Mennonite Worship and Song Committee first meeting Sept. 22-25

Photo News Releases
September 28, 2016

[Photo 1]

16-09-21-parkview-mc-imgp1551-72dpiAdam Tice, left, gathers input from Karen Moshier-Shenk, a member of Park View Mennonite Church at the songfest prior to the start of Mennonite Worship and Song Committee meetings in Harrisonburg, Va. September 22-25, 2016. Tice noted that for him, as an ethnic Mennonite who never was actually a part of the Mennonite church until he got to Goshen College, “Hymnal: A Worship Book shaped my life and has made me a Mennonite. I find it energizing and exciting to be a part of this committee.” SaeJin Lee said of Bradley Kauffman’s leadership as project director: “I’m appreciating Bradley’s leadership and non-anxious spirit; he’s creating room for honest discussion of issues and is comfortable not having things all figured out.” Mike Erb added, “The diversity and experience each one brings makes me very hopeful and very energized for the task.” The new music and worship resources collection is planned for release in 2020.

[Photo 2]


Members of the of the new Mennonite Worship and Song Committee take a break at their first meeting September 22-25, 2016 at Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va. Committee members include (first row left to right): Bradley Kauffman, project director; SaeJin Lee; Karen Gonzol, editorial assistant; Katie Graber;  Adam Tice, text editor; Emily Grimes; Sarah Kathleen Johnson, worship resources editor. Second row, Amy Gingerich, editorial director for MennoMedia; Cynthia Neufeld Smith; Mike Erb; Tom Harder; Darryl Neustaedter Barg; Paul Dueck; Benjamin Bergey, music editor, and Anneli Loepp Thiessen.

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Photos by Merrill Miller

Christian’s Hope by Ervin Stutzman released by Herald Press

September 28, 2016
News releasechristianshope_cmyk

Christian’s Hope by Ervin Stutzman released by Herald Press
Third novel completes Return to Northkill trilogy

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ontario—With Christian’s Hope, author Ervin Stutzman, also executive director of Mennonite Church USA, concludes his Return to Northkill trilogy. Published by Herald Press, this historical novel, set in the 18th century, is a based on a true story of warfare, nonviolence, and moral choice.

The first novel in the series, Jacob’s Choice, p1100119describes the historic French and Indian War massacre and aftermath in which an Amish father and two sons were kidnapped and their family killed. Joseph’s Dilemma looks at war and forgiveness through the eyes of a son adopted by his Native American captors. In Christian’s Hope, the second surviving son returns from captivity to find himself no longer at home in Amish culture and questioning his beliefs and identity.

Universal themes emerge in this story from centuries ago, said Stutzman in an interview. Christian Hochstetler faces interfaith questions about culture and the scope of God’s love.

He questions who he is after his unwilling return from his adopted Native American home after eight years away. Is he Amish? Is he Indian? What clothes should he wear? Who is his true family? Which faith does he claim?

The key theme of Christian’s Hope is the question of life’s purpose, Stutzman said. Christian is a young man of 20 who is considering marriage and faith and asking, “What is the purpose for my life? How do I make sense of what has happened to me?”

Stutzman based his trilogy on documented evidence about the Hochstetler family, adding ervinstutzmandetails and dialogue to the known historical facts. In careful consultation with the available documents, Stutzman also considered the legacy of the story and contemporaneous history. “It could have happened this way, based on cultural assumptions of that time,” he said.

Jacob’s Choice, Joseph’s Dilemma, Christian’s Hope: the titles are significant, said Stutzman. “They get at decisions—the way people think and work, what life presents, and how we deal with it.”

Christian’s Hope is available for $14.99 USD from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or, as well as at bookstores. Jacob’s Choice and Joseph’s Dilemma are available at the same price. Jacob’s Choice is also available in an expanded edition featuring maps, family charts, and other historical background for $29.99 USD. Study guides for all three books are available online at the MennoMedia store under “Study Guides.”

—Ardell Stauffer

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Author Interview—Christian’s Hope by Ervin Stutzman

Ervin Stutzman is the author of Christian’s Hope, just released by Herald Press. He also authored the first two books of the Return to Northkill trilogy, Jacob’s Choice and Joseph’s Dilemma, as well as other fiction and nonfiction. He was interviewed by Ardell Stauffer.

Did you start this project knowing it would be a trilogy?


Ervin Stutzman, right, enjoys conversation at an earlier book signing at Gospel Book Store in Berlin, Ohio.

I was planning one book. I had a fiction coach who, after several months, suggested a trilogy. As a result, these stories are much better as a series.

The focus of each book is different. First is the father, Jacob Hochstetler, and his experience of the tragic attack in Pennsylvania—the typical Amish story that is told. I expanded it by looking at what he does within his captivity and when he returns. So the first volume is the settler-centered point of view. Joseph’s Dilemma is set in the Indian village, and it helps us understand the Native American point of view. This third book takes another tack: What was it like to come back to an Amish home after living in an Indian village for eight years? This is the “third-culture kid” point of view that children of mission workers frequently experience as they grow into adulthood.

What first attracted you to this story as a possible novel or novels?

Having heard it as a young adult, seeing it in a genealogy book, hearing there had been skits or plays about it, intrigued me—it’s a family story. I’m related to the progenitor of the Hochstetler family, as are many Swiss-German Mennonites.

What is it about this story, this history, that keeps it known and in circulation among Mennonites and Amish after more than two hundred years?

Because Jacob Hochstetler is an icon for the Amish church. Like the martyr Dirk Willems for the Mennonites, his is a story of nonresistance. It’s a story we tell ourselves, a myth, in that sense: it helps define who we are in relation to our enemies. It’s not always true [of us], of course; that is why it is told.

How much actual history did you have to go on, and how much did you use the fiction writer’s license to expand beyond the facts?

The Jacob Hochstetler Family Association published a small book by Beth Hostetler Mark, Our Flesh and Blood, a documentary history with original documents in German and English. This is the best resource available.

That was a jumping-off point. I followed the basic rule: if documents existed, I make the book true to that. I study other documents for that period. I try to be true to history as we know it, the facts as they’ve come down. It could have happened this way, based on cultural assumptions of that time. A lot is my imagination. This is 900 pages of material based on maybe 50 pages of legacy and maybe 10 pages of documents written at the time.

“Choice,” “Dilemma,” “Hope”—your subtitles describe themes of questioning, choosing, possibilities. Is there a main theme that drives “Christian’s Hope”?

That theme is “hope” because this book is more future-looking. Book 1 makes the point that we as people make a choice to be nonresistant—how Jacob made that choice. Book 2 is about, who is Joseph going to be now that he has been adopted into an Indian tribe? The themes are war and forgiveness. Book 3 is more future-oriented: what Christian had hoped could happen. The titles get at decisions, the way people think and work, what life presents, and how we deal with it.

What’s different about looking back, and reimagining, this 18th-century story from the perspective of the 21st century? Are you just telling history, or are you speaking to modern issues too?

All the themes are universal. What’s the nature of community? How do we deal with people different from us? The books deal with Native Americans and settlers, the meaning of church membership, how clothing brings identity, and family conflict. Jacob is the protagonist in book 1, and the antagonist in book 3, with the theme of what a son and a father hope for. There is sexual abuse, stepfamilies, identity, and forgiveness. People are people in every generation and century. Back then it was the French and Indian War and the follow-up, where there was tremendous change and conflict and a clash of peoples.

You’re a pastor and church leader as well as writer. Does this story address particular Christian questions or themes?

For a pastor, the overarching theme is the sense of purpose. Christian has been with the Indians since age 11; he’s 20 now, looking at “What is the purpose for my life? How do I make sense of what happened to me, and make sense going forward?”

Together with the woman he will marry, he is asking, “What did God intend?” Why would God allow her parents to die, and her to grow up an orphan? Why would God allow Christian to be taken in a raid? These are universal questions, the deepest kind of pastoral questions.

What is God, what kind of God is there? The scope of God’s love—does he love Native Americans? Christian makes his church choice; it is key for him to meet Christian Frederick Post, who was a missionary. This makes it possible for him to convert to Christianity. Post was a man who loved the Indians, worked among them, and didn’t forsake them. This is a huge theme today, as Christians think about Muslims and have interfaith conversations. This was a huge topic in the first church of the New Testament as well. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Another modern theme shows up here: creation care is important today, which is one of Christian’s concerns. He was taught [as an Indian] to respect all life equally; the Amish he returns to don’t have that understanding at all.

Your book dedication thanks members of your writers group. Did they play a role in shaping this story with you?

Very much so. We’ve worked together several years. I brainstorm with them. They are influential as I read specific aspects of the story, a scene I’ve written. The women in my writers group always have lots to say about the way women are characterized in the story.

Has writing this trilogy whetted your appetite for further fiction writing?

Yes, I think so. I’m drawn to fiction more than ever. This is new for me; I had not imagined this ten years ago. Fiction lets people put themselves in someone else’s shoes for a few hours, and ask themselves, “What would I do if I were there?” I think that happens a little deeper with fiction than with essays, because people get emotionally invested in a story. It enables people to learn new points of view, to see their own life differently, perhaps at a deeper level.

Christian’s Hope and the other books in the Return to Northkill trilogy are available from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894, the MennoMedia webstore, Amazon, and other online sources.

Ardell Stauffer, freelance writer and editor, interviewed author Ervin Stutzman.



New book offers “marriage geek’s” take on love and fidelity

News release
September 21, 2016

Pastor Katherine Willis Pershey authors Very Married for Herald Pres9781513800172

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.—If self-confessed “marriage geek” Katherine Willis Pershey knows one thing after fourteen years of marriage, it’s that couples bound together in a sacred covenant need more than cheery how-to advice on achieving marital bliss.

The author and pastor offers a bracing dose of reality about the “agony, ecstasy, and tedium of wedlock” in her new book, Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity (Herald Press).

Calling herself “an apologist for marriage,” Pershey says, “I believe that the practice of two people entering into a lifelong monogamous relationship is worthwhile. I ardently hope marriages can be saved, and that marriage as an institution can be redeemed.” She considers various changing cultural attitudes toward marriage and offers her theological convictions with an interest that is more than pastoral—it’s personal.

“Marriage is the fundamental fact of my life; as surely as I live and move and have my being in God, so too do I live and move and have my being within the bonds of marriage,” Pershey writes.

pershey_katherinewillisPershey and her husband Benjamin got married young—on her 22nd birthday—and the early years were rocky. In Very Married, she draws from her own experience and the stories of other couples to “consider how our love has flourished and where it has floundered … the ways the vows of our marriage covenant have made us free and the ways they have yanked us away from peril.”

Among the topics she explores:

  • On being a difficult person married to a difficult person: Pershey says she and her husband “were slowly poisoning our love with exasperation, acrimony, and on our worst nights, utter contempt.” They have learned they can reconcile, forgive, and change, “but only as long as neither of us gives up.”
  • On sex outside of marriage: “I might actually believe that sex is for married people,” she admits. Wounded by premarital sex, she believes “the contrast between unmarried and married sex is significant. The covenant of marriage—the vows to love now and forever—changes everything. It just does.”
  • On temptation: Finding herself attracted to a friend she now thinks of “as the person with whom I did not have an affair,” Pershey told her husband about it. Though it stung him, “it was a hurt he could sustain, because he understood that at the root of what I was telling him was that I was trustworthy.”
  • On divorce: “ The presence of divorce on the table means there is an enormous, blinking asterisk” indicating the marriage is until death do us part, “unless…things happen.” That may be enough to “tear marriages asunder that could be redeemed,” Pershey says. Yet she also prays “for all the people who suspect their lives were saved by divorce, for all the people who imagine they could only ever receive judgment, not compassion, from a member of the clergy, for all the people who meant forever but didn’t make it.”
  • On the Christian call to love: Marriage requires mutual practices of care, attention, and servanthood. “If a Christian has a calling to live a life of love— modeled after the ways of Jesus and rooted in the great commandments to love God and neighbor—a married Christian is first and foremost charged to live this life within his or her own household.”

Very Married grew out of an article Pershey wrote for the Christian Century, which became the magazine’s most-read article online in 2015. The book’s title comes from Audrey Hepburn’s response to being asked if she would ever marry: “If I get married, I want to be very married.” Thatʼs how Pershey sees her own marriage. As she reveals in the book, her marriage isnʼt perfect, “but we are nevertheless very married. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

A Publisher’s Weekly reviewer wrote of the book, “With poignant and relatable honesty … sure to become part of the premarital counseling canon, passed among friends, and opened whenever ‘for better or for worse’ is put to the test.”

Eugene H. Peterson, retired pastor and author of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language says in his foreword for this book, “Very Married is, without question, the very best book on marriage that I have ever read—and I have read many. It’s incredible.”

Pershey is author of Any Day a Beautiful Change and an associate minister of the First Congregational Church in Western Springs, Illinois. She is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Christian Century, The Art of Simple, and the anthology Disquiet Time. She and her husband, Benjamin, have two daughters.

Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity is available for $15.99 paper, (launch date September 27, 2016) from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or, as well as other places online and at bookstores.

— Kelley Hughes, publicist
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