You mean they sell Bibles? And why do you publish cookbooks?

I will never forget the comment of my “little sister” as we were browsing the aisles of the religious bookstore at the mall one day back in the late ’70s. As I write this now, I’m thinking, wow, I can remember when we had two great religious bookstores in town, including one at the mall.

Barbara was a quiet girl from a low income home and I enjoyed knowing her through our city’s fledgling Big Brother/Big Sister program at the time. So her comment in the bookstore was all that more unusual. She asked, looking at the Bibles in the store, “You mean they sell Bibles?” I assured her yes, but probed a bit and learned the basis of her question was some disillusionment with the idea that someone was making money selling God’s word. Her assumption also came from the fact that she had received one free from the Salvation Army. But I had to wonder if she somehow sensed it felt a little crass.

So I had the same feeling recently looking at our MennoMedia sales report that frequently puts Martyrs Mirror in our “Top Ten” in sales.  Part of my paycheck at this point in life comes from the blood and suffering of my theological ancestors.  Interestingly, the Old Order Amish are the biggest purchasers of Martyrs Mirror.

Copies of Martyrs Mirror on the shelves in MennoMedia's warehouse.

Copies of Martyrs Mirror on the shelves in MennoMedia’s warehouse.

At MennoMedia, we are grateful for those who purchase this grand old (and deeply moving) text and also those who purchase our Bibles (we sell some created by other publishers), and also all those who purchase cookbooks, (which some customers might consider frivolous or a waste of our time and resources, or maybe reinforcing impressions that to be Mennonite you need to eat or cook certain foods!), hymnals, children’s books, curriculum for all ages, magazines, DVDs, CDs, downloadable video clips, and more.

Amy Gingerich, Editorial Director at MennoMedia is all smiles upon receiving the just published Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations.

Amy Gingerich, Editorial Director at MennoMedia is all smiles upon receiving the just published Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations.

The newest Herald Press cookbook, Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations, is now in the warehouse and we are obviously excited and pulling out all the stops to help sell this book. Early photos of the book on Facebook got at least one comment along the lines of “well good, now you can get back to providing more meaty content” (not exact quote, and I believe it has been removed).

An unapologetic strength of MennoMedia is in the area of “food and faith” and this book fits with that, especially the celebrative aspect. MennoMedia and Herald Press publish many crucial books on theology, Mennonite history, biography and church curricula. These are resources that are essential to keeping any faith group alive and well. But even cookbooks or the authors, convey practical theology.

While not every author or group of authors can do this, the women behind the popular blog and cookbook phenomenon known as “Mennonite Girls” are providing an outstanding example of Christian stewardship, sharing and service by donating all royalties to Mennonite Central Committee projects (so far in two locations, Russia for their first book, see photo, and Africa for this new release).

A functioning greenhouse helps provide food for the 40 children from Good Shepherd Shelter (orphanage) as well as children from poor families in the surrounding area near Makeevka, Ukraine.

A functioning greenhouse helps provide food for the 40 children from Good Shepherd
Shelter (orphanage) as well as children from poor families in the surrounding area near Makeevka, Ukraine.

While the cooking and underlying message of the two Mennonite Girls Can Cook books so far are a little different than More with Less, or Simply in Season, the MennoMedia umbrella is wide enough to embrace a variety of cooks, authors, churches, communities and peoples. The original and continuing subtitle for More with Less: Suggestions by Mennonites on How to Eat Better and Consume Less of the World’s Limited Food Resources gives a hint at the theology it supports. As the “Who are the Mennonites” video/DVD (see short clip) says of the legacy of More with Less cookbook, “The ideas in this cookbook went well beyond the kitchen. Sure, thousands of us learned simple recipes, nutrition, and stir frying from its pages, but it also summarized our theology and conviction.”

A wide umbrella at MennoMedia. We look forward to the day when, who knows, there is a Mennonite Truck Food cookbook or Mennonite Soul Food cookbook or … name your poison! But I personally will quit when we come out with a Mennonite Happy Hour Cocktail guide.

P.S. Not to be crass, but if you are frugal, you may want to take advantage of the 30 % off sale on all Mennonite cookbooks including pre-ordering this newest Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations until May 8. Thanks!

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Melodie Davis, columnist/editor blogger

 

Claiming a Faith of Our Own

Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Youth curriculum. How do the two fit together? And should they?

Here at MennoMedia we are in the midst of taking the articles from the church’s confession of faith and using them as the basis for a new youth curriculum.

This new curriculum is about uncovering, discovering, and claiming the beliefs and practices that Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada hold as truths.

Shared experience today in North America is being reduced. As a result, we don’t have as much shared religious culture either. Just ask a congregation which people can sing all the verses of “Amazing Grace” or recite Psalm 23 and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition, youth and young adults are comfortable with competing schools of thought. Those under 29 are able to look at choices and see both/and rather than either/or. As a result, previous divisions are becoming less relevant.

But youth and young adults today do want to gather information, to find out what people believe and why—and to make educated choices for themselves. They want to claim faith, and are also always in the process of claiming it.

Our new curriculum, called Claim(ing) Faith, takes the 24 articles in Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and translates them into a 10-session curriculum that involves both print and video.

Last Friday I had the privilege of working with MennoMedia Videographer Wayne Gehman on two of the ten videos.

We started the morning in Dover, Ohio, with Chet Miller-Eshleman at LifeBridge Community Church. Chet shared some amazing stories about God working in his life. Chet’s interview will be part of the session on God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Wayne Gehman and Chet Miller Eshleman look for pictures of congregational activity at LifeBridge Community Church.

Wayne Gehman and Chet Miller Eshleman look for pictures of congregational activity at LifeBridge Community Church.

He told a story about dropping out of college disenfranchised as a young adult and becoming homeless; he told a story about hearing God’s voice telling him to plant a church in Ohio—while he was serving in Colombia with Mennonite Central Committee. Truly amazing stories about the power of God.

Chet photo

Chet Miller Eshleman changes the sign at LifeBridge Community Church.

Wayne and I then spent the evening at Lee Heights Community Church in Cleveland, Ohio. There we interviewed four people about the church and the church in mission. The Lee Heights congregation is actively involved in its neighborhood, and we heard great stories about what brought these people or their families to the church—and more importantly what keeps them there.

A common thread in all four interviews at Lee Heights was service. Service within the church and service to the larger community keep all four individuals connected and committed to Lee Heights.

Tenesha, age 17, shared about her involvement in the church’s community garden, praise dance team, and gospel choir. How does a 17-year-old find time to do all these things in the midst of schoolwork? It’s part of who I am, she shared, and we heard that echoing again and again throughout the interviews at Lee Heights.

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Tenesha shares stories about her involvement at Lee Heights Community Church.

I’m deeply grateful for the stories I heard on Friday. They connected with my own journey and I look forward to sharing these interviews with youth through Claim(ing) Faith (available June 2013).

Amy Gingerich, editorial director

Amy Gingerich

 

The Trapezoid of Death

This past week I had the privilege of hearing Diana Butler Bass speak at the Protestant Church-owned Publisher’s Association (PCPA), a professional organization which brings together staff and leadership of the major denominational publishers in the U.S. Diana is “an author, speaker, and independent scholar specializing in American religion and culture.” You can learn more about her here.

She gave a talk entitled “Trending Faith: Up, Down, Forwards or Backwards.” Much of her material came from a book she has published called Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.

She spoke about the fact that the U.S., a nation which used to pride itself in being largely Protestant (66% in 1960) is now a truly religiously pluralistic country; within the past year studies indicate that less than half (48%) identify now as Protestant. The biggest, and most dramatic change, however, is among young people 18-29, for whom a large 35% describe themselves as religiously “unaffiliated” and another 11% were non-Christian religions.

Of particular interest was the startling difference between the youngest and oldest age groups. Among those 65 and older, 69% were white Evangelical, Mainline Protestant or Catholic. By stark contrast, a mere 26% of 18-29-year-olds identified themselves the same way: an enormous change. Considering that most people fix their religious identity by the time they are 30, this does not necessarily bode well for those groups previously mentioned.

As she spoke, she showed a graph of religious affiliation, broken up by age groups. In her chart (below,) derived from a study done by Public Religion Research, those traditionally dominant groups, variously color coded orange, make a sort of “trapezoid” which shows how much their share is shrinking. Diana said that when she showed this to one denominational leader, he referred to it as the “trapezoid of death,” no doubt fueling anxieties that the decline was permanent. Denominational publishers can also find this depressing …DBB

Diana also pointed out that the new, younger and “emerging” market (much of which self-describe as “unaffiliated”) is two-fold: a post-institutional, spiritual-but-not-religious cohort and racially, ethnically, and religiously pluralistic. She noted that, “the emerging (new and younger) market needs publishers, authors, theologies, resources that speak faith in languages they understand. And both are young, tech-savvy populations.” I found that encouraging for us, so long as we learn to be both creative and adaptive in our content and delivery.

Of greatest interest to me, however, was her advice to denominational publishers, given that our traditional market is older (but not yet gone!) and the younger market (and ethnically diverse as well) is not captive to us, as our older one once was. She said something similar to what we are already saying here at MennoMedia, “Publishers and authors have to deliver new content in a multitude of new ways through non-traditional channels to entirely new readers in audiences you must build yourselves and develop new ways of monetizing products … while at the same time … continuing to relate to the needs and concerns of traditional constituents.” In other words, we have to stretch ourselves and that’s a real challenge. For some publishers it may seem like too much. For us, we see it as an opportunity.

At MennoMedia we want to learn and use this new language and adapt both ourselves and our organization to be able to respond to this new opportunity and thrive in it. We are convinced that we convey vital messages for our time.

Russ Eanes, Director of MennoMedia

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