Bill Block has more than 1,300 sermons that sit in his bottom filing cabinet drawer, evidence of his many years of working for the Mennonite church as a pastor, chaplain and conference minister.
Although retired from active church work, Block’s desire to nurture the soul has not retired. He says he has been drawn to writing devotional articles that offer “something more theological about the teachings of Christian faith, something that would touch on and invite thought. It’s much of a sideline. Sometimes I leave it for a long period of time,” he adds, but he is always drawn back to devotional writing.
When Darryl Neustaedter Barg, associate director of communications for Mennonite Church Manitoba, learned from Block that he was quietly creating devotional pieces, but with no clear goal to publishing them, he began to think of ways they could be shared.
“I was amazed that he was doing this simply because he felt moved to,” says Neustaedter Barg. “This is creative and remarkable.”
It took several years for MC Manitoba to develop a website that is more functional and user-friendly, but last summer Neustaedter Barg was able to begin posting Block’s devotionals under the title ‘Stayed on thee’ on a regular bi-weekly basis at the area church’s website: http://mennochurch.mb.ca/category/resources/stayed-on-thee/.
Block hopes that the material will encourage thought and meditation on the Christian faith. “I follow a bit of a systematic theological approach, rather than a biblical theological approach,” he explains. “I use the themes of Christian faith: trinity, human sin, creation, salvation, truth, discipleship.”
Writing from an Anabaptist Mennonite perspective, Block imagines a readership that is like “many of the parishioners I’ve had, who may not have studied at a Bible college but are interested in thinking about their faith. I also hope I can reach young adults.”
However, his devotional writing didn’t start with an audience in mind. “Through writing I am able to clarify my own thinking,” he says. Through his years of writing and self-study, Block has sharpened his own understanding of his faith. “I have a master grid, ‘God’s Order,’ that frames my theology and I try to work that into these writings,” he says.
“Essentially, God is first and most important in all of life,” Block says. “Then humankind is next and we are all equal in the sight of God. That is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. Thirdly is the created order. Whenever this order is tilted, sin and problems result. This is what guides me ethically. Does it keep God above all else? Does it keep creation below humanity?”
Providing care for his wife Delores has been Block’s main focus in retirement. Translation projects and woodworking are retirement sidelines, but always he is drawn back to feeding the soul, whether by meditating on each word of the Lord’s Prayer during wakeful hours at night or shaping a devotional that will encourage his and others’ faith.