The Return of Sam Steiner to Faith: Gadfly No Longer?

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As I waded into a six-year project on writing the history of Mennonites in Ontario, I had to think carefully of how I stood in relation to the subject matter. I knew that no historical writing is objective. Each interpreter of past events is shaped by personal heritage, training, and beliefs, not to mention the resources available when making that interpretation. I decided I should be as transparent as possible in describing my perspective and my place in this history of Ontario Mennonites.

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 Sam with older siblings on the farm.

My family upbringing was in an Eastern Ohio Mennonite home, first on a small mixed farm of eighty acres and from age ten in a small town. My father was a Mennonite bishop and my parents were both schoolteachers. In my teens I took an extremely critical view of faith, especially Mennonite faith. Nonetheless I attended Goshen College in Indiana, where I had mixed success academically but had the good fortune to meet my future spouse, Sue Clemmer. Wedding_1969_with_Sams_Parents

1969 wedding to Sue Clemmer, pictured with Sam’s parents.

Through a series of events, including expulsion from the college, I became a political radical and eventually a draft resister, refusing induction into the U.S. military in April 1968. Draft_Protest_1968

Draft protester.

A key shaper of that direction in my thought was participation in the last day of the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, civil rights march in March 1965. I arrived in Canada in late October 1968 as a refugee still alienated from the church of my birth. This story has been interpreted in a drama by Rebecca Steiner [distant cousin], Gadfly: Sam Steiner Dodges the Draft, put on in various places and published by Theatre of the Beat in 2012.

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Sue and Sam celebrate Sam’s Canadian citizenship.

Through the actions of many within the Ontario Mennonite community I found my way back to the church in the early 1970s and became engaged with Anabaptist and Mennonite history, especially as taught by professors Frank H. Epp and Walter Klaassen at Conrad Grebel College. This led to seeking and obtaining the first paid archivist position at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario at Conrad Grebel College in September 1974, where I remained until retirement in December 2008. Those were rich years during which my hands sifted through an enormous pile of documents, photographs, books, sound recordings, and visual recordings that related to the religious and cultural life of Mennonites in Ontario.

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Sam as Mennonite Church of Eastern Canada secretary, 1991.

I also became more directly engaged in the life of the church—first at Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener where I was rebaptized at age 28. My spouse, Sue, became a Mennonite pastor, and I happily followed her to several congregations in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec (MCOQ) and later the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (MCEC). I also participated for many years on the executive committees of MCOQ, MCEC, and Mennonite Church Canada, as well as with national and regional Mennonite historical societies.

This brief personal history reveals several things: First, I did not grow up with Ontario Mennonite history in my blood; it came through my work and church life, though my family history gave me a sense of familiarity with the culture of those Ontario Mennonites descended from Amish and Pennsylvania Mennonite backgrounds.Integration_Committee_Forming_MCEC_Sam_Secretary

Sam (seated, middle) with integration committee forming MCEC.

Second, I am a culturally assimilated Mennonite, though I have been submerged in Mennonite church and denominational life more than most other assimilated Mennonites. This surely affects my objectivity, but in this book I have worked hard to respectfully describe those groups that emphasize greater separation from the world or that come from other cultural backgrounds.

Finally, my history also reveals I am not a trained academic historian. I am an archivist who spent years among the individual trees of the Mennonite forest, gathering and preserving the leaves that told particular stories. I am not a detached observer. I do not approach the history of Mennonites in Ontario as a social historian or as a theological or intellectual historian, though issues of boundaries between church and culture and the influence of theological movements on Mennonites inform my historical observations.

Because of my many years of working within denominational structures and in the formation of the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada, I am particularly fascinated by the workings of church structures and the role of individual stories and events that have led church members to make different decisions about the cultural and theological directions of their church. For these reasons my subtitle describes this work as a “religious history” of Ontario Mennonites.

Chin Christian Church Choir, 2009. MCEC photo

Chin Christian Choir, one of many photos in this book tracing the history of Anabaptists in Canada to contemporary times.

In many ways this project was a labor of love, and I’ve felt privileged to participate in one corner of it. I’ve watched the Mennonite world become more and more diverse. As an assimilated Mennonite with a liberal bias I welcome this, though the diversity has come with much pain in many parts of the church. Future histories will determine where this diversity has taken us.

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To purchase a copy of In Search of Promised Lands: A Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario, go to the MennoMedia store or call 1-800-245-7894 in Canada or the U.S.

Sam Steiner, author. You can \also visit Sam’s blog for this project here

Sam-2008

P.S. What got Sam expelled from Goshen College:

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Reviving Two Mennonite Bestsellers: Meditations for the New Mother and the Expectant Mother

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New 2015 edition

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New 2015 edition

The Backstory: Bestselling Author Helen Good Brenneman

Helen Good Brenneman wrote quite a list of books, two of them bestsellers by anyone’s count. Her first book, Meditations for the New Mother, first published by Herald Press in 1953, has 534,000 copies in print over the last 60 plus years. Meditations for the Expectant Mother, published in 1968 includes 240,000 copies in the last 45 plus years. Together that’s almost three quarters of a million in print. Ask any published author—or publisher—if they’d be happy with those kind of numbers and you’d likely get a whoop and a holler.

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Expectant Mothers was written second, and originally published in a sepia tone.

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New Mothers was written first, and eventually all books in this series were published with color covers.

Notice anything kind of funky about that publication sequence? Helen wrote New Mother first, while she was in the thick of parenting at least two small children (with two more to come). She would have been the original mommy blogger if there had been an Internet back then.

When the publisher saw how well New Mother was doing over the years, they pressed her into service to write another similar title, for expectant mothers. Long after her last pregnancy! But she pulled a second beautiful book together, Meditations for the Expectant Mother.

Helen was a born writer, poet, and fine Christian mother, who also dealt with multiple sclerosis and spent many years in a wheelchair. She and her husband Virgil, a pastor, lived in Goshen, Ind. Since my parents lived near Goshen, growing up I knew of Virgil and Helen, and my mother was a fan of Helen’s books. Mom had heard her speak at women’s meetings, and so in our fairly small world, Helen was a household name.

That was all I knew about Helen until I entered Bethany Christian, a Mennonite high school in Goshen in ninth grade. One of the girls I met early on was Helen’s oldest daughter, Lois Brenneman. I was quite impressed to meet the author’s daughter.

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She did not remain “Lois” or the daughter of a popular bestselling author for long. She announced firmly one day, “I’m just not a Lois. Do I look like a Lois?” For a while she asked us to call her Toby George (as a yearbook autograph reminded me).

P1070156Eventually she married Joe Goldfus and legally changed her name to Tobi Goldfus. She is a clinical social worker and therapist in Germantown, Md., where one of the current issues she deals with is social media/cyberspace and its impact with adolescents/young adults. The parents of one adult son, Tobi presents workshops and seminars on the topic.

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Helen’s oldest daughter, Tobi Goldfus, today.

 

P1070149Tobi was a fun-loving friend who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. We hung out in a group of about eight girls. (That’s me standing behind Tobi in choir. What fun!)

 

P1070146Our gang had slumber parties, congregated at class parties or ballgames, ate lunch together if our class schedules allowed, and when we became old enough to drive, cruised around town to great peals of laughter over in jokes. Then I moved away my senior year of high school, stayed out of college a year, and while I ended up at the same college as Tobi, Eastern Mennonite, we were in different class years with varied circles of friends. Thus our ways pretty much parted.

So when I was assigned to work on bringing back into print a series of meditation books which were long-running bestsellers for Herald Press, including the two by Helen Good Brenneman, I was excited. What an honor. And I was just a little uncertain as to what Tobi and her family would think about having these books—written in the late ’50s and early ’60s—in print again.

While many readers and fans of the devotionals had continued to ask for the Meditation books in bookstores and hospital gift shops (according to our market research), the books, writing, and era were, after all the ’60s. Not 2015. Have you considered how much has changed about having babies and raising children in 50 years—including our language (even our theological language)? Parenting roles, rules about fathers in delivery rooms, equipment, trends about how to care for babies? A sea change!

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My first born grandson, Samuel.

Yet there are things that remain the same. Babies are still mostly born after a long, hard, and painful labor. Loving and doting mothers and fathers still pace through sleepless nights and jiggle incessantly crying babies. No matter how many gadgets and types of baby equipment we have, the love ingredient is the same. (I can only imagine how Helen would have benefited, with her limited mobility because of MS, to have had a video monitor watching over her little ones in the nursery!) Our files contain several cards and letters that indicate how much of a struggle Helen had even compiling the manuscripts because of her vision and other limitations.

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When Tobi heard the news about the books coming back in print, she wrote that it was a “surprise and delight.” She was glad to hear that the language was updated a bit “to better connect with today’s women.” She also said that she and her siblings are extremely appreciative for the way that the royalties from these two books helped to pay for their mother’s nursing care in her later years after their father, Virgil, could no longer physically care for her. Helen died in 1994. Virgil was a pastor or church administrator most of his life and he remained active and involved in church and community life until he passed away in 2006. Their additional children, Don, lives near Vancouver, BC, writes, and has a milder version of MS; Beki Denman is an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis; and youngest son John lives in Goshen, retired from the Teamsters, and works for South Bend transit.

Helen was actually born in Harrisonburg where Herald Press is now based, and grew up outside of Washington, D. C.  She began working for the U. S. Department of Agriculture at age 16, and at 18 attended Eastern Mennonite College for one year before returning to work in Washington. Virgil was originally from Iowa; Helen and Virgil married in Amsterdam right after the end of World War II. There they lived at a refugee camp out of which Helen wrote, But Not Forsaken, a novel about the German Mennonite refugees she encountered there.

Helen also wrote:

  • My Comforters, 1967
  • House by the Side of the Road, 1971
  • Ring A Dozen Doorbells: 12 Women Tell It Like It Is, 1973
  • Learning to Cope, 1975
  • Marriage: Agony and Ecstasy: Stepping Stones to a Maturing Relationship, 1975
  • Morning Joy: Meditations for Those Who Have Suffered Loss, 1981

There may have been more—she was a frequent writer in the denominational weekly magazine of the time, Gospel Herald. What a rich and beautiful legacy to leave the larger church and her family. I would be remiss not to point out that Herald Press, as a church publisher which has had its own financial ups and downs through the years, also benefited from her legacy—and indeed a small portion of my own modest salary is paid by these two devotional books written by a friend’s mother so long ago. How cool is that?

So that’s a long back story with a little peek into the family life of this bestselling and well-loved author.

Buy Helen’s meditation books here!

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Meditations for the Expectant Mother                       Meditations for the New Mother

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We’d love to hear your own story related to either of Helen’s Herald Press Meditation books: did you or your mother ever use either Meditations for Expectant Mothers or Meditations for the New Mother? Send us your story or her experience—even just a few words of what the books meant for them, and we’ll place your name in a drawing for free copies of both books! Please share this also with anyone else you know who read and used these books. Thank you!

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MeditationsNewParents

In addition to Helen’s books, a third complimentary title geared to both mothers and fathers and written in the 90s by Sara Wenger Shenk and Gerald Shenk, Meditations for New Parents, is also back in print. Also watch for three more books in the Meditation series from Herald Press coming out this August: Meditations for Newlyweds, Meditations for Single Moms, and Meditations for Adoptive Parents.

Melodie Davis, managing editor

AnotherWayWriter

Passing Faith On by Steve Carpenter

My wife Chris and I have entered a new phase of life. We are grandparents.

S&C with Michelle 5 Days oldMore specifically, we are Opa and Oma, terms of endearment from my wife’s German roots. For Christmas, parents Janelle and John gave me a ball cap with “Opa” embroidered on it, and Chris received a key chain which says “My favorite people call me Oma.”

Opa                 Michelle Jan 2015 005
Our bundle of joy arrived early on the morning of December 10th. Six hours later we were at the hospital holding little Michelle, our first grandchild, born to Janelle and John Mack. It’s hard not to be proud grandparents, although I often remind myself not to overdo it, as many are childless and even some with children do not have grandchildren. Yet we find ourselves making plans to travel two and a half hours to Silver Spring, Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C. to stop in and see Michelle and her parents. After our last visit Janelle remarked, “I think we’ve seen more of you in the last few months than we have for some time!” Duh! Yes, we are the proverbial doting grandparents.

IMG_0374 (2)Granddaughter Michelle

Parenting and grandparenting bring new responsibilities. Not only must parents provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs, they must also consider the baby’s spiritual well-being. This is often an opportunity for young parents to return to their own spiritual roots as they seek to provide their child with a spiritual and moral foundation. Dorothy Beidler, writing in the January, 2015 edition of Purpose states, “Passing on God’s love may be the unique, solitary task and joy of each generation.”

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We at MennoMedia are well aware of the need to nurture faith, not only in children but in their parents. That is why we have revised and reissued a classic bestselling series of books called Meditations. There are six books in the series. Each offers a month’s worth of devotional reflections including prayers, poems, scripture, and words of inspiration. Each is written for a specific life event: marriage, pregnancy, adoption, and giving birth. The first three books are now available including: Meditations for New Parents, Meditations for the Expectant Mother, and Meditations for the New Mother. (The remaining three in the series will be out in August, 2015.)

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If you too are a grandparent, you may be interested in Elsie Rempel’s Please Pass the Faith: The Art of Spiritual Grandparenting. This is an important book for both biological and honorary grandparents who want to pass their faith on to their offspring. This doesn’t always come easily, nor is it a given in Christian homes.

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I hope we at MennoMedia can strengthen and encourage you in your faith, and also as you work at nurturing faith in children and grandchildren.

Blessings in your work, worship and witness,

Steve C 2012
Steve Carpenter, Director of Development

How have you passed the love of God on to your children and grandchildren?