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Re:View: Index of Strangeness

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It is the most mind-numbing task demanded of the Herald editor all year long. It comes at the very worst time, right in the middle of the busy Christmas season. It is called “proofreading the annual index,” that listing of everything we have published in the previous year.

Sometimes I wonder why we even bother – we know most readers will not read a word of it. Editors look forward to preparing the annual index the way store employees and factory workers look forward to taking inventory, or the way we look forward to adding up our financial records and preparing our income tax returns. It is drudgery that seems to produce nothing.

Yet, taking inventory is a useful and necessary thing. Adding up the achievements and failures of the past year is a revealing exercise. The annual Herald index shows us what balances we have achieved between conflicting demands. It shows us the shifting of trends and needs. Like an examination of our annual spending, it shows us what our priorities really are, not what we would like to think they are.

Theological priorities

The 1995 index begins with a list of the themes of the issues we published. It includes some high points of the church calendar: Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany. Two issues focused on prayer and Bible reading, and a third on the “communion of the saints.”

We did not neglect outreach, with two Encounter issues (on freedom and forgiveness); we did an issue on stories of people coming to Jesus, one on outreach in the former USSR, and one on the experience of overseas missionaries. We did two issues on church leadership and one on revitalizing urban ministry.

We did not neglect personal needs either, with two issues on family (marriage and children), one on grief, and one on education. We looked at the popular subject of angels, put together an issue on humour, and even devoted two issues to conference business.

As a list of priorities for the church, that may not be complete, but it isn’t too far off the mark either. Will we do as well this year?

A rough analysis of the feature articles (including columns) reveals the following: 68 percent were written by men (64 percent if we exclude the editor’s ramblings), 81 percent were written by Mennonite Brethren, and 63 percent were written by people with ethnic Mennonite names. I don’t know if I am pleased with all of those percentages, but there are reasons for them. For instance, most of our pastors and Bible school teachers, our source of theological expertise, are men, so it is not surprising that men writers outnumber women. Mennonite Brethren writers best understand the needs of our readership, so we are more likely to find their articles useful. We are going to still try to publish the best articles we can find, regardless of who the authors are.

The Mennonite Brethren church

Our main news section concentrates on Mennonite Brethren news, the news that our readers cannot get elsewhere. We try to balance stories from the various provinces. In 1995, we had 24 stories from British Columbia, 11 from Manitoba, 10 from Alberta, 9 from Ontario, 7 from Saskatchewan, 4 from the Atlantic provinces, and 3 from Quebec; that is roughly equivalent to the size (and news-generating capacity) of the provincial conferences.

We nicely balanced word and deed, with 34 stories from MBMissions/Services and 31 from Mennonite Central Committee. (There is a significant amplification of that statistic: we carried almost every news release that MBM/S sent us and only a fraction of the ones MCC produced.)

Our postsecondary schools generated many stories (MB Biblical Seminary 13, Bethany Bible Institute 12, Columbia Bible College 7, Concord College 6, Winkler Bible Institute 5, and Institut biblique Laval 2). A relatively new section reveals five stories from MB conferences outside
North America.

The World

Our People & Events section is a broad survey of what is going on in the world and the church. Last year in People & Events (and related short news sections), we covered everything from acne, archaeology, and alcohol to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Fellowship of Merry Christians, floccinaucinihilipilification, golf, Gregorian chants, the Index of Strangeness, the King David Chess Tournament, Noah’s ark, shopping, sleep, sports, and Walt Disney.

The “hot” issues listed include some which were virtually unknown a generation ago and some which demonstrate the continued fallenness of humanity: abortion (9 references), AIDS (2), crime (10), divorce (6), euthanasia (4), homosexuality (14), the military (14), and sexual abuse (5). We had 8 items on marriage, 6 on computers, 8 on work, 9 on women, and 9 on television (compared to 1 on radio).

We also chronicled trends in the church: charitable donations (6 references), church attendance (5), the Jesus video, March for Jesus, the Airport Vineyard and the Toronto blessing (4), and Promise Keepers (4). We gave information on 47 countries in the world (besides Canada and the U.S.), with Russia, Zaire, and Pakistan appearing most often. Altogether, these items are a pretty fair sampling of what is going on in the world.

Come to think of it, maybe the index isn’t so boring after all.

–Jim Coggins (This editorial reprinted from Mar. 8, 1996. Jim Coggins was associate editor of the MB Herald from 1984–1995 and editor from 1995–2003. He currently lives and works in Abbotsford, B.C.)

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