. Times are tough for publishers and booksellers everywhere these days, and not surprisingly, Kindred Productions (KP), the publishing arm of Mennonite Brethren in Canada and the U.S., has struggled too. (See news release.)

For many years, KP had a fairly brisk publishing schedule of Bible study materials and books of various kinds. Perhaps it was too ambitious. More recently, the focus shifted from publishing to reselling. Up against bookselling giants like Amazon or retailers like Costco, it was a real challenge.

Retreating from this direction makes good sense. But even corrective measures bring risks, and every change raises questions. Will this cutting back – to the “bare minimum” as it was described to me – open to a new season of word-work within our conference? Do we still see the need for “Christian literature,” as it was called when our publishing efforts were launched in 1966? In limiting publishing to “resources directly relating to the mission and ministries of the conference to serve the local church,” how broadly or narrowly will “mission and ministries” be understood?

I’ve been encouraged to hear, in conversations with the KP interim manager and conference directors, that we may want to work more closely with other Mennonite publishers. (We currently cooperate with Mennonite Publishing Network in the daily devotional magazine, Rejoice! and the new pamphlet series,Close to Home.) There’s also a commitment to an online conference “resource shelf,” although it’s not clear how this may develop beyond updating our manuals for pastors and churches. 

Many opportunities beg to be explored. Could the resource shelf, under the Board of Faith and Life, provide annotated reviews of the best resources in key theological and practical areas? Could it share worship writing (original Christmas drama or Lenten readings, for example) between congregations?

Room for books?

And is there room to publish books of our own? I’m sensing reluctance.

Do we no longer have the hunger and wallets for the books of life writing, biblical reflection, stories, or theological instruction that are percolating within the minds of writers in our denominational family? Books situated in an MB ethos that could nurture our identity, invigorate our faithfulness? That might find a wider Canadian Christian audience as well? Could we not manage even two or three a year, selected judiciously, then given strong editorial care, good production values, and a market?

Books allow for reading that’s long enough to truly educate or transform; for the journey into another’s life that deepens love and understanding. Books can grow our faith. They’re soul food.

At the Herald, it feels good to be well supported in this work of words. Now is the time to think hard about what we want for Kindred Productions, and how we’ll make it happen.

 

 

  —Dora Dueck, interim editor

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