Salome Hiebert and I meet for an interview on a Friday in mid-March, the day that a late Manitoba winter storm is blowing itself to a conclusion. It is wonderful to leave the potential treachery of the slippery roads for the calm quiet of the empty Fort Garry MB Church, and to be warmly welcomed there by Mrs. Hiebert.
Salome and her husband Jake have been members of this Winnipeg congregation for 33 years; they are, in fact, two of three charter members still at the church. For the past 27 years they have also been deacons. Fort Garry is truly their church “home.”
Since 1985, however, it has been home in another way for Salome. She has a room of her own, albeit a tiny one, in the church building, and she works half-time as a pastoral assistant in the areas of counselling and teaching a weekly Bible class for women.
Salome and I first peek inside her office, a former sound room at the back of the sanctuary. The upper part of two walls is glass. From her desk she can see the front of the church with the pulpit and baptistry, and the rows of pews which are filled on Sunday mornings with people she loves and cares about deeply. On those days, of course, they can also look inside her space. “I keep it neat and in good order,” she tells me, laughing.
Then we settle onto comfortable sofas in the church lounge to talk. Salome is a small, silver-haired woman who exudes self-assurance, but, more dominantly, gentle graciousness and wisdom. It is not difficult to understand why her gifts for ministry with people-both to listen and to counsel-·and for spiritual “helps” have been recognized in her congregation. Very quickly our conversation becomes informal, weaving in and out of my pre-planned questions to include personal interaction on issues, as well as any number of asides deemed to be “off the record”. This has been, I think later when leaving, more than an interview. We’ve had fellowship, and there’s been spiritual mothering, “older woman” to younger.
Salome Hiebert’s present ministry, though titled “pastoral”, is simply a continuation of what she has been doing in the past, she says. It grows not only out of lengthy deaconal work, but, even earlier, out of her childhood experience of the church and her struggle in youth to understand God’s will for herself.
Salome’s grandfather was Heinrich Voth of Mountain Lake, Minnesota, the minister who came to the Winkler area as an evangelist and later baptized, in I886, the first members of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Canada. From her uncle, Henry S. Voth, and her parents, Isaac and Marie Voth, Salome often heard the stories of those early days of the MB Church.
“I was deeply impressed by the caring concern of my family and extended family for the salvation of the lost,” she says, “and their concern for the church. They served with dedication and joy.”
Mrs. Hiebert also tells of being “profoundly influenced” by women like Helen Harder and Linda Banman (both missionaries) “who followed through on the call of the Lord, and were given the hand of ministry by the church”. Mrs. Viola (John) Wiebe, another missionary, also “inspired me as a married woman, meshing her call with her family’s. She was so energetic for life.”
“I prayed daily in youth,” Salome says, “for right desires of the heart. I prayed for a sensitive, compassionate heart. And the Lord is always faithful He has met me, in so many ways.”
Sometimes this has been experienced during devotional hours alone, and other times in difficult situations such as illness, a car accident and the birth of Jake and Salome’s first son when “it became evident we both w ere alive because of a miracle”.
Experiencing God’s presence is not enough, Salome explains, but must be followed by action. Romans 12, in its call to consecration, listing of the variety of gifts, and guidelines for Christian service, has been for Salome both her call and her job description.
Salome trained as a teacher, interrupting her teaching to attend Tabor College, where she graduated in 1954 with a major in psychology. “Even then, before the word was used much, I had an interest in counselling.”
Salome stayed home to raise her three children, but was able, as the children grew older, to increase her involvement outside the home, in relationships with people and in leading neighbourhood Bible studies. She has always been particularly burdened for people “on the edges” of church life, those drawing either towards God or away from him.
In a talk given at an MB Bible College chapel recently, Salome elaborated her view of ministry. “I believe God’s call to ministry is a very personal experience,” she told the students, “but it does not come in isolation of one’s self. It is given validity and meaning by God’s community, the church. The Holy Spirit at work in others verifies and recognizes the gifts and call of God in our lives. This has been one of the criteria I have waited for and depended on to bring guidance and assurance to the ministry I do.”
Former Fort Garry pastor Herb Kopp first encouraged Salome to consider the more formal kind of ministry which the church then affirmed for her. Present pastors Dan Unrau and John Dyck genuinely support her role in the pastoral leadership of Fort Garry. As staff, they enjoy harmonious working relationships.
Salome speaks about another community to which she is committed. That is her family. Believing that a philosophy of family life is clearly presented in the Bible, Salome has made her marriage and children a priority. It is important for her that her family be comfortable with her work in the church. She and her husband work as a team. “He gives me both support and wisdom,” she says. They are nurtured by reading, and often attend seminars or take courses together. “And when new challenges come my way, my children have often responded, ‘Go for it, Mom; people need you.’“
As we talk, I realize that Salome is somewhat hesitant about being included in this particular Herald. She searches carefully for words to explain.
She does not see herself, she says, as a “crusader” for women’s ministry in the church. She would rather do the work she has been given than become involved in the confrontations which this controversial issue so often produces.
Her own stance, she says, is one of trying to listen: listening to and trying to understand the scripture in both its calling out of women for God’s tasks and in its “hard sayings” about women in the church; listening to the brothers of the church and “where they’re at”, as well as women’s concerns; listening to studies and discussions at conferences like this past summer’s gathering in Normal, Illinois.
“The process itself,” she cautions, “must be characterized by sensitivity. We need to respect our godly men. We women need to exemplify the same characteristics of spirituality we seek in them.” All of us, she urges, whether men or women, need to emphasize service more than position.
In the concluding comments of the MBBC chapel mentioned earlier, I find summarized Salome’s concerns and a statement of the call she has sought to follow (an obedience, she confesses, which has sometimes been given “with great struggle, because of stubbornness and fear”).
“Whether men or women,” she told the students, “we do not move into ministry as one does in striving to attain position in the political arena. We cannot, we dare not, campaign for it, nor seek to gain power by it.
“Leadership within the church must be discerned and encouraged by the church community, led by the Holy Spirit. It must never be accepted to bring attention to self. If God is at work in our lives and we follow in obedience to him, there will always be a place where we will be ‘his work of art’, bringing glory to him.”