Seek a simpler life through plain Mennonite writer Faith Sommers

January 18, 2017

Seek a simpler life through plain Mennonite writer Faith Sommers

90-day devotional connects quiet times with God to the rest of life

HARRISONBURG, Va.— Quiet times with God can feel disconnected from the rest of an overflowing day. Faith Sommers, a conservative Mennonite mother, wife, and columnist for Ladies Journal, a publication for Amish and Mennonite women has written a new book, Prayers for a Simpler Life: Meditations from the Heart of a Mennonite Mother due out from Herald Press, February 2017.

The book contains 90 devotionals for women to help them connect with a simpler life.

Sommers firmly believes devotions should affect how Christians live their lives. “When I realize that God knows all about everything, I learn to trust in his grace and seek to obtain his wisdom so that each choice I make will lead me closer to him,” she explains.

The devotional book also includes prayers, journal prompts, and ideas for how to simplify life and strengthen faith. Above all, the author hopes Prayers for a Simpler Life guides readers toward a deeper commitment to the way of Jesus.

“God’s goodness is not measured by the good things that come into my life,” Sommers says. “The good things do outnumber the bad, and I gratefully count my blessings. Yet, even in the setbacks, the disappointments, the sorrows, I know that God is good.”

Aimed at serious Christians who want to draw closer to God and actively serve Jesus, the book strives to put readers back in touch with many basics of Christian living. It is part of the Herald Press Plainspoken Series of books and devotionals.

Prayers for a Simpler Life includes a section “A Day in the Life of the Author,” as well as Q&A with the author answering common questions about plain Mennonites, including:

  • What is a Mennonite?
  • How do you differ from Amish?
  • Why do the women and girls wear those hats?
  • Don’t you get bored with your quiet lives?

Sommers and her husband, Paul, live in California and have six children between the ages of 6 and 21.

To schedule an interview with Faith Sommers, contact LeAnn Hamby at (540) 908-3941 or LeAnnH@mennomedia.org.

Prayers for a Simpler Life │ 9781513801261 │ 2/21/2017 │ $12.99 USD │ Paperback │200 pages│Herald Press

She, Me, We: Anabaptist Women Publishing Theology

This past weekend Mennonite Church USA sponsored a conference honoring the diversity of women’s voices in theology, called All You Need Is Love. I had the privilege of co-leading a workshop with Managing Editors Melodie Davis and Valerie Weaver-Zercher. This blog post is a brief adaption of our workshop.

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Why does the Mennonite Church not have a Beth Moore? A Nadia Bolz Weber? An Ann Voskamp? A Rachel Held Evans?

I’ve heard variations of this question—just insert the name of your favorite woman writing theologically.

To answer the question, go back with me to the late 1940s when Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus and Ella May Miller had a huge following among Mennonites and those outside the Mennonite Church.

Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus founded Heart to Heart radio broadcast because she had a heart for the way she saw others parenting (or not) their children, and always longed for a platform, literally, in the church. (In those days a woman could speak from the floor of a Mennonite church but not from the platform.)

Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus photos

Ella May Miller was the speaker for over 25 years on this radio program. Her newsletter was mailed out to some 25,000 supporters and 181 radio stations across the nation carried the program. Annually during survey month she received 36,000 letters! One of her books sold nearly 210,000 copies.

Ella May Miller

Eventually Ella May resigned from the position in 1975, at a time when her approach and theology were no longer being embraced by the direction of the radio program.

A task force was charged with thinking about how to replace her, and they talked about not wanting to develop another personality-driven broadcast. Call it discomfort with women in leadership, call it discomfort with the theology that Ella May was espousing: I can only speculate on all the reasons for the team wanting to go a different direction.

Herald Press is the book imprint of MennoMedia, the publishing and media agency of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. The chart below shows the number of Herald Press titles published in the last 35 years. Specifically broken out are the books authored by women or co-authored by women.

chart

It’s likely no surprise to know that nearly all the children’s books and cookbooks published in these years were written by women. Yes, women also authored devotional and inspirational titles, books about mission and church life, or worship, and books about families. Only a few books in all these years, though, are cataloged strictly as “theology” that are written by women. Why do you think it been acceptable for women to couch theological writing in the context of food, children’s books, or family life rather than just writing theologically? Is this still true?

While Herald Press is certainly not publishing as many books by women as by men, the sales figures tell a different kind of story. Below are the 10 bestselling Herald Press books of all time. And I’ve put in bold the titles by women. Note that just 3 of these 10 are by men.

  1. The Amish (1952), John Hostetler
  2. More With Less Cookbook (1976), Doris Janzen Longacre
  3. Caring Enough to Confront (1973), David Augsburger
  4. Meditations for the New Mother (1953), Helen Good Brenneman
  5. Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950), Mary Emma Showalter
  6. Rosanna of the Amish (1940), Joseph Yoder
  7. Favorite Family Recipes (1972), Mary Emma Showalter
  8. Meditations for Expectant Mothers (1968), Helen Good Brenneman
  9. Amish Cooking (1982), Compiled by Amish women
  10. Ellie (1988), Mary Christner Borntrager

We at Herald Press see books authored in one of the following ways:

  • Solo author: Single author creates content of the book. (Recent titles include Sacred Pauses, Ordinary Miracles, and Blush.)
  • Coauthor: Two or more authors create content of the book. (Recent titles include Mennonite Girls Can Cook and Creating a Scene.)
  • Editor: One or more editors invite others to create substantive content. Editor creates content herself. (Recent titles include Tongue Screws and Testimonies and Widening the Circle.)
  • Collector: One or more editors invite others to create substantive content. (Titles include More-with-Less Cookbook and Simply in Season.)

While books are written in all of those ways, at Herald Press we know that:

  • Solo-authored books generally sell better than coauthored or editor-driven projects.
  • Collected editions, though, have been among Herald Press’ bestselling titles, with cookbooks as the biggest example.
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Managing Editor Valerie Weaver-Zercher talking about the ways that women write for Herald Press.

At the same time, when myself or others from Herald Press approach women to invite them to write a book as a solo author, they frequently suggest either a coauthor or editor approach instead. Perhaps it’s a lack of time. Perhaps it’s insecurity in author platform. Perhaps it’s feeling like you don’t have something to say.

As women, we practice theology on the go. It happens in the midst of conversations, in the midst of everyday life. The dialogical nature of how we “do” theology could be one of the reasons why women are so interested in writing with others and telling their stories together.

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Theologian Malinda Elizabeth Berry, at left, gave a wonderful workshop on thinking theologically about several Herald Press cookbooks. I’m on the right responding to Malinda’s assessment. It was theology on the go with my little theologian along for the ride.

But women, we need to hear your voices! The church needs you to “lean in” and communicate your message, to quote Sheryl Sandberg. I encourage you to work on your author platform either in person or via social media, to connect with readers and reviewers, and to engage in speaking and writing theologically. All of this helps you cultivate an audience that wants to follow you, and this is the audience that will eventually want to buy your book.

Amy Gingerich

Editorial Director

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Two Lifetimes in One: Inside and Outside my Amish Community

Guest blog post by Saloma Miller Furlong, author of Bonnet Strings and Why I Left the AmishSalomabyPoppies

Saloma growing up in eastern Ohio.

I often feel like I have lived two lifetimes in one — inside and outside my Amish community in Ohio. I have written two books about the experience of feeling torn between these two worlds. My new book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds releases today, February 3 by Herald Press. I feel that Providence led me to Herald Press, and it is so fitting that an Anabaptist publisher is publishing my story. I love working with the capable and committed community there and I thank them with my whole heart for all they have done to shepherd this book into publication.BonnetStrings

Bonnet Strings is a sequel to my first book that was released in 2011 titled Why I Left the Amish.

I left because of situations that would surely have crushed my spirit, had I not. When I left the second time, my life took a different course from my upbringing and has led to where I am today. I am infinitely grateful for my life.

WeddingOutdoors2David and Saloma on their wedding day.

I was able to marry the love of my life. We raised two sons who are now grown and on their own. I had the opportunity to acquire a Smith College education, which included studying abroad in Hamburg, Germany and an internship with Donald Kraybill. I am on the Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund Committee to help others who have left the Amish acquire an education. And I am doing what feels like my life work — telling my story of what it’s like to have lived in two vastly different cultures. It is a unique story, but it is also a universal one because everyone knows what it’s like to feel torn between their need for belonging and their desire for freedom. This I have learned from people I’ve met along the way who relate to my story in ways I could never have imagined.

My story has also garnered the attention of the makers of two PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned.” “The Amish” aired on American Experience on January 28 and “The Amish Shunned” premieres February 4. (“The Amish” was first aired on American Experience in February 2012).

So I am walking the path I feel I was meant to walk — side by side with David in this journey we call life. I don’t regret the life-changing decision to leave the Amish, and yet there are aspects of my Amish life that I had to sacrifice to have my freedom.

It’s the sense of community I miss the most. I felt this most keenly when I returned to the horse and buggy world for my father’s funeral, twenty-four years after I had left the final time. I saw how the community came in and took care of everything. They moved the furniture around in the house to make room for church benches that would be filled with people in the ongoing wake until the burial. The women cooked food for the people who were traveling to the funeral from out of state. The neighbors took in people from Wisconsin, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Everyone knew their place, and everyone did their part. It was something to behold, how a community of people can pull together in times of need.

Four hundred people attended my father’s funeral. The most poignant moment happened at the end of the service. The pallbearers moved Datt’s body outside the shed in his coffin and opened it up. People from the back filed past the coffin first, and then gathered in the courtyard — the men on one side, the women on the other. The half-circle in the courtyard got bigger as more people gathered there. Finally only Mem and us children and our spouses remained. We gathered around Datt’s coffin to say our last good-byes. Everything became completely still — not a baby cried and not a bird sang. What we believed or what we were wearing didn’t seem to matter in that pregnant, quiet moment. It was as if this community of people who had been there when I was growing up, supported us in our grief, even though I hadn’t seen many of them for twenty-four years. The tears I shed were for the finality of the last good-bye and knowing I would never see Datt or hear his voice again. But the tears were also for what I had lost when I left this community of people who carried the traditions and deep, abiding faith of our ancestors down through the generations. I had broken this cycle when I left. It was a loss no less profound than losing my father.

When I think about the time when my life on this earth is at an end, I realize that I will not have what my parents had. They had a community of people who knew each other since birth and came together to support each other in their grief. They had the Plain funeral service. And they had the burial rites. Six men lowered the casket and then a wooden lid, and finally began filling the grave with earth at the same time that other community members sang the farewell chant in German — a chant that had been sung by our ancestors for more than three centuries. It seemed to me the song was the chariot that carried their souls off to heaven as their bodies were being tucked into their final resting places. It was a simple, profound, and beautiful end of a life.

I am not sorry that I took the path in my life that I felt was right for me. But this came with a price. We make choices in life and sometimes one choice precludes another. My story is about grieving for what was lost when I left the Amish, while at the same time living the life I’ve chosen with purpose, joy, and a heart full of gratitude for God’s gifts of love, grace and mercy.

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Do you see any connections to the
difficult choices you have made? 

Saloma’s book is being published today, February 3; be sure to watch the premiere of the PBS broadcast, The Amish: Shunned on February 4. Purchase Bonnet Strings here or at your local bookstore.

Also, you can visit Saloma’s website here, and her ongoing blog “About Amish, here.
For much more information on Amish and Mennonites,