You know you’re in a Mennonite home when you walk into the living room and see a copy of Canadian Mennonite on the coffee table.
Not just any publication gets to reside in this place of privilege. Advertising flyers and junk mail covet the coffee table as a place of inside access to the family, but they’re not allowed. They often go directly from the mailbox to the recycling bin.
An issue of Canadian Mennonite is permitted to encamp on the coffee table for two weeks, until a fresh edition arrives. It serves as a symbol of denominational identity, as a quiet witness to living room guests who are not Christians, as a connection to the other 13,393 homes that receive the magazine, and as a forum for information about church issues.
I was asked to write an editorial for this spot while Page 2’s usual occupant, Dick Benner, editor and publisher, takes a well-deserved rest. I’ve decided to aim my opinions at the magazine itself, starting with the cover and flipping through the pages.
There was brief discussion at a recent Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service board meeting about changing the magazine’s cover to use glossy paper. Let’s not. The plain newsprint of Canadian Mennonite fits the Anabaptist virtues of humility and simplicity. I like a church where our pastors don’t wear opulent vestments, where our buildings aren’t cathedrals of architectural excess, and where most Mennonite women are able to resist the worldly pressure to dress like Barbie dolls in full make-up and stiletto high heels. Like our church, our magazine’s cover shouldn’t be glossy and pretentious.
Turning over the wonderfully rough-hewn pages, it’s immediately clear this magazine has an unusual order of content. While most publications display news articles prominently and put opinion columns towards the rear, Canadian Mennonite reverses that order.
Opinion columns dominate the front pages, a smart decision because the magazine has cultivated a stable of interesting columnists. My must-read favourites are those who write strong opinions and sometimes poke my worldview, such as Aiden Enns, Phil Wagler and Troy Watson. Their voices differ from each other, but most are professional communicators in their day jobs and have the experience to maintain a tone of Mennonite niceness. Even when provocative, they’re polite.
By contrast, niceness is not necessary for publication in the letters forum, “Readers write,” where readers sometimes get refreshingly frank and twist the trunk of the elephant in the room. The best of the letters are passionate outcries from people in the pews who are moved to pound one home on the Wittenberg door. The only letters I dislike are from people who take Bible verses out of context and fling them as weapons to hurt other people, such as homosexuals.
Going deeper into the magazine, there are news stories about the various area churches. I always read anything about Mennonite Church Canada and MC Manitoba because they often affect my home congregation in Winnipeg. I usually skim the reports from more-distant area churches, to see if they’re doing anything interesting.
My pet peeve is captions that don’t include the names of everyone in the picture. I urge everyone submitting pictures to include names, double-checked for accurate spelling, to help readers identify faces. How can we play the Mennonite name game if you don’t provide names?
Towards the end of the magazine is a wonderful section added about two years ago. Co-edited by twentysomethings Emily Loewen and Rachel Bergen, Young Voices is a forum by and for Mennos who are coming of age and will, hopefully, shoulder the future of our churches. Many Christian denominations worry that the next generation doesn’t care enough about church. Thumbs up to Editor Benner for giving young Mennos ownership of a section to let them connect nationally with other young Mennos.
The connection of Mennonites of all ages is the most valuable function of the magazine you are holding. We’re a relatively small denomination of 31,000 baptized believers spread across a country with way too much geography.
A reliable communication vehicle is essential to Mennonites, especially since our face-to-face talk-time was decreased when we reduced national assemblies from every year to every second year. Unlike top-down churches, such as Roman Catholics, Mennonites put a priority on discussion to fine-tune theological interpretation and resolve conflicts.
To work it out, we talk it out. That’s our way. And this magazine is our place to talk.