Ralph Friesen tells of how his father, Peter D. Friesen, grew up in the KG/EMC and served as a minister and, later, the lead pastor of Steinbach EMC for years while supporting his family as a businessman. His Dad suffered a stroke in his 50s and lived uncomfortably for several years before dying in his early 60s. As Friesen said in an interview elsewhere, the book intertwines two stories: his father’s and his own. Continue reading Review: Dad, God, and Me: Remembering a Mennonite Pastor and His Wayward Son→
Hanna Schott, Love in a Time of Hate: The Story of Magda and Andre Trocme and the Village That Said No to the Nazis (Herald Press, 2017). ISBN 9781513801254 (paperback). $22.95. Reviewed by Myra Kroeker (EFC Steinbach), BA, wife and mother.
On March 2-3, 2018, I had the privilege of attending the Awesome Kidmin Conference. Hearing a conference described as “awesome” in its title made me a bit hesitant, but, after checking out the website and seeing the variety of sessions available, I decided it would be a good investment of time. I was not disappointed. In fact, I came away from the weekend encouraged and excited to try some of what I’d learned. It was an incredible experience to be at a conference with 200 other people doing kids’ ministry. A group of children’s pastors from churches in Regina had driven to take part.
The conference brought in a top-notch speaker David Rausch who, by God’s grace, has started a new children’s church curriculum entitled “GO!” He challenged us to think about the long journey of faith and to teach our kids that faith is not all about life being easy and happy when we follow God, but that it is an adventure. He admonished us that we do a disservice to our children if we don’t prepare them to face the doubts, questions, and challenges that living by faith brings. We were also encouraged to look for opportunities for our kids to serve; they they can do much more than we think they can, a message that was reinforced in a breakout session with Lydia Stoez on teaching our kids to pray.
There were five opportunities for breakout sessions with four to six options at each session, leaving many of us wondering how we were going to get to everything we wanted to hear when our top choices were at the same time. Leadership labs on Friday focused on gender and sexuality, volunteer recruitment and retention and basic training for those new to children’s ministry. The Friday night options were all focused on personal development, which was an important opportunity to be fed. On Saturday we had choices of looking at how to develop our storytelling skills, how to include kids with special needs, pick curriculum, teach our kids to pray, help them process pain, come alongside families and many more options.
Looking through the program I was encouraged to see how many EMCers were involved with the conference. Steinbach Bible College was a sponsor. Teresa Enns Zehr (Aberdeen), Arlene Friesen (SBC), Michelle MacGibbon (Fort Garry), and Lisa Schau (St. Vital) were presenters at different breakout sessions, and Lorna Kroeker (St. Vital) and Lisa Schau were on the planning committee.
I left the weekend with new curriculum ideas, resources, contacts, and an invitation to join the network of children’s ministry workers that meets regularly in Winnipeg. More importantly, I felt that I had met God, been challenged, encouraged, and refreshed. I hope to see many more EMCers at next year’s Awesome KidMin Conference (www.awesomekidmin.com) on March 8-9, 2019, for an awesome experience.
Ruth Friesen says, “Besides trying to disciple my own three kids, I am currently the midweek children’s club coordinator at our church and have been involved in children’s ministry and work in various forms (children’s church, Sunday School, VBS, camp, daycare, group home) for much of the past 23 years.” She has a BA in theology (Providence) and a BSW (U of M), and is part of Fort Garry EMC.
J. Lawrence Burkholder, Recollections of a Sectarian Realist: A Mennonite Life in the Twentieth Century. (AMBS/Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2017), 272 pp. $22.45 USD. Reviewed by Henry Friesen (The ConneXion), MPhilF, and former member of the BCM.
This is a fascinating story of a life well lived. Burkholder’s early years were in unincorporated settlements in Pennsylvania, but his life includes years of relief work in India and China, and studies as well as teaching in Goshen, Princeton, and Harvard. Interspersed with these international and cosmopolitan experiences Burkholder recalls self-supporting pastoral work in his early years, a rich family life that sadly includes the death of a son at age 25, and an enduring fascination with flying.
A noteworthy and delightful feature of this work is the way that reflections on the philosophical and theological implications of mundane matters are integrated into the biographical account. Reminiscing about a childhood Sunday School teacher includes a recognition of the significance of clearly defined terms to philosophical discourse, and an astonishingly accessible excursus into ontology, generally encountered only as a highly abstract philosophical concern. Regrettably, Burkholder did not elaborate on his eminently justifiable and repeated refusal to sign Goshen’s statement endorsing inerrancy.
This biography ranges over an immense range of theological practice from pastors required to leave ministry because they married a person from another Mennonite congregation, to a requirement that Burkholder himself relinquish a life insurance policy in order to retain a pastorate, to making potential life or death decisions for others while engaged in relief work.
The book concludes with Burkholder’s “Musings on the Pressing Issues of My Time.”
Recollections of a Sectarian Realist offers something for almost everyone. It is a biography that includes intriguing cerebral detours instigated by experiences in daily life.
Bradley Roth, God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church (Herald Press, 2107). ISBN 9781513801612. $22.99. Reviewed by Kevin Wiebe, pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (Tilbury/Stevenson, Ont.) and a member of the BCM.
The word that comes to mind is “refreshing.” Brad Roth writes in way that is thoughtful, reflective and that is almost devotional in nature. His illustrations and points linger in my mind for a long time as I continue to reflect on his thoughts.
Yet this book is also challenging in all the right ways. Roth refuses to slip into the common stereotypes of the rural/urban divide. He resists the temptation to look at the rural church in overly romantic ways, but neither does he scornfully dismiss it. Rather, he writes of both the joys and challenges, the strength and weaknesses of the rural church and how important it has been, is now, and will continue to be to the work of God in the world.
Roth doesn’t speak pejoratively of the urban church either, but as it is a book about the rural church, much of the focus stays there. Where Roth does exhibit a large dose of skepticism, however, pertains to modern church growth tactics.
He seems to be picking up on a growing frustration among many pastors (in my circles, at least) with the church growth industry. In a world where the mantra is that bigger is better and smallness equates to failure or inadequacy, many small-town pastors feel they don’t measure up and are failures in ministry because their church is not a mega-church.
Roth does acknowledge that the number of people in our churches matters, not because we are supposed to be obsessed with numbers. It’s because numbers represent people—and it is for those people that Jesus died. Roth reminds the reader, however, that this is a very different thing than the empire-building notions that are found in much of the church growth literature available today. He reminds readers that the church is called to be a church, not an industrial complex or a power-hungry organization.
Personally speaking, I resonate very deeply with God’s Country because it challenges and encourages me in the context where I find myself as the pastor of a small rural church. I would highly recommend this book, especially to anyone involved in or even interested in rural ministry.
In Praise of Altruism: Living For Others Because Selfishness is the Pits,Arden Thiessen (2017). A critique of human selfishness, it focuses on the love, generosity, and practical kindness central to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. 213 pp. ISBN 9780978052522. $10 (paperback).
The Stranger: A Story of Romance and Intrigue,Eleanor Lee Gustaw (2017). Romance and intrigue follow detectives Thea and Gene Ashton where they discover God’s amazing plan for their lives and redefine their calling. 396 pp. ISBN 9781512776874.$27.95 (paperback).
Food For Fun and Fellowship: Favourite Recipes of the Canadian Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Melanie Frayle (2006). Nearly every EMC church is represented in these favourites to be used to express Jesus’ love by serving family and entertaining at home.291 pp. $16 (coil paperback).
The Gentleman, Jacob Enns (2012). On a hunting trip Jeff Nolan, a widower and a pacifist, is confronted by a serial killer. How does he respond? ISBN 9781460202418. 210 pp. $14 (paperback).
Twenty Big Questions: Toward a Biblical Worldview for Restless Truth-Seekers, Arden Thiessen (2016). A gentle defense of core biblical beliefs, showing their unity is the best witness to their truthfulness and validity. 221 pp. $10 (paperback).
Titles are available from the national office or the authors. Prices do not include postage costs.
Anabaptist Essentials: Ten Signs of a Unique Christian Faith, Palmer Becker (Herald Press, 2017). 180 pp. $12.99 USD (paper). ISBN 9781513800417.
In a time when culture seems to increasingly dissect and compartmentalize faith and practice, a message of faith and life integration is welcome. Palmer Becker in his book, Anabaptist Essentials, gives a very clear picture of what Anabaptism is at its core, where it is different from, and what it has in common with other protestant and catholic faith expressions.
From reading his book I have come to the conclusion that much of what we take for granted as Anabaptists has already been lost to the young generation and needs to be brought back to the table. The book is not written for the purpose of pointing out flaws in other faiths.
Palmer focuses on giving a very detailed rationale for the Anabaptist distinctives, and about the social and cultural impact they have made in various places and times in the past and are still doing today. It was these Early Church distinctives that the 16th century Reformers rediscovered, took as their own, and lived by often at great cost.
In a Christianity where people can decide to be “saved” but not serve Jesus as Lord, Palmer points back to the life of early Anabaptist faith where there was no such separation and compartmentalization. It was either people were “followers of Jesus” or they were not. To be saved, but not serve Jesus was not part of their understanding. In Anabaptist faith, faith means obedience. Faith and works cannot not be separated and compartmentalized. He mentions that his father was perplexed by the question, “Are you saved?” His answer was: “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.” It was all one unity. He was baptized on that confession of faith.
At a time when personal autonomy is gaining ground, the Anabaptist view draws people together into community in all aspects of faith expression, from Jesus being the central focus of our love, and radiating that outward to serving one another, being accountable to, and holding one another accountable, sharing ourselves with one another, and even suffering for one another. I suggest this as a good resource for Sunday School classes and small groups.
Same-Sex Attraction and Pastoral Care (seminar, March 6, 2017, Providence Theological Seminary), Dr. Wesley Hill. Reviewed by Pastor Barry Plett (Blumenort), BRS, BEd, and Russell Doerksen (Fort Garry), BA, MDiv, a member of the Board of Church Ministries and employed by Providence.
There were many familiar EMC faces in the crowded lecture theatre at Providence to hear Dr. Wesley Hill, a young scholar from Arkansas with a same-sex attraction, make a presentation on the issue that has been central in his life for the past many years. Dr. Hill is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
The curiosity and slight apprehension, as to his angle of approach, only increased as he started his session by reading Romans 8:18-27 with comments of the whole world groaning in the season between his resurrection and the culmination and restoration of all things.
That apprehension dissolved quite quickly as Dr. Hill’s love for scripture, the cross, salvation and new life in Christ became obvious as the day progressed. This was a marked difference to many of the presentations and sermons we have heard over the years that seemed to approach scripture with a very clear agenda to find ways to validate and legitimize the feelings and desires same-sex attracted people have.
Dr. Hill began the day by summarizing the Church’s past responses to same-sex attraction into three distinct phases. The first phase was how the Church has historically operated. This approach can be characterized as harsh and judgmental to all those who have same-sex attraction, causing them to feel rejection by family, the Church, and their community. This approach would leave people looking for an outside place where they could be accepted and loved as they tried to sort out what they were going through.
The second phase, which is still largely in practise, has found the Church offering hope to same-sex attracted people in the form of diminishing or eliminating the attractions through therapy and counseling. This approach often begins with the assumption that there was childhood trauma of some kind, often with the same gender parent, that caused the same-sex attraction. The problem is that not everyone, including Dr. Hill, falls neatly into this category. The effectiveness of this type of approach has come into question in recent times and at times.
The third phase has been for the Church to offer hope to same-sex attracted people by pushing for full acceptance at every level of society, including all the rights of marriage and the adoption of children. The problem with this approach, as Hill points out, is there is a unified story of heterosexual marriage in scripture from the Garden of Eden to the wedding feast of the lamb in Revelation.
In adjusting the scriptures to include same-sex marriage, there is too much damage to the beauty and meaning of the unity in diversity illustrated in the heterosexual marriage relationship. Dr. Hill acknowledged this to be a path of difficulty and frustration, but one that is biblically faithful and realistically possible when lived in a healthy community.
Dr. Hill, who enjoyed a wonderful childhood with strong supportive relationships with his parents, youth leaders, the Church, and who has a great love for scripture, does not find any of these approaches to be fully satisfactory. This is where the passage from Romans 8 comes into play.
Using the example of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, Hill points out to the Church that we all live with various reminders that the world is not yet as it should be. It is precisely in living with these reminders that we can all discover how to live and serve in the Church. He calls this “the hope between presumption and despair.”
In light of this tension, Dr. Hill issued a challenge to the Church in the way they have explicitly and implicitly, presented marriage as the utopian ideal that will fulfill all natural desires for relationship and intimacy. Instead, the Church must work on reclaiming the dignity of singleness, help people called to live in the discipline of singleness, and give direction to those living in singleness. He criticized our western culture as having over emphasized our sexual activity as our primary identity, rather than in being created in the image of God and having been bought by Christ through the cross.
Dr. Hill acknowledged this path of singleness to be a path of difficulty and frustration, but one that is biblically faithful and realistically possible when lived in a healthy community. This is a community that is caring, that is inclusive, and that is supportive of all of its members in their daily struggles.
The seminar challenged our level of understanding and appreciation for the dilemma people face who have same-sex attraction even though they do not prefer it. It challenged us to face our own “groaning” before the Lord’s return, with a little more perseverance and less victim mentality. The humble, surrendered approach to scripture of Wesley Hill, that caused him to adjust and limit his natural desires for the sake of the Word of God and the witness of the people of God, left us invigorated and encouraged.
Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity, Katherine Willis Pershey (Herald Press, 2016). 224 pp. $21.49 ISBN 9781513800172. Reviewed by Rebecca Roman (Stony Brook), BA (SBC), wife and mother.
Various descriptors spring to mind when reflecting on Katherine Willis Pershey’s book Very Married. Among them are honest, authentic, real.
If you’re looking for a how-to book on marriage, this is not the book for you—although Willis Pershey does at times stray into the territory of how-not-to in describing the history of her own marriage. With no seeming attempt to gloss over her flaws, she openly shares of the struggles and beauty that come from two attempting to become one in a marriage relationship.
Particularly poignant is one scene where Willis Pershey and her husband, Benjamin, work together to scrub a kneeler in preparation for a wedding ceremony. While Willis Pershey is feeling sorry for herself that this is how they are spending their wedding anniversary, Benjamin says, “This feels very marital.” In our society where so much of the focus on marriage is on romance, this brief glimpse allows readers to be reminded that much of the joy and satisfaction in marriage is to be had in the everyday moments of working together.
Very Married also includes Willis Pershey’s thoughts on the state of marriage both as it is today and as it should be. Chapter 17 includes some sociological research on the decline of marriage within black communities in the U.S., and how socioeconomic disadvantage contributes to this. (I wonder how these statistics would compare to First Nations communities in Canada.) Willis Pershey concludes these reflections by saying, “If we want to wax poetic about the virtues and benefits of marriage, we must also advocate for policies and benefits that empower people to access those virtues and benefits for themselves.”
While some readers may be put off by Willis Pershey’s views on same-sex marriage (she is in favour of it), this is worth setting aside to gain benefit from the insights she brings to the timeworn, yet exciting, institution of marriage.
Menno Simons: Dutch Reformer Between Luther, Erasmus and the Holy Spirit (A Study in the Problem Areas of Menno Scholarship), Abraham Friesen (Fresno, CA: Xlibris, 2015), 397 pp. $31. ISBN 9781503562813. Reviewed by Dr. Lawrence Klippenstein (formerly of Steinbach EMC), retired historian-archivist. A longer version of the review appeared in Mennonite Historian (March 2016).
This volume is challenging, timely, and to the point. Theology is not everyone’s “bag.” The part on Menno himself (141 to 388) is an easier read.
The introduction sketches the content and provides a more detailed composite portrait of the main actors of the drama. The list begins with Augustine and continues through eighteen brief biographies to assist in the long, sometimes tortuous journey of theological discussion.
The main text begins with a chapter on the social, economic, and political aspects of society in need of reform. Then follows a longer section on the effort to set up the Muenster “kingdom,” directed by persons, also known as Anabaptists in those days, seriously dedicated to carrying on God’s work as called for in Scripture “alone.”
Jan van Leyden and associates believed they were led by the Holy Spirit to storm the city and become His servants helping to usher in God’s reign on earth. It was a moment of extremes and violence that came to a tragic end, including the death of Menno’s brother Peter. The impact on Menno was life-changing and led to intense study of Scripture that turned him to his lifetime work for God as a man of non-violence and peacemaking.
Was Menno’s theology “derivative ” and dangerously revolutionary or did it go beyond that? Friesen says that Menno learned a lot from others, including Luther and Erasmus, but found his personal direction and guidance for leading the church in his own Spirit-led studies of the Scriptures.
Depending on your interests, give parts—or all of it—a go. Some might read the last section first and then decide what to do with the rest.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference