Life in the 80s

Short pants and fundamentalism: An interview with Bill Block

March 7, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 05
Aaron Epp | Associate Editor
Bill Block, a retired pastor in Winnipeg, turned 90 last month. Photo by Aaron Epp.

From southern Manitoba to B.C., and from Idaho to India, Bill Block had a long and varied career as a pastor.


Along the way, he and his wife Dolores, who died in 2019, raised four children. Block, who is a founding member of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, spoke with Canadian Mennonite four days after his 90th birthday.


Bill Block in 1990. Photo courtesy of the Mennonite Heritage Archives.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


What is your earliest memory of church? 


When I was four or five, we had a Sunday School Christmas Eve program. I remember confronting my mom and my aunt Margaret—I was complaining because I was wearing short pants with stockings. “I’m not going up there in short pants to say my Spruch (reading).”


I was too old to wear short pants. But Aunt Margaret said, “Oh but you’re so handsome” or whatever… I could see right through that.   That’s my first memory of church. 


What is your best memory of church?


I have so bloomin’ many, you know? Christmas Eve again. My kid is up there reciting at Christmastime and his poem had a line, “In Jesus’s name,” and he’s a preacher’s kid so he puts an “Amen” on the end of it, which wasn’t in the script.


That’s a bit of a highlight that sticks out in my mind. It was quite an improvement over the short pants, I would say.


What is your most difficult memory of church?


The great divisions and separations that have come from our sexuality journey— just the suspicion and the dividedness and the judgmentalism that comes with that.


I think it goes both ways: You can be a fundamentalist at both ends of the spectrum.


Tell us about the people who have influenced you the most.


At [Canadian Mennonite Bible College], I ran into a guy named Nicholas Dick who was around six years older than me. He took me under his wing in a way. He was a thinker, and he knew some things about the world, so he raised an awareness in my mind about some realities about life and a little bit of philosophy.


Professor Jacob Enz was also an influence. He taught Old Testament courses. He was a polio survivor, walked with a limp, ponderous—the thing I learned from him is that a messy desk is okay. His desk was a mess, and he was slow, but if you waited for him, there was wisdom.


Can you share a favourite book, passage, poem or song?


“Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” (#98 in The Mennonite Hymnal [1969]), attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. I sang it to Dolores many a night: “Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts! Thou fount of life! Thou light of men! From the best bliss that man imparts, we turn unfilled to Thee again. Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood; Thou savest those that on Thee call; To them that seek Thee, Thou art good, to them that find Thee, all in all.”


If I ever get trapped and someone says, “Hey, come up here and preach,” I would preach that. The whole thing is just a beautiful sermon.


What don’t young people understand about old age?


They can’t imagine it happening to them. They have a very limited grasp, imagination-wise, of what it is. And I think that’s as it should be. I don’t think that’s a defect. Why should they get that?


What is the hardest thing about getting old?


Fear of losing your mind or not being able to communicate. The fear of losing yourself, your dignity, your knowledge and your place in the scheme of things.


Also, I had a friend, Bill Kruger, and he would say something in Low German: Eena weet soo fael, oba kjeena frajcht. (One knows so much but nobody asks.) I think that many an old person has that feeling.


What is the best thing about getting old?


Discovering that fellowship and friendship are worth more than money. I just made that up. I wonder if anybody’s ever thought of that before. [Laughs.] You should write that down.

Bill Block, a retired pastor in Winnipeg, turned 90 last month. Photo by Aaron Epp.

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I appreciate your simple forthright candour, Bill!

Well said.

Appreciate again, your support and mentoring in the past.

Appreciated this interview with Bill. As always, thoughtful, faith-filled, and with that characteristic Block humour. Indeed, “Eena weet soo fael, oba kjeena frajcht”.

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