The February issue of The Mennonite magazine celebrates our 20th anniversary as a publication. As part of the issue, all four former and current editors of the publication reflect on their work and the publication’s impact. Read more reflections online or subscribe to receive more original features in your inbox each month.
Over its 20-year existence, The Mennonite has had four editors. In the next pages, they reflect on their experiences during their terms.
Lorne Peachey served as editor from the magazine’s beginning in 1998 until 2000. Everett J. Thomas served from 2000 to 2014. Anna Groff served from 2014 to 2015. She was then named executive director of The Mennonite, Inc., and Gordon Houser was named editor of the magazine.
During those 20 years, Mennonite Church USA has undergone many changes, too many to innumerate here. Among them, it has seen its total membership shrink as conferences and congregations have left. At the same time, membership of racial-ethnic congregations, particularly Hispanic churches, has grown. The Mennonite colleges and universities have seen increasing numbers of racial-ethnic students enroll at their schools.
The magazine has not always reflected this reality in its pages, though we are working hard to remedy that.
While changes have occurred in the church, so too has society at large seen many changes, including increasing income inequality and a growing awareness of sexual violence, racial prejudice and environmental destruction. Movements such as BlackLivesMatter and #metoo have influenced church life as well.
In this issue we look back on 20 years with the hope that we will learn from our history and become even more faithful in helping readers glorify God, grow in faith and become agents of healing and hope in the world.—Gordon Houser
Grace and support: A community of peace in turbulent times
It was Nov. 3, 1994. Gordon Houser, editor of the (former) The Mennonite for the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC), and I, editor of Gospel Herald for the (former) Mennonite Church (MC), had met in Elkhart, Ind. We were scheduled to address a gathering of Associated (now Anabaptist) Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) faculty and students about our vision for joining our two publications, should our two groups decide to merge.
That morning we woke to the news that Marlin Miller, AMBS president, had died of a massive heart attack. The seminary community was in shock. Obviously there would be no faculty-student forum.
What to do?
What Gordon and I did was meet in a local restaurant and, after helping each other deal with the AMBS tragedy, brainstorm what a new, merged magazine might look like. While not nearly all our ideas survived, I’m surprised how many did. Even to this day.
The uncertainty of those early days continued with us as we became more serious in our planning. At one of the first meetings of editors, publishers and board members to work out merging details, I remember looking up to see a contingent from Canada at the door. I, for one, didn’t know they were coming. They came to emphasize the fact that in no way would a new publication speak for them; they would have their own.
Those were hard words to hear at that point. But they were probably the right ones, given that the GC-MC merger resulted in Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.
What surprised me most was the emotion that surrounded what the new publication should be called. Naming the magazine became a bargaining chip in the details of GC-MC integration being discussed at the Mennonite General Assembly in 1995.
As I recall, the argument went something like this: The name of the new denomination should be the Mennonite Church; after all, other groups were naming their denominations by their historical distinctive. But since Mennonite Church had been the designation for one of the former groups, then the name of the new denominational magazine should be that of the other. (There were also opinions about whether an MC or a GC person should edit the new magazine, but someone else needs to sort that out.)
Not everyone was buying it, particularly delegates from Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference. In the middle of the discussion, they called for a conference caucus. Forty members strong, they couldn’t hear each other in the crowded convention room, so they migrated en masse to a hallway.
Being at that meeting not only to learn the fate of the new publication but also to report on the meeting for Gospel Herald, I followed the group out the door. Standing on the edge, listening, I was amazed by what I heard. As editor, I had never counted on much support from Lancaster. But here were these delegates, defending not only the name but also the content of my publication. That was one of my best moments in the integration process.
As might be expected, there were many disagreements as the new publication took shape. Should it include births, marriages and deaths (a Gospel Herald practice)? Should it be weekly (Gospel Herald) or biweekly (The Mennonite)? Which columnists and which writers from which publication should be invited to continue? What stance should the new The Mennonite take on divisive issues? In those days, the women-in-leadership controversy was beginning to wind down; what to do about LGBTQ members was just heating up.
Most of the readers of the new The Mennonite were kind, friendly, supportive. Even when they disagreed with what they read—or with my reasons for them needing to read it in the first place.
That grace and support is what I hope for The Mennonite as it continues to be the communication voice of our church. That hasn’t been an easy road in the past; it appears equally difficult today. The current disagreements about human sexuality and its expression in the church have many wondering if we will survive. The new era of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever else is being invented has editors scratching their heads and wondering what their role is. Today, everyone can “publish”; no one needs an “editor”—unless as a scapegoat for “fake news,” i.e., something one disagrees with.
In these turbulent times, we need The Mennonite and its editors as much as ever if we are to be the community of peace, love and justice to which we say we aspire. We may not agree with everything we read or the way in which we read it. And who knows: The Mennonite may not even be in print form much longer. But if we are serious about being a community of believers, then we must continue to communicate in some form, helping us understand ourselves and each other.
Lorne Peachey, Scottdale, Pa., spends his retirement biking, reading and traveling.
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