What do you think?

September 9, 2015 | Editorial | Volume 19 Issue 18

It’s been 14 years since Canadian Mennonite conducted an independent readership survey. In the next edition (Sept. 28), print and digital readers will find a list of questions that invite your feedback, solicit your opinion on content and attempt to ascertain your reading habits in both venues—print and digital.

For more than six decades, this publication has given voice to the person in the pew, to our leaders at the congregational, area church (previously conferences) and denominational levels. It has helped shape the narrative of life within the bounds of some 230 congregations and 33,000 members comprising the faith community of Mennonite Church Canada.  

We like to think of Canadian Mennonite as the “village square” of our denomination, where we come together every two weeks to talk about our life together, to challenge each other on our faith journey and to keep up to date on church family events (milestones, calendar events). It is a place where, in broad strokes, we share an identity as a modern Anabaptist/Mennonite community, but where, more and more as part of a global church, we temper our tendency toward protecting and promoting a cultural heritage in favour of opening our doors and hearts to others who are not like us.

Likewise, in the communication field, we are moving from a solely print product to a digital one where more and more of us are dwelling. For the larger period of Canadian Mennonite’s life, we came to you via your mailbox.  From the testimony of many older readers, it is a welcome guest, rising to the level of a letter from home, helping them keep in touch with sisters and brothers across the church, maintaining that strong family bond.

Now, all that is changing—and rapidly. To keep abreast of fast-pacing events, many of you now spend more time on your computer, your digital tablet, your smart phone, than you do reading newspapers and magazines. Information online is immediate and visually pleasing. You are made aware of important events as they happen, not waiting for the cumbersome process of putting together stories and opinion on 32 or 40 pages and reading them two to four weeks later. An item is posted on Facebook and in minutes your friends are weighing in on the merits of the information and sharing it with a host of their friends.

This evolution in communication has been likened to the invention of the printing press, more than five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. The press completely changed the way persons communicated. It opened up a whole new world of spreading information. The digital revolution of today is young, by comparison, and nobody knows for sure where it is headed. We are in this curious time between the old and new—between the power of the printed word and the speed and immediacy of the digital.

It is precisely because of this new, sometimes puzzling, phenomenon that it is important to hear from you, our readers, through this upcoming survey. Our mission remains unchanged, but the way in which our product is delivered is undergoing a huge change.

We need to know your expectations, your thoughts on how and what we are doing, and how you receive information. Please do us a favour us by taking a few minutes of your time to complete the survey and send it back to us.

The Vernon Leis story

We have been accused, wrongly, of sitting on the devastating story of the alleged sexual misconduct by the late Vernon Leis, deceased now for 21 years. Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) first alerted us to the story of the leader’s misconduct between publishing the last issue and this one.

We had no intention of not publishing the story, but first did some background checking, off the record, with officials at MCEC and also contacted the Leis family to give a statement. MCEC would not divulge anything about the investigation process, citing “confidentiality,” and the Leis family, after some conversation back and forth, decided not to comment.

We think that it is only fair to get more background, since it is very unusual for a person to be charged this long time after his death. That’s why we wanted to satisfy ourselves as to the investigative process and to give the Leis survivors a chance to speak. Both the abused and the surviving family are victims. As a faith community, we should care for both.

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i am very upset by the story in the KW Record.
Pastor Leis and his family were our neighbours here in Elmira for many years. If the woman in question felt it was best for her to come forward to clear her conscience that should be between her, her family, and any professional help. If Mr Leis is named then her name should also be published. If it's only to protect her family that is wrong. Who is protecting the Leis family.
How dare the church smear his name . The man is no longer with us, so I t's her word against a dead man. Let it go!
Helga Bolender

I am very disappointed with MCEC for bringing this story forward into the public. This should have been dealt with many years ago when Mr. Leis was still alive. It is most unfair to name his name now when he is unable to defend himself or to work towards reconciliation. Where is the confidentiality for the Leis family? I expected more from our church conference.

I don't *know* if MCEC did the right thing in sharing these allegations about Vernon Leis, but I trust that those MCEC individuals were in the best position to determine the most appropriate course of action. I trust that the evidence that they acted upon was credible and compelling (and that it can't be publicly shared for any number of reasons); I trust that sharing these allegations was done with the permission of the alleged victim, and that it was done with a view to assisting in the healing of that alleged victim; and I trust that they believed that these allegations, though painful, were something that the Mennonite community at large needed to be aware of.

Having said all that, I agree that it is unfortunate when allegations are made against someone who is unable to defend himself or herself (in this case, because the person accused has been dead for many years). It's unfortunate that the accused's family have had an aspect of a beloved family member's character called into question.

So, all in all, this is a situation where the "correct" course of action is difficult to know. Sharing the allegations might cause pain but it might also cause healing; not sharing the allegations might prevent some pain, but might also prevent some healing. I trust that MCEC spent much time and energy discerning what they consider the best course of action. Accordingly, I don't think there is any reason to make angry statements such as "How dare the church smear his name." We can disagree on whether the course of action taken was the right action, but we can still trust that all involved were aiming to do the right thing, and that they were in the best position to make a decision about what to do. The decision that was reached could not have been an easy one. Right or wrong, I respect them for having the courage and integrity to take on and deal with a "no win" situation.

"We think that it is only fair to get more background": The task of the journalist is to bring facts to light in the service of truth. Sounds to me like Canadian Mennonite is doing its job.

I am dismayed at MCEC leadership to come up with such a course of action to reveal one name and not disclose the other name. There is very little transparent in this incomplete story of what happen.
This in not the way Jesus would have handled it. Jesus did not expose sin to shame a family. Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone!!!

I think that anyone who has been abused by a church leader has a very long, painful road to healing. That road to healing often takes years, often is silenced, often is disbelieved. Church leaders have access to numerous vulnerable people. Part of healing for a survivor of abuse can be reaching out to others who have been abused by the same person. This is challenging especially for church leaders whose influence was very wide. How is that person supposed to find other survivors, they obviously can't put an ad in the Canadian Mennonite saying, "I was abused by Vernon Leis, seeking other survivors". I am thankful that this survivor of abuse trusted MCEC enough to make a complaint, that they followed up on this, and it's appropriate for the Canadian Mennonite to publish the allegations. My heart also is heavy for friends and family of the accused, this is a painful time. But holding our church leaders to account for boundary crossings is important. Protecting the identity of a survivor of abuse by a church leader is the least we can do.

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