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Re:View: The first 18 months

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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

During the early sixties, the East-West Cold War worsened drastically. In August 1961, the Berlin Wall was built and, by October 1962, the world was on the brink of annihilation with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Canadians were building concrete bunkers under their basements: a nuclear war would devastate us, since Canada was the shortest distance between the USSR and the USA.

In this global context of growing fear, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, membership 15,000, continued with plans to publish an English periodical. Since 1944, it had published a bilingual Konferenz-Jugendblatt (Conference Youth Paper, 69 issues), but the unstoppable growth of English in families and congregations overcame warnings to maintain more German. In 1960, the conference bought Christian Press, a printing business in Winnipeg, and also voted to publish a weekly English paper. On September 1, 1961, the publications committee asked me to be founding editor.

At the time, I was 26 and in my first week of teaching English at the high school in Selkirk, Man. By Dec. 31, I had managed to resign from my teaching position and become the sole staff of the Mennonite Brethren Herald. Mr. A.A. Poettcker of Tofield, Alberta, had suggested the name, and its first weekly issue of 16 pages was mailed to all Canadian MB households on Friday, Jan. 19, 1962.

Seventy-three issues later, Volume II, Number 26, June 28, 1963, the last Herald with me as editor appeared. There were 1,268 pages in 18 months, with weekly editorials discussing everything from prayer to Quebec, from funerals to dating. I don’t remember a holiday.

In that first issue, Rev. J.H. Quiring, Canadian conference moderator, eloquently stated his expectations of the Herald: “It will strive to educate and edify; to inform and to inspire; to foster love and loyalty for Christ and for His Church; to broaden our vision and correct or confirm our views; to credit our virtues and criticize our vices…. It will publish our doctrines and proclaim our duties.”

Obviously, a very tall order.

As a teenager, I had been intrigued by my cousin’s print shop in Coaldale, Alta. Now, it was a delight to learn how a magazine was made: the smells, the sounds, the heat of ink and machinery and paper; the linotype machines ejecting their hot lead bars of words; the compositors setting lines of words letter by letter (I learned how to proofread upside down and backwards as they assembled each word!) and locking it all into a coherent design in the printing forms; the huge press swishing out four-page blocks of words and pictures; the folding, stapling, trimming, mailing. I truly enjoyed the Christian Press print shop and the 11 people who worked there.

A change in tone

But the Herald was more than a production: it was a publication, in effect, a public act. The words and pictures I was responsible for choosing – many of which I wrote or took myself – entered every MB household in Canada every single week! A massive, complex responsibility, and after four months (13 issues) I received an evaluation memo in German from the publications committee. They expressed their satisfaction for the interest in news/discussion/dialogue raised by the Herald, but they now needed to give the editor Richtlinien fuer die Zukunft: guiding rules for the future.

They stated that, on the whole, the content of the Herald had been more negative than positive. The major problems were the “Mailbag” having become the Abladeplatz – dump – for “dissatisfied elements” in the church; the light-hearted column “Petronius and his Pew Pals” must be cut; the editor had not consulted enough with watchful reiferen Bruedern – more mature (literally “riper”) brothers.

More, much more work for an inexperienced editor with an electric typewriter and no assistant. But mail service was fast and local church reporters enthusiastic; article writers getting better. By July 1962, when the Herald reported to the conference, delegates from across Canada noted: “A distinct change in tone…where it had been rather piercing and critical at the beginning, a saner and more positive voice was now being heard…. The Conference voted that the paper continue.”

The publication of my first novel Peace Shall Destroy Many (October 1962) eventually forced my editorship to end. There is no space here to explain what happened; certainly, neither the publications committee nor I anticipated the polarizing reaction that book caused among Mennonites of every persuasion: everything from delighted praise to angry condemnation. Eventually the public media got widely involved – I turned down a Pierre Berton interview on CBC-TV.

In August 1963, Tena, Adrienne, Michael, and I left Canada for Goshen College, Indiana, and as a consequence found fellow believers and many friends in a much larger world of Anabaptist community. Another blessing of editing the MB Herald. Deo gratias.

Rudy Wiebe is an author and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta. In 2007, he was awarded the Charles Taylor Prize for Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest.

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