Honouring our founder

October 5, 2016 | Editorial | Volume 20 Issue 20

We are pleased to announce that the family of the late Ted Friesen, the first publisher of The Canadian Mennonite, has agreed to set up—and seed with a $50,000 gift—a fundraising initiative that we are calling the Ted Friesen Legacy Fund. We hope that it will serve as an incentive for others to follow suit in giving major gifts to financially stabilize the 63-year-old publication during an uncertain time of changing denominational structures.

Friesen, who died this past February at the age of 95, was a visionary and church statesman from Altona, Man., where he and his brothers established a printing business that survives to this day. He was “at the heart of many historic developments in Canadian Mennonite life,” wrote Margaret Loewen Reimer, a niece, who paid tribute to him in our June 6 issue.

Ted was a leader in historic developments and in relief work through Mennonite Central Committee. He not only helped establish the first English-language national publication, but, seeing the need for English-language worship in his hometown of Altona, helped to found, along with his wife Linie (Krahn), Altona Mennonite Church in 1962. A conscientious objector himself, he never judged those who signed up, including two of his brothers.

Son Eric wrote in his tribute to his father: “You cannot separate Dad’s Christian faith from the Mennonite context. They were one and the same. But, it must be said, his faith was one of openness to new insights in theology, to the Greek and Jewish foundations of our Christian faith, and to other faiths. He was a thorough-going Mennonite, but he looked outward. His faith was alive and changing to the very end of his days. He was a seeker of truth, not a possessor of truth.”

While the new legacy fund is a fundraising initiative, it is much more than that, having been named after a person of such vision and compassion. Ted Friesen embodies the sustaining vision and purpose of Canadian Mennonite. He lives on in the stories of our congregations and in reflecting our theology and practice.

Just as he had the vision and initiative to bring together the Mennonite world of the 1950s, so today there is a need to bring together our diverse body as the winds of religious and cultural change blow through our ranks. We are seeing our denominational centre—Mennonite Church Canada—diminished in favour of new regional structures. Denominational loyalty, so effectively rallied by Friesen more than a half-century ago, is on the wane.

If Ted were in our midst today, with all the energy and compassion he showed back then, he would be at the forefront of this new era, giving leadership and voice to a new vision. He would likely look to the national publication as his platform and microphone to give direction and wisdom. He would give place to creative thinking and new ways of looking at things.

In that sense, our founding publisher lives on in the pages of Canadian Mennonite. He gave birth to something that, even though it died for a short period in the early 1970s, had found such a place in the hearts of Canadian Mennonites, it was revived in eastern Ontario in 1971 and has carried on ever since.

It was tough back then to rally the leadership around his vision. “We became aware of the immensity of the task before us,” Ted said in a 1999 reflection. “The church was changing. It was a period of flux, with the old trying to maintain the status quo and the new looking for change to meet the needs of the time. . . . To speak to the young people, to speak prophetically to the issues of the day, was urgent.”

Sound familiar? While the issues might have changed, the challenge to be relevant to the needs of this time are the same. It is a tough time for print publications on the religious scene. The 141-year-old Presbyterian Record just announced that it will be closing with its December issue. Right before that, the Western Catholic Reporter said it would be going entirely digital. The Mennonite Brethren Herald came to near-death in recent years if not for the vigorous protest of its readers.

We think that Canadian Mennonite has a central place in the ongoing conversation of MC Canada. The Ted Friesen Legacy Fund will help keep it sustained. We hope you respond generously when asked for support.

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