Still in need of a village square

March 28, 2012 | Editorial | Number 7
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

This is the time of year when Canadian Mennonite’s 12 board members gather for their annual meeting to look backward and forward to see how the national publication has met the needs of its readers, has ongoing financial viability and is meeting the challenges of a New Media age.



This year’s discussions focused on how a traditional print product, which uses the tried and true method of putting words on paper and distributing copies through the mail, can survive in a world of new information-delivery systems that are shifting primarily to electronic venues, mostly the Internet.



While an older generation still feels most comfortable holding the publication in its hands and digesting the content at its leisure, a younger generation has migrated almost entirely to the computer screen, where colour, flashy images and fewer words (try 140 characters on a Tweet), and instant news accounts fill their minds. Many of them have neither the patience for, nor interest in, anything that might demand their attention for more than a span of three to five minutes. Information is instant and passing.



The only thing that holds their attention longer are YouTube videos, such as the 29-minute Kony 2012, which recently went viral in a matter of minutes, having amassed more than 100 million viewers while elevating awareness of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa to stratospheric heights. It stirred up worldwide discussion on the Internet before dying down after a week.



    So, how does a small publication, with approximately 33,000 readers in a small faith community comprising 230 congregations of Mennonite Church Canada, compete for attention in such a swirling, fast-moving media environment? Do we ditch print and go electronic as fast as we can? Do we beef up our online presence with lots of visual images, photographs and video clips that capture and hold the attention of younger readers, and hope that the older readers will eventually adapt and follow?



On this speeding train, though, there is one constant: The need for our designated community of faith to “come and reason together” around the tenets of our Anabaptist Christian faith.



Let me call it the “village square.” Metaphorically, of course. Most of us, by now, have moved out of our rural villages into the big cities. We are no longer pro-

vincially ethnic, meaning mostly European by origin, but are multi-ethnic. We have no creed (only a confession), no pope, no centuries-old religious centre to give us boundaries and direction, no Mecca to which to make pilgrimage. Our origins came out of a radical movement, not an overhaul of rusty religious forms.



We are a people scattered, part of a worldwide communion numbering 1.7 million, loosely held together at best by “seven core convictions.” We live by an ancient text, the Bible. Our infrastructure is a series of “partnerships” held in place by our devotion to an invisible head, Jesus Christ, who is not here in body, but in Spirit “dwelling within.” We are known for our peacemaking and the transformation of lives.



Because of our voluntary association, as John Roth calls it, we will always be vulnerable in the face of nationalism, militarism, bigotry and greed. That’s why we need the village square, like Canadian Mennonite, to come together, in whatever communication form, to give voice to our common life together—our joys, our fears, our questions and the news about each other.





Staff change



Graeme Stemp-Morlock of Kitchener, Ont., is our new advertising representative, succeeding Lisa Metzger, who resigned to take a position with Mennonite Savings and Credit Union. Stemp-Morlock comes to this position with experience as a freelance science writer, photographer, media relations writer and news broadcaster. Along with filling this part-time role, he is a stay-at-home-parent which, in his words, requires “the ability to work well with people of various ages and languages in intense situations while maintaining a sense of humour.” He and his wife Laura are the parents of two daughters, aged six and three. He holds a bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Waterloo.

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