Re:View: A time to chuckle, a time to apologize

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

It all began with a strange, unexpected visit.

There are days in the life of a pastor when the office door is closed to keep the noise and busyness of the church foyer at bay. Usually, when someone comes to see the pastor, they speak to the secretary and she, in turn, calls on the telephone. But on this late autumn day in 1984, she tapped on my door, opened it, and whispered, “There are two men with briefcases sitting in my office who want to speak with you.” And so began my three-year adventure as editor of the MB Herald.

I recently spent a few days paging through Herald issues from 1985–88, and memories flooded back into consciousness. How different things were 25 years ago!

First, I was surprised to see how “copy-heavy” the 36-page editions were, and remembered the comment of a colleague, who dropped a USA Today on the table and said, “This is what newspapers and magazines are going to look like in the next decade or they will wither away.” He was right.

Second, I was amazed how much of the copy had to do with reporting and informing the constituency about the administrative and mission activities of the denomination. We interviewed board chairs, debated theological and operational issues, highlighted societal trends, announced future directional changes in advance of conventions, and reported on task force appointments.

Third, it took some time in the editor’s chair to realize how seriously the constituency took the written word. This trait had both a humorous and a no-nonsense side. Sometimes we chuckled together, other times we had to apologize for our words.

It often seemed the MB church had little tolerance for humour or tongue-in-cheek comments. Jim Coggins, my good colleague, came into my office one cold January day and dropped a short, whimsical piece on my desk. Although he included in his editorial that this is not the way it ought to be, he suggested that on such cold days, the call to church planting in Hawaii might be a good option. We got a barrage of letters admonishing us not to speak lightly of the call of God on individuals.

A well-meaning person called me during the first few months of my tenure to chide us for allowing Herald standards to slip – alas, she had found a half-dozen typographical errors in the last issue. Of course, typographical errors embarrassed us, but with no spellchecker, things sometimes slipped by in proofreading. The irony of it all was that she addressed me as Mr. Koop!

Offensive cover

Expo ’86 in Vancouver brought the world to our doorstep. The cover on the June 13, 1986 issue featured many of the pavilions, all set around the Pavilion of Hope, the main Christian pavilion. Included on the cover was a striking photograph of the Soviet pavilion featuring a huge relief of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik revolution. One of our congregations reacted very strongly with a letter demanding an apology and concluding with the rhetorical question: Would a Jewish magazine put Adolf Hitler on the cover of their magazine? Sometimes an apology is entirely appropriate.

Fourth, the letter column simply bristled with interesting comments. When the previous editor retired, I inherited the last blast of letters concerning an MB novelist whose book had been reviewed earlier. Enough was suddenly enough, and one of the editor’s last acts before retirement was to end the deluge of letters on the subject. Sadly, the really thoughtful letters arrived after the shrill letters had run their course, not allowing for reasoned debate about an important novel.

The great stormy issues of the decade were the change in worship style with the movement from hymns to choruses, and a denominational name change proposal put forward by John Redekop’s book, A People Apart. For congregations, the worship style issue was of primary importance, while the denominational name change proposal exercised leaders.

Fifth, during my tenure, we published 24 issues of the magazine yearly. I remember how relentless the publishing cycle was and how disruptive the statutory holidays became – it simply meant we lost one day in the 10-day cycle, and had to find another eight hours somewhere to stay on schedule. As a former editor, I have great regard for the current editorial and support staff who stay on schedule and continue the fine publishing traditions of the past five decades.

I truly loved my three years at the Herald and have fond memories of the work and the fine colleagues with whom I served. But time never stands still. The time had come to return to pastoral work.

Herb Kopp served as editor of the MB Herald from 1985–88. He is now retired and living in Winnipeg.

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