The latest edition of The Messenger included a fine article written by the Board of Church Ministries regarding the importance of conference unity in spite of differences of perspective on some church practices [A Note About a Note, May]. What was useful was their reminder to us that “some groups and individuals have not felt welcome” when churches are preoccupied with disputes and disagreements under the guise of Christian orthodoxy. The significant decline in church attendance in North America is attributed by many as a sign that the church is unattractive if disharmony is obvious. Thank you, BCM, for your insights. I am looking forward to your further contributions.
Congratulations on the last Messenger [Jan.]. Front to back, great issue. I was so inspired by Arden Thiessen’s article that I read The Messenger from cover to cover. I went back to reread Arden’s article and like his accuser found a singular expression that could be misinterpreted. Arden used the word “once” in reference to making a mistake. I know I couldn’t make the claim of once I made a mistake. It struck me as a point of irony that even in our defense we can be misunderstood in a different manner, and the cycle continues. Great job, Arden included, and I will say that more than once. Continue reading Letters April 2019→
Thank you, Adam Harris, for broaching the subject of loving one’s neighbour, regardless of who he is [Go And Do Likewise, Jan. 2019]. Part of our mandate as non-resisters is to reduce the suffering of others. So, yes, there is room for exceptional acts of kindness.
Unfortunately, many see Jesus’ command only in terms of exceptional acts of kindness illustrated by the photo accompanying the column of a man helping a lady start her car (or is it the other way around?). Jesus’ love is illustrated differently with his disciples—investment of his life in others and risk which sometimes backfires. Love means doing the ordinary, like taking time on the street to chat with a neighbour not from our “circle,” visiting others at their home or inviting them to ours, or taking out the garbage for a disabled neighbour so she can stay in her home another year. For some this is a no-brainer; for others, it needs to be stated plainly.
Unexceptional acts are relatively high in cost (my precious time!) and offer no glory but we are often surprised by what we do receive—returned human warmth that is beyond price. Jesus said to cast your bread on the waters and it will return after a time.
When is a bishop not a bishop? First, within Anabaptist-Mennonite circles in Poland-Prussia when the Roman Catholic Church did not allow the Mennonite Church to have leaders called bishops (Darryl Klassen).
The church chose Elder (Aeltester) as an alternate title, yet much of the authority and functions of a bishop remained: to oversee churches, ministers, and deacons; to baptize and serve communion; and to ordain. Unlike a Catholic bishop, though, whether a Mennonite bishop had individual authority to excommunicate seems to have varied in history (Henry Fast).
Second, when a bishop resigns. The fourth KG bishop Heinrich Enns (1807-1881) began serving a “reform” group in Russia in 1866 and then, only two years later, resigned amid a lack of confidence by others. There was no indication or allegation of any immorality by Enns. Historian Delbert Plett says that Enns remained respected until he died.
Enns moved to Canada in 1875. Two years later he wrote two letters from Kansas while visiting a son. Plett says, “These writings provide an appropriate farewell to a man who had served his God and [Community] with great fervour.”
Perhaps they were, but what might Delbert have thought of a third letter that Enns wrote from Kansas? Plett seemed unaware of it. It seems to have gone untranslated until recent work within the EMC Archives, and more of its significance was realized when I worked with it on June 27, 2018.
Earlier this year historian Henry Fast had turned over to the EMC Archives a collection of about 80 letters sent to minister Peter B. Kroeker (1873-1955), some dating back to the 1890s. They were given with the support of Kroeker’s family, and are valuable. Lee Toews, a relative of Kroeker’s, had earlier rewritten some letters into modern German. Harvey K. Plett and Esther Wiebe, and more recently Ellen Stoesz, Ann Fehr, and Sara Peters have been translating the collection into English.
Yet one item dated April 30, 1877, didn’t fit into Kroeker’s period of correspondence, and a note, likely by Toews, said it appeared to be a letter to a church community. It was the letter by Enns, and an extraordinary acquisition. He wrote it shortly after the KG moved to Canada in 1874-75 and just four years before his death.
Enns, according to Plett, was “a strong willed man whose determination and one-mindedness sometimes hindered his effectiveness.” In a writing attributed by Plett to him, the former bishop held that the baptism of an adult “in an unconverted condition” and without “the right understanding” has “no more value than an infant baptism” and “can even be dangerous” for its misleading consolation. Was Enns wrong or right on this?
In his letter of April 30, 1877, Enns was highly conscious of his weaknesses: “A martyr worries as he is in prison and thinks about his former life and things come to mind of his former life and how he always had failed and it even saddened him in prison. Yes, I, miserable person, I have and still have lots of responsibility and have to be careful how I handle them.”
Enns struggled in leadership, felt keenly his weaknesses, had strong convictions, sought to be conciliatory, and looked to God’s grace. Would we expect less of any bishop?
Harvey K. Plett and Esther Wiebe are doing what they can in a race against time. Working under the EMC Archives Committee, they’re translating letters in German written to Peter B. Kroeker, who was elected to the Steinbach ministerial, first as a deacon and then as a minister, on Jan. 23, 1918.
Family and friends located in Meade, Kansas, and elsewhere wrote Peter B. Kroeker (1873-1955) about 88 letters, some dating back to the 1890s. Lee Toews, Peter’s son-in-law of Winnipeg, Man., later rewrote some of the letters into modern German script. Through the generosity of the Toews family, Henry Fast, EMC historian, recently offered them to the EMC Archives (and provided the outline of Peter B. Kroeker’s history).
Harvey and his sister Esther began using copies of the originals and the work by Lee Toews to render them into current English. In doing so, the past and the present pilgrimages of believers meet in a rich way—and in the middle is Harvey himself. He, though, wants his sister Esther to be mentioned and for God to receive all of the glory.
You see, Harvey has his own stories to tell. Years ago he consented to fill in briefly overseas when there was a need. He ended up serving as a cross-cultural worker in Belize and the Bahamas from 1969 to 2001 with Gospel Missionary Union. His areas of work were as diverse as maintaining buildings, bookkeeping, and coordinating Bible correspondence courses.
Len Barkman, a missionary in the Bahamas and later EMC general secretary, tells of how one of his young sons threw a snake that landed on Harvey, who was nearby. Harvey calmly removed the snake from around his neck and kept on going.
The names of Harvey K. Plett, mostly the missionary, and Harvey G. Plett, mostly the minister and educator, get mixed up at times (at least when I communicate by e-mail). The confusion is perhaps somewhat understandable: one Harvey was out of the country for many years while the other was active in Canada. Besides much of their names, though, they share a faith and a willingness to serve.
Now Harvey and Esther translate the life experiences and faith of Christians of past generations. Because they do so, we can look over the letters for personal and wider benefit. Themes emerge as I do so: health concerns, family connections, farming, and faith. These are not unusual. Health, family, work, and faith remain common concerns.
What is served by reading these letters? Partly, they remind us that life and faith in difficult times are not new to Christians in the 21st century. They have been constant challenges throughout history. The letters remind us of the legacy of faith (Heb. 11) and of our need to persevere as followers of Christ (Heb. 10:32-39).
The preserving of these letters, their translation, and their study are important. Harvey and Esther’s teamwork is unique in the EMC; they are currently the only translators working in the EMC Archives. They serve as volunteers, which means as health, time, and interest allow.
Meanwhile, the EMC Archives has hundreds of German documents, only some of which have been translated. The EMC Archives Committee has for years operated on a pittance and with little more than a handful of volunteers at one time. Does anyone else see a need for more volunteers and more funding?
Meanwhile, Harvey and Esther do what they can, and we are grateful to them for it.
In the March 2018 issue of The Messenger, Irene Ascough writes an article called Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Church. It seems to focus mostly on the benefits of mental health and that it is easier to stay healthy than to treat or look after people who are not well. While the church is a potentially positive place for mental well being, it also fosters a culture of shame and expectation (if we could be what we should be) and “sinlessness” that is not conducive to mental health. This is a great area of potential growth for the church to change those kinds of attitudes.
What a mental health seminar/workshop needs is teaching about skills and tools that help people from the pits that they are already in and a safe environment in which to tell their stories. Research shows that stories make up about half of the effective ways in which to live and cope with mental illness. People with mental illness are not inferior people; they are not their “disease,” but people who for various reasons have encountered things that have overwhelmed them. Just like some physical diseases for which there are no cures, mental illness is not necessarily solved by being “cured,” but individuals can have productive lives by learning to cope and recover from their situations.
I have lived with depression for over twenty years and have learned a lot about this and continue to learn. I am always willing to share from my experience.
I hope also that the upcoming mental health session will deal with the recovery part of the process that teaches people how to get there.
Jesus came in obedience to Earth. Jesus did his ministry in obedience. Jesus went to the cross in obedience. Jesus was lifted from the grace and seated at the right hand of God in response to His obedience.
I was recently challenged to perform random acts of kindness as a measure of God’s goodness to us, His children. It was fun and personally rewarding. Then I was asked to do a specific act of obedience. It was not fun and somewhat painful.
I felt like the Pharisee who, upon reflecting on his own performance, was pleased that he was not like the sinner who was cut to the quick with his inadequacy to face God’s glory. As an altruistic Pharisee I was confident in my abilities. As a sinner saved by grace asked to obey a command of God, I could only trust in God’s wisdom, in God’s strength, and in God’s purpose.
I pray that my obedience extends to random acts of kindness, but that it always starts with God’s Word. If I had a New Year’s resolution it would be for obedience. If every day is the first day of the rest of my life, then today and tomorrow, and the day after that, are all new days for a new year of grace ahead.
Thanks be to God, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference