Conrad Grebel University College Presidents — Rodney J. Sawatsky

Rodney J. Sawatsky was the fourth president of Conrad Grebel College (1989-1994). There have been earlier blogs on J. Winfield Fretz, Frank H. Epp and Ralph A. Lebold.

Rod Sawatsky and I both began to work at Conrad Grebel College in 1974 when he came from Canadian Mennonite Bible College to Ontario to teach and serve as academic dean, while I began half-time in the Mennonite Archives at Conrad Grebel.

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Rod Sawatsky speaking at an Inter-Mennonite Conference (Ontario) retreat in 1985. In the background are Bernhard Stobbe and Herb Schultz. Photo by Sam Steiner.

We shared a deep interest in Mennonite history and Mennonite church politics. He was very supportive of my increasing involvement in denominational activities, especially the integration of three Mennonite regional conferences in Ontario in 1988 into what is now known as Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.

Rod was known for his booming voice, the way he leaned back while thinking out loud, and for the extremely gracious hosting he, together with his wife, Lorna, frequently did in their home.

Rod was an innovative academic dean, and the years that he and Ralph Lebold were the leadership team at Conrad Grebel stand out in my own memory. Projects like a graduate degree in theology, and the launch of the Conrad Grebel Review as an inter-disciplinary Mennonite academic journal were important to Rod.

He became president of Conrad Grebel at a time that became very difficult for the College. Financial challenges included an ambitious capital fund drive that fell well short of its goal, meaning only a part of the planned expansion could be built. Changes in government funding to post-secondary education ultimately saw the number of Conrad Grebel’s faculty members shrink by a third. Not surprisingly the financial challenges also created tensions within the faculty that resulted in conflicts that received publicity well beyond the college.

Perhaps providentially, Rod received an invitation to become president of Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania in 1994. His experience as president there was an extremely positive one, and ended because of his early death from brain cancer in 2004.

My memories of Rod’s years at Conrad Grebel are overwhelmingly positive, particularly as I remember many informal conversations in the staff lounge about the state of the Mennonite church in Ontario, in Canada and in North America.

Below is the article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online about Rod Sawatsky by Margaret Loewen Reimer. For a bibliography of his writings, go to the article.


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Rod and Lorna Sawatsky, 2002. Family photo

Rodney James “Rod” Sawatsky: church historian and college administrator, b. 5 December 1943 in Altona, Manitoba, the second child of Jacob and Catherine (Loewen) Sawatsky, who both predeceased him. He was baptized into the Altona Bergthaler Mennonite Church (Conference of Mennonites in Canada) in 1961. He was married to Lorna Ewert, daughter of Agnes (Regier) and Elmer Ewert, in 1964 at the North Star Mennonite Church in Drake, Saskatchewan. Rod and Lorna had three daughters: Tanya, Lisa and Katherine.

Rod graduated from Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and from Bethel CollegeNorth Newton, Kansas, before pursuing graduate degrees at the University of Minnesota (MA in History, 1969) and Princeton University (MA, 1972 and PhD in Religion, 1977). He and Lorna, a musician and teacher, taught at the Menno Bible Institute in Didsbury, Alberta, for a year (1965-1966), before Rod was hired to teach history at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC). He taught at CMBC from 1967-1970 and 1973-1974. Rod and Lorna were active members of Charleswood Mennonite Church during this time.

In 1974 Rod Sawatsky was appointed Academic Dean at Conrad Grebel College, the Mennonite college at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, under the presidency of Frank H. Epp. He also taught courses in Mennonite history and new religions. Probably his most popular course was “Sects and Cults,” which looked at new religious movements such as the Unification Church (Moonies). Sawatsky was also interested in issues of religious liberty and testified several times in court on behalf of minority groups. Sawatsky presented the Benjamin Eby Lecture at Conrad Grebel College in 1982 on the topic, “Commitment and Critique: A Dialectical Imperative,” outlining the role of Christian education in a pluralist community. In 1990 he helped organize a conference of church-related colleges in Canada entitled “Educating for the Kingdom?”

Besides his commitment to education, Rod had a keen interest in the history and development of the Mennonite church. In the early 1980s he wrote a widely-circulated article entitled “Autonomy and Accountability: Church Polity within the Conference of Mennonites in Canada.” In 1985 he presented the Menno Simons Lectures at Bethel College on “Authority and Identity: The Dynamics of the General Conference Mennonite Church” (published by Bethel College in 1987).

In 1989 Rod became president of Conrad Grebel College, a position he held for five years. Under Sawatsky’s leadership, the college added new programs and hired several outstanding scholars. Lorna taught early childhood music.  They were members of Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ontario.

In 1994 Rod was appointed president of Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, a liberal arts college with roots in the Brethren in Christ Church. In his 10 years there he led the college to a new mission and identity that emphasized excellence, diversity, international study and a spirit of service and engagement in society. His leadership resulted in an increase in enrolment and a considerable expansion of campus facilities and programs. Lorna, as “first lady” of the college, was active in campus life, planning and hosting events and supporting school activities. During this time, Rod was active in several educational organizations, including the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Christian College Consortium, and the Council of Independent Colleges.

Rod’s life was driven by his passion for education within a Christian college environment. Christian scholarship is a holy calling, he argued in one of his last publications, “The Virtue of Scholarly Hope,” a prologue in the book Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (Oxford University Press, 2004). An optimist and visionary, he was always eager to pursue new possibilities. Deeply committed to the Anabaptist-Mennonite faith, Sawatsky was also committed to engagement in the wider church and culture, ever alert to new developments and ideas in the church and in society.

Rod Sawatsky died of brain cancer on 27 November 2004 at the age of 60. He was buried at the historic Detweiler Meetinghouse cemetery near Kitchener, Ontario.

Conrad Grebel University College Presidents — Ralph A. Lebold

Conrad Grebel University College’s third president was Ralph A. Lebold, who died recently on October 31, 2017.

I first met Ralph Lebold in 1973/74 during a year that Sue and I lived in London when I attended law school and quickly learned I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Ralph was nearing the end of his time as the pastor at Valleyview Mennonite Church, and had accepted the new role of Conference Minister that would begin in summer 1974.

I recall Ralph’s wit from one conversation that year between Sue and Ralph after one of his sermons. Sue had been very impressed by the content, and told Ralph he had preached “an incredible sermon.” He immediately responded, “Oh, I had hoped it would be credible!” I don’t remember the sermon, but I do remember Ralph’s comment.

A biography for Ralph Lebold in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online has not yet been written. What follows are some of the things that might be included in such an article.

At his funeral I heard someone describe Ralph Lebold as an entrepreneur within the church–not about making a lot of money, but in helping to innovate new programs and approaches to ministry that had an influence on the Mennonite Church throughout North America. These included the founding the Hidden Acres Mennonite Camp (1962), the provision of Supervised Pastoral Experience in a congregational setting for seminary students (1969), early encouragement for women to serve in pastoral leadership (1976), and founding Shalom Counselling Services (1982).

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Ralph Lebold, 1953. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

Ralph was born in the town of New Hamburg in 1934, but the family moved to a farm near Wellesley in 1945. He left school after grade 8, which was customary for Amish Mennonites at the time, and happily worked on the farm for several years. By the late 1940s he began to attend Wellesley Winter Bible School, where he met his future wife, Eileen Erb. About 1951 he switched to attending the Ontario Mennonite Bible School in Kitchener, and graduated from OMBS in 1953.

Ralph continued in the pre-university course at Ontario Mennonite Bible Institute in 1953/54, and enrolled at Eastern Mennonite College in 1954, where he received his BA in 1958.

Ralph and Eileen married in 1955, and they would have three children — Connie, Marvin and Cindy.

The family moved to Goshen, Indiana in 1959 where Ralph studied at Goshen Biblical Seminary, and from which he graduated with a BD degree in 1961. He began pastoring the King Street Mennonite Church in London, Ontario that fall. In 1963 the congregation moved to a new location in northeast London, and became known as Valleyview Mennonite Church.

In 1966-1968 the Lebold family took a one-year leave and moved to Chester, Pennsylvania where Ralph studied at Crozer Theological Seminary for an MTh in Pastoral Care and Counselling (1968). Ralph provided some pastoral services to Valleyview during the second year of the program.

The Lebolds then returned to London and Valleyview where in 1969 Ralph launched a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program in association with the Associated (now Anabaptist) Biblical Seminary. That first fall three seminary students spent a year at Valleyview working both in the congregation and at the London Psychiatric Hospital where Ralph was a Teaching Chaplain, while also serving half-time at Valleyview.

In 1974 Ralph Lebold became the first Conference Minister for the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference. (Orland Gingerich had served in a similar, reduced role of this type in the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference beginning in 1966, and the position of a full time paid conference minister had begun in some Mennonite Church regional conferences in the U.S. in the late 1960s.)  Of course this led to jokes about a Mennonite “pope.”

It was during the conference minister years that Ralph encouraged women to pursue pastoral leadership. In 1976 he suggested that Doris Weber be commissioned for pastoral service alongside her ordained husband, Rod. By 1978 this status was changed to ordination. Other women in leadership soon followed.

In 1978 Ralph Lebold began work in the new DMin program at the Toronto School of Theology; he received his degree in 1980 with a research project on “The evaluation of the pastoral leader in the context of the congregation.” This led to a later book, Learning and growing in ministry : a handbook for congregational leaders published by the Mennonite Publishing House in 1986.

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Conrad Grebel College’s first three presidents: L-R, J. Winfield Fretz, Frank H. Epp and Ralph A. Lebold. 1979 photo from the Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Ralph served in the conference minister role until 1980, and likely would have continued longer except for a call asking him to consider becoming president at Conrad Grebel College in 1979. He was familiar with some of the issues at the College, having been called to help work at an internal conflict in 1977, and had been involved in the School of Adult Studies based at the college for several years. He accepted the position, and served from 1979 to 1989.

Ralph Lebold’s ten years as president at Conrad Grebel College were good years for the College. Ralph worked well with his Academic Dean, Rod Sawatsky, who succeeded him as president. In 1988 the college received a new charter, permitting it to grant a range of degrees in Religious Studies, leading to the beginning of the MTS program at the College. The Peace and Conflict Studies program also deepened and expanded. In my own memory of my time at Conrad Grebel, these were the “golden years” at the College, with everyone pulling the same direction, and relationships with the Mennonite constituency flourishing.

In 1989, Ralph took on a joint assignment with the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and the new Mennonite Conference (now Church) of Eastern Canada (MCEC) in Pastoral Leadership Training, the part of his vocation that gave him the most energy. He continued in this work until retirement in 1997.

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Ralph Lebold counsels me about retirement at my December 2008 retirement dinner. I seem startled by the possibilities!

In 1991 Ralph was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, a disease with a prognosis of up to three or four years. Although his health went through cycles, new treatments extended his life 26 years. During most of those years he was able to make strong contributions to the local conference, to Waterloo North Mennonite Church, where he was a charter member, and as a mentor to many younger leaders in the church.

Conrad Grebel University College Presidents — Frank H. Epp

Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario just inaugurated its eighth president, Marcus Shantz, and mourned the death of its third president, Ralph A. Lebold. For the next couple of weeks I want to reflect on the lives of the Grebel presidents who have died.

I earlier did a blog on Grebel’s first president (1963-1973), J. Winfield Fretz, so I will not repeat that one.

Grebel’s second president (1973-1979) was Frank H. Epp, a native of southern Manitoba. He started teaching at Conrad Grebel in 1971, moving with his family from Ottawa where he had pastored the Ottawa Mennonite Church and begun research on what became volume 1 of the Mennonites in Canada series. When he came to Waterloo, he also began the revival of the bi-weekly inter-Mennonite Mennonite Reporter newspaper, and served as its editor for two years.

I had determined to finish my BA at the University of Waterloo about the time that Frank Epp had come to Waterloo. I had recalled Frank from my Goshen College student days when he came and lectured publicly about the Vietnam War. He had made a strong impression on me, and so I signed up for many of his Mennonite history/Canadian minorities courses at Conrad Grebel.

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Conrad Grebel College in 1974, after the Academic Building was added. GAMEO photo

Frank Epp was an intense, driven man for causes in which he believed. He wrote and spoke with passion and clarity about the Middle East, Vietnam, U.S.-Canadian relations and other things. He also wanted a larger role for Conrad Grebel College academically, and added the Peace and Conflict Studies program and expanded the Music department. He brought influential young faculty members, like Rod Sawatsky, Conrad Brunk and Len Enns on board, and stabilized music administration with Wilbur Maust. To house this growing program, he built an “academic building” completed in 1974.

Frank Epp’s passion for detail led him to micromanage and to tightly control finances, and sometimes led him into conflict. The final years of his presidency included some troubling times within the College community, and his post-presidential years at Grebel found him often isolated from other faculty on internal issues.

Despite this, Frank Epp was one of the two ro three most influential teachers in my life, helping to shape my worldview at a time I was finding my way back to the Mennonite Church. And I am forever grateful that Frank hired me as the archivist for the Mennonite Archives of Ontario in September 1974.

Below is the text of the article on Frank Epp in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online by Adolf Ens. For the bibliography of his published books, go to the GAMEO article.


Frank H. Epp

Frank H. Epp. GAMEO photo

Frank H. Epp: churchman, journalist, educator, and author; born 25 May 1929 in Lena, Manitoba, the third of 13 children of Heinrich M. Epp (1904-1958) and Anna (Enns) Epp (1902-1958). On 27 June 1953 Frank married Helen Dick of Leamington, Ontario and they had three daughters (a son died at birth). Frank died on 22 January 1986 in Kitchener, Ontario.

Educated in theology, mass communication, and history, Epp began his professional career as a public school teacher and was professor of history at Conrad Grebel College at the time of his death. He was president of Conrad Grebel College, 1973-1979. Under his leadership the college expanded to include a new academic building as well as programs in music and peace and conflict studies. An ordained minister, he was a part-time pastor in four Mennonite congregations in Canada and the United States.

His extensive public writing career began in 1951 as editor of the Jugendseite, the youth section of Der Bote, which served General Conference Mennonite youth in Canada. As founding editor of The Canadian Mennonite (1953-1967) and Mennonite Reporter (1971-1973) he exercised a broad and sometimes controversial influence among Mennonites in Canada at a time when many of them were in a language transition from German to English.

From 1957-1963 he was director and regular speaker for the Conference of Mennonites in Manitoba‘s “Abundant Life” radio program. During most of this time he also served the Board of Christian Service of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada in various capacities. He was a board member of Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC) from its inception in 1963 until his death and was chairman of the international MCC Peace Section, 1979-1986. From 1972-1978 he was on the presidium of Mennonite World Conference.

Beyond the Mennonite churches, Epp served on four committees of the Canadian Council of Churches (1967-1973) and was appointed to two advisory bodies by the federal government (Immigration, 1968-1977, and Multiculturalism, 1980-1985). For two years (1970-1971) he served as Executive Director of the World Federalists of Canada, and after 1980 was active in the United Nations Association of Canada. In the 1979 and 1980 federal parliamentary elections he was a candidate for the Liberal Party in the Waterloo (Ontario) constituency.

Epp’s research travels, related to peace education and writing projects, included numerous trips to the Middle East (6), Southeast Asia (3), and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (3). Epp’s twelve books include three on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East and three on Mennonites in Canada. These included Mennonites in Canada, volumes I and II; he was working on volume III at the time of his death. His other books deal with educational institutions and with peace and refugee concerns.

 

Women’s Organizations among Ontario Mennonites

While women’s organizations in Protestant churches did not exist as separate groups until the last part of the 19th century, one could almost have considered Sunday schools as women’s organizations. By 1900 in Methodist Sunday schools fully 80% of the volunteers running the schools were women. The formation of urban missions also created new opportunities for local Mennonite congregations as they began to help provide food and housing as well as remuneration for the workers. Women in particular began to organize local groups to help provide such assistance. Here, too, Mennonite congregations were influenced by their neighboring denominations to introduce these innovations.

Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, United Brethren, and Evangelical Association congregations in Ontario had already launched Ladies Aid organizations in the 1870s and 1880s. While some Mennonite women had provided funds or clothing for specific needs or institutions, however, no formal organizations developed until the first decade of the 20th century.

The first Mennonite women’s organization in Ontario emerged in the Waterloo (now Erb Street) Mennonite Church in 1908 as a direct result of the new Toronto Mission started by the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. Lena Weber, who had been one of the first workers at the mission, returned to her home congregation and continued to advocate for the mission. The mission, in cooperation with the Toronto Children’s Fresh Air Mission, arranged for city children to stay with Mennonite families in Waterloo.

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Ida Stauffer Snider, 1912. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

After seeing the poor state of the children’s clothing, the Waterloo congregation’s women held a sewing bee at Lena Weber’s home to provide clothing. With bishop Jonas Snider’s blessing, they decided to formally organize a group known as the Waterloo Charity Circle. Ida Stauffer Snider was elected its first president in April 1908. Several months later the women at the Berlin Mennonite Church (now First Mennonite) also organized a society. The third organized circle began at Wanner Mennonite in 1915.

During World War I, interest in relief work speeded the formation of women’s societies in Mennonite congregations. A binational organization related to the Mennonite Church, the Woman’s Missionary Society (WMS), formed in 1916, and was headed initially by Mary Burkhard, a widow and former missionary to India. This group asked Mary Ann Cressman to be the Mennonite Conference of Ontario representative. Cressman got her local group in Kitchener (the new name for Berlin) to ask the conference’s ordained leadership for their blessing.

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Mary Ann Cressman and her husband, M.C., ca. 1890. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

In November 1917 the conference’s executive committee, chaired by Lewis J. Burkholder, gave enthusiastic support to local sewing circles and encouraged participation in the WMS. As part of her duties as president of the churchwide women’s organization, Mary Burkhard, together with Mary Ann Cressman, then visited congregations in Ontario to encourage the formation of societies in each congregation. About 20 new societies began at that time.

Mary Ann Cressman continued to hold significant leadership positions in the denominational organization, including president from 1924 to 1929—a time of considerable conflict between the women’s organization and the male-led Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities. The board expressed concern that this autonomous women’s mission organization was not formally accountable to the denominational structures and used its own judgment in directing the significant funds it raised. Thus the male-led mission board set up a Sewing Circle Committee of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities that bypassed the autonomous group.

The Mennonite Woman’s Missionary Society reluctantly sanctioned the change and went out of operation, but several leaders of the women’s movement left the Mennonite Church because of the heavy-handed male interference. However, the Ontario women’s organizations did not resist the changes demanded by the U.S.-based mission board.

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St. Jacobs Mennonite Church women quilting for the Mennonite Relief Sale in 1967. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

The local women’s organizations usually met monthly, often in homes. Members paid a small monthly fee as well as special offerings for particular projects. A devotional time and formal minutes were often a part of the meeting. As newer church buildings with basements became available, the meetings often moved to the meetinghouses. Although the initial impetus was the creation of garments for the poor in the city, and later for war relief, the existence of women’s organizations also fostered more organized visitation to the congregation’s sick, organized assistance for families at times of bereavement, and provisions for the poor in the local community.

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Annie Lichti and her husband, Christian. Family photo

It is less certain when the Ontario Amish Mennonite women began to formally organize groups. The conference itself was not formally organized, and no district secretary had been identified by the Mennonite Woman’s Missionary Society for the Ontario Amish Mennonites in 1916. At the end of World War I, when the Non-Resistant Relief Organization called for relief clothing, several of the Amish Mennonite congregations responded; for example, East Zorra women contributed forty-eight garments. However, formal records from the groups do not begin until the early 1920s when women like Magdalena “Mattie” Ropp and Annie Lichti gave leadership at East Zorra and Wilmot, respectively. The organized circles in the Wellesley area came later.

The women of the Mennonite immigrants who came from the Soviet Union in the 1920s organized local societies fairly quickly, but they did not relate closely to coordinated activity. They had not yet established regional or provincial societies to provide such coordination. An exception was the Vineland United Mennonite group, which worked with The First Mennonite Church in Vineland to provide materials for MCC. The fact that Vineland native John E. Coffman worked for MCC in England likely provided impetus to this cooperation. The United Mennonite women in Essex County did not form a regional women’s organization until March 1944. Until then, the individual Vereins (societies) sewed for relief through the Red Cross, sometimes in conjunction with other Protestant church groups in their community. In Niagara, some of the groups prepared dried fruit to ship overseas.

The Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) had congregational sewing circles as early as the 1910s but had no denominational or regional coordinating body in those years. About 1916 the Markham congregation initiated a missionary society that made quilts and clothing for an organization in Edmonton, Alberta. In 1922 the New Dundee women organized to provide help for the conference’s city missions. They agreed to meet in homes once monthly. They first made rag mats and bedding and supplied fruits and vegetables for their mission at St. Thomas, Ontario. A provincial women’s society for the Mennonite Brethren in Christ in Ontario was not organized until 1939.

The more separated Mennonite groups like the Old Order Mennonites did not have women’s organizations in this time period.

For more information on the role of women in Mennonite communities, read In Search of Promised Lands.

 

How I got to Canada

Yesterday, October 22, I talked with a Sunday school class of teenagers at my church about my experience during the Vietnam War. In preparing for telling this story, I noted that October 25 was the 49th anniversary of my entry into Canada.

It’s been a little while since I’ve reflected on that experience, and I again beg forbearance for using another blog post as personal memoir.

First a bit of context. I grew up in a small Mennonite community in Mahoning County, Ohio, on the border with Pennsylvania. My father, David Steiner, was the minister and bishop in the congregation of 100 members in my community, as had been his father, A. J. Steiner, before him. There had been four generations of ministers before that back into Europe. My mother, Katie, was an elementary school teacher and a 1930 graduate of Goshen College in Indiana. I was the youngest of six surviving children.

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Barry Goldwater, ca. 1962. Library of Congress photo

In my high school years from 1960-1964 I became a philosophical mixed bag combining religious agnosticism with political conservatism. While I rejected what I considered to be a naive Mennonite faith, I embraced a naive American patriotism that scorned the growing Civil Rights movement and believed Fidel Castro was a real threat to the United States. I favored Barry Goldwater in the upcoming 1964 election.

President John Kennedy had been assassinated less than one year before. In 1964 the U.S. war in Vietnam was beginning to heat up, though few Americans had yet been killed. The Cold War was expanding – the Berlin Wall had only recently been erected. The Civil Rights movement, then primarily in the Southern States, was making Americans uncomfortable as African-Americans called for justice in voting rights, education and basic human services.

I turned 18 a couple of weeks after I entered Goshen College as a freshman in September 1964. As was the legal requirement for all American young men, I registered for the military draft at that time. Normally Mennonite young men also stated their desire for conscientious objector status at time of registration, submitting the appropriate forms requesting that status. I didn’t do so, but wrote to my parents that I was neither a pacifist nor a Christian.

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Goshen College Foolscap, 1964/65

My first year at Goshen was a difficult one–I enjoyed playing cards (bridge) more than I did the classroom work. I discovered I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, and my social introversion isolated me within a fairly small group of friends. During fall 1964 I could best be identified on campus by the Barry Goldwater election sticker on my briefcase.

In March 1965 I joined a carload of students who wanted to check out the third Selma-Montgomery march–the one that actually got to Montgomery. I can say without qualification that March 24-25, 1965 was a conversion experience for me in my worldview.

During that car ride into Alabama I finally became emotionally involved in the visible racial injustice that had always been around me. For the first time I experienced internally the underside of the American way of life through the hatred in the eyes of white people, and the huge class disparity I saw between whites and African-Americans. That’s ironic, since my older brother, Albert, had been in a Mennonite voluntary service unit in the near south side of Chicago, and I had visited him several times with my family. But the poverty and repression of black folks living in the south side of Chicago was a curiosity – something to see but not to absorb internally.

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Entering  Montgomery on third Selma to Montgomery March. Martin Luther King in center. AP photo used by Daily Beast

In Montgomery, Alabama we Goshen students were billeted with the demonstrators at the City of St. Jude, a Catholic complex that included a  high school, hospital and church. It was surrounded by a chain link fence, and every ten feet around the perimeter of that fence a United States soldier, armed with rifle and bayonet, protected an estimated 10,000 of us from other Americans as we slept. The night of the 24th we enjoyed a concert from the likes of Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Nina Simone and The Chad Mitchell Trio, as well as some words from Martin Luther King. After the march to the state capitol building with 25,000 others the next day I was a different person. I heard the hopes and dreams of black men and women, in sharp contrast to the white hatred and black poverty around me.

When I returned to Goshen College from Montgomery, Alabama, I recognized I could not kill another human being on the basis of political (or economic) differences. I also saw the need to combine social justice with my new-found (or rediscovered) pacifism. Belatedly I registered with my draft board as a conscientious objector, but on philosophical, non-religious grounds. I argued that life was inherently sacred, and that I did not have the right – ever – to terminate another human life. I believed I did not have the wisdom to make that kind of decision, nor did I believe Lyndon Johnson had that authority. Since I was still a student, no action was taken on my application.

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Demonstration in New York City with other Goshen College students in January 1966. New York Times photo

By 1966-67 the number of American soldiers going to Vietnam– disproportionately young, non-white and poorly educated– increased. The political conversion I had experienced led to an activist phase in my life. I joined radical student organizations
like Students for a Democratic Society and participated in mass demonstrations in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

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Petition against my suspension for not turning in chapel cards. Goshen College Maple Leaf photo

The culture of the “1960s” also came to Goshen College. On three occasions I was suspended from the College – the first time for illegally entering a building, the second time (for a semester) for refusing to hand in computer cards to track my attendance at compulsory convocations/chapels. The last time, in the fall of 1967, it was an indefinite suspension for my role in the Menno-Pause underground newspaper described in another blog.

From the fall of 1967 until my move to Canada in October 1968 I lived on the north side of Chicago, Illinois, most of the time with a fellow Menno-Pause editor, Jim Wenger. I  focused my attention on military draft issues. As long as I had been a student, my military obligations had been “deferred.” Now this was no longer the case. A series of legal procedures unfolded that included two appeals to local and state draft boards. At my local appeal back in Youngstown, Ohio, the Draft Board was only interested in whether I had a formal religion. They refused to hear my arguments, or to hear a character witness I had brought along with me. The hearing probably lasted all of 5 minutes. My appeal to the state board was also denied.

I worked for some months as a supply clerk at a hospital in Evanston, Illinois. Some of my co-workers were Mennonite young men who were putting in their two years of “alternative service.” Throughout the Vietnam War it remained relatively easy for young
men from peace churches like the Mennonites and Quakers to avoid military service if they stuck to the routine. Sincerity of belief (for a Mennonite) was not a crucial factor, and some of my Mennonite co-workers at the hospital thought North Vietnam should be bombed to oblivion to stop the Communists. I also learned the hospital liked to hire Mennonites to do alternative service in order to avoid hiring African-Americans “from the South Side.”

Gradually, I became more absolutist in my position. I connected with the Chicago Area Draft Resisters (CADRE) . This group, formed by Gary Rader, an ex-Green Beret, advocated open resistance to the draft, including the step of going to prison. They generated much literature for distribution at high schools, provided draft counselling for minorities, and joined in demonstrations against the war. I participated in an increasing number of these activities.

In March 1968 I received an order to appear for a physical, in anticipation of potential induction into the army. In response I tore up my draft card, which all American men were legally required to carry, and mailed the pieces back to the draft board informing them I would no longer participate in the military system. Among other things in my letter to the draft board, I questioned the use of death as a technique for conflict resolution.

I also questioned the alternative service system, lovingly embraced by Mennonites for decades. I believed “alternative service” simply helped the U.S. military system work more efficiently as Mennonites and other pacifists often performed meaningless service that aided the “national welfare” or replaced the work of others who needed employment.

Word quickly spread at the hospital about what I had done. I was promptly fired from my position.

I soon received an induction order for April 20, 1968. I returned to Ohio to publicly refuse induction. I created a one-page handout outlining my reasons for refusal. My demonstration was in front of the federal building in Youngstown, Ohio, where men were to board a bus for transport to Cleveland for induction. My sign included my induction order, and was headed, “I must resist because I cannot help mankind by destroying it.”

19-Demonstration-1968

L-R: Dan Leatherman, Albert Steiner, Tom Harley, Sam Steiner, FBI agent

Four persons joined me in the protest–my older brother, Albert, my political science prof  from Goshen College, Dan Leatherman, and my friend, Tom Harley. The fourth person was Lowell Rheinheimer. The fact that actually moved me the most was my 67-year-old mother telling me that if no one else had come to stand with me in the demonstration, she would have done so.

The demonstration took place 16 days after Martin Luther King, the most prominent of the pacifist Civil Rights leaders, was assassinated in Tennessee. The aftermath of that assassination had led to violence and burning in many U.S. cities, including Chicago. The sheet I handed out at my demonstration pointed to King’s death as further evidence that death and violence, state-sanctioned or not, was an inadequate response to conflict.

After I lost my job, I could no longer pay my part of the rent. CADRE had friends of draft resisters who provided housing for those who needed it. For a couple of months I lived in a large apartment while the renters were on an extended vacation. The other folks living in the apartment included a small-time drug dealer, and a hippie “guru”, who with his 15-year-old female partner officiated at “weddings” for like-minded souls. They were later arrested for this.

As my finances dwindled I sold possessions like my camera to maintain myself. At the lowest point I sold my blood for money, and lived on 18 cents a day, enough to buy a Kraft dinner.

When my CADRE-provided lodgings ended, my friend, Jim Wenger, took pity and allowed me to move back to his apartment even though he now had another roommate, and I could contribute nothing to expenses.

DMC-Police-Riot

Police riot at Democratic National Convention, 1968

It became a time of waiting for the government to take action. On one occasion the FBI invited me to come downtown for a chat. They were non-committal on when I would be arrested.

The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago in late August. Lyndon Johnson had pulled out of the presidential race, and the convention became a focal point for protests against the Vietnam War. I participated in a number of the demonstrations in Grant Park in downtown Chicago. The police riot on the last night of the convention in late August resulted in hundreds of arrests and injuries when police charged demonstrators from three sides forcing demonstrators into crowded streets in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. I escaped that charge at the last moment because of access to a friend’s car parked nearby and a warning from a police officer that something was about to happen.

My experience during the Democratic National convention left me disenchanted with the radical Left in the United States. I came to believe that the New Left leaders, like Tom Hayden, also invited violence against the masses to help bring their revolution to fruition.

My emotional health began to suffer and paranoia increased. I took a civil service exam, hoping to get a job with the post office, but wondered whether it was worth it, since I could be arrested at any time. I heard rumors that neighbors had been contacted asking if I was still living at the apartment. An emotional crisis in late September 1968 led me to go to Goshen to see friends; this visit included a long conversation with Sue Clemmer in the cemetery near the seminary building at Goshen College. On October 13  three Goshen students, Dean Jost, Carol Beechy and Sue Clemmer came to Chicago almost as an “intervention” to persuade me to go to Canada, as well as to celebrate the first anniversary of Menno-Pause.

Donovan_1969

Donovan, 1969. Wikipedia photo

One of these visitors had become especially important to me. Sue Clemmer and I had been part of the publications “Bruderhof” at Goshen College, and initially were just friends. But in the turmoil of 1968 my attraction to her went much deeper. We had talked more deeply several times that August as we reflected on earlier romantic disappointments we had each experienced. We went to a concert that weekend, along with other Goshen people, to hear Donovan, the Scottish-born singer/songwriter.  Somebody else must have bought my ticket.

Our relationship changed for good that weekend, and Sue was key in persuading me to pursue the Canadian option. I returned to Goshen with my friends and a suitcase of clothes, and made plans for departure. Dan Leatherman, my political science prof, had married a Canadian woman, Kathryn Shantz, whose family was rooted in Waterloo County, Ontario. He offered to drive me to Canada as part of a family visit. I agreed and asked Sue to go along with me as support. After some hesitation she agreed to postpone taking an exam for graduate school, and joined me on the trip.

We drove into Canada as visitors on Friday, October 25, 1968. As it happens, Kathryn Leatherman’s oldest sister was Lorna Bergey, who later became a mentor to me in matters of Ontario Mennonite history. My first night in Canada was at the home of another sister, Beth and Paul Good, and on Sunday morning we attended the Blenheim Mennonite Church, where I was a bit of a curiosity. The Leatherman family and Sue then returned to Goshen.

Jim-Reusser-2005

Jim Reusser in 2005. Sam Steiner photo

I contacted a former roommate from Goshen College, Peter Enns, and was invited to stay at the home of his parents for a few days as I sorted things out. A visit to Walter Klaassen at Conrad Grebel College (who I understood to be involved with assisting draft dodgers) resulted in being put in touch with Jim Reusser, then pastor at the Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church in Kitchener. Jim arranged for me to be a lodger at his wife’s aunt’s home. Stella Cressman was a retired single women who lived on Pandora Ave., and had rented rooms previously. Jim also contacted Lester Zehr, a parishioner at Stirling Ave., and president of Zehrs Markets. Lester gave me a job as a grocery clerk at the store at Bridgeport Road and Weber Street in Waterloo. I have been forever grateful to Jim Reusser for his assistance, and mourn his recent death.

The next weekend the Leatherman family and Sue Clemmer came to Canada again to take me back to the border to apply for landed immigrant status. It was possible in those days to apply for this status at the border. From my draft counselling days I understood that the Port Huron/Sarnia border point was “friendlier” than the Detroit/Windsor point. So on Saturday, November 2, we returned to the U.S. through Detroit and went to Port Huron to cross the border again.

Immigration-card-1968When we crossed the border at Sarnia I indicated I wished to apply for landed immigrant status. While the Leatherman family and Sue waited, I was taken for an interview by an immigration official. Canada was already using a “points” system that gave points for years of education, proficiency in English and French, whether a job offer was in hand, location of intended residency, and other things. There were significant points also available at the discretion of the border official.

Indictment-article

Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 1968

The interview went quite smoothly, and as had been mandated by the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, no questions about my military status in the U.S. were asked. (Canada did not have a military draft, so this was not considered relevant on the matter of immigration.) After the official had told me I had been accepted, he asked if I was a draft dodger. I said that I was, and he then asked if I knew the consequences if I tried to return to the United States. He was very friendly and gracious throughout.

Unknown to me, I had been indicted on October 30, 1968 by a grand jury in Cleveland, Ohio for not submitting to induction. I have always assumed I missed arrest by a week or so. My departure from the U.S. meant I missed a scheduled court date in December 1968.

Thus began my life in Canada, and particularly in Waterloo County, Ontario. In about a year, Peter Enns’ father, Jake Enns, got me a job at the Mutual Life Assurance Company, where I worked several years, mostly as a computer programmer.

A-visit-to-Canada-in-January-1969

A visit to Canada in January 1969

Sue Clemmer remained a lifeline as I adjusted to a new world, and battled my feelings of guilt for not going to prison. Sue came to Canada after she graduated from Goshen College in 1969, and we were married at Conrad Grebel College on August 2, 1969. The wedding was also the first time I met her parents, who were understandably less than enthusiastic about their daughter’s decision. Fortunately we developed a very positive relationship over the years.

For the next seven years the FBI would annually visit or call my parents to ask if I had returned to the United States. It apparently became very cordial over time. My parents instructed me not to return for their funerals if one of them died.

In 1975 I asked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to look into my case from a legal point of view. It appeared several U.S. Supreme Court decisions bore directly on my case. The court had declared that inductions could not be speeded up if someone missed a physical, and more importantly, they had ruled that religious affiliation had no bearing on conscientious objector applications. They ruled that “sincerity” of belief was the key factor, not church affiliation. After the ACLU submitted a brief in late 1975, and my application was heard in federal court, the charges against me were immediately dropped. I was able to visit Sue’s family in Souderton, Pennsylvania, for the first time at Christmas 1975.

Our first years in Canada were not easy. We did not find our way back to the Mennonite Church until the early 1970s. This was influenced by Sue’s employer at Provident Bookstore, Aaron Klassen, who with his wife, Helen, became something of parental figures for us. For some time I continued to deal with feelings of guilt for not following through on going to prison.

The reality that so much of the help we had received had come from Mennonites who did not judge us, was not lost on us. We became attracted to Rockway Mennonite Church, then meeting in the library at Rockway Mennonite School. John Snyder was formally the pastor, but leadership came from many people like Norman High and Wilson Hunsberger, and no ideas about faith were dismissed out of hand. We slowly became more involved, and when I returned to studies at the University of Waterloo I became an intellectual disciple of Walter Klaassen and Frank H. Epp in the study of Anabaptist and Mennonite history.

One thing led to another, and I ended up for 33 plus years in the Mennonite Library and Archives at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, and Sue ended up as a Mennonite minister. We could have found no better home.


My experience with the U.S. draft has appeared in print in the following places:

Melissa Miller and Phil Shenk, The Path of Most Resistance: Stories of Mennonite Conscientious Objectors Who Did Not Cooperate with the Vietnam War Draft. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982: 95–114.

Sam Steiner. “Confessions of a Lapsed Radical.” Mennonite Historical Bulletin 52, no. 4 (October 1991): 6-10. Available at https://archive.org/stream/MennHistBull1991v52#page/n53/mode/2up  

Samuel J. Steiner,  “Alternative Service or Alternative Resistance? A Vietnam War Draft Resister in Canada.” Journal of Mennonite Studies 25 (2007): 195–204. Available at https://jms.uwinnipeg.ca/index.php/jms/article/viewFile/1234/1226.

My story has also been interpreted in a drama authored by Rebecca Steiner, Gadfly: Sam Steiner Dodges the Draft, and put on in fringe festivals across Canada in 2012, and at Goshen College in 2013 by Theatre of the Beat.

The Mennonite Church and Homosexuality

In the late 1960s and 1970s the question of the appropriate response to homosexuality arose among Christian denominations in North America, including the Mennonites. Prior to that era it was accepted with little discussion that homosexual people were to be excluded from the church community. In 1969 same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in Canada through legislation introduced in 1967 by then justice minister Pierre Trudeau. By 1982 Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protected homosexual persons against legal discrimination, and this was even more explicitly stated by the Canadian Supreme Court in 1995. In 2005 the Canadian Parliament legalized same-sex marriage. These and other national legal changes forced all religious groups to clarify and restate, or modify, their previous understanding on homosexuality. Mennonites were no different.

For conservative and Old Order Mennonite and Amish groups in Ontario and elsewhere these legal changes did not alter their previous understandings. Homosexual behavior continued to be punished as contrary to teachings in the Bible, and homosexual persons were expelled from congregations. Most typically, homosexual persons would “voluntarily” leave the community, often with great pain. Some conservative denominations permitted membership for a person with a homosexual orientation if the individual lived a celibate life.

Brethen Mennonite Council symbolConversations about homosexuality within the more assimilated (i.e. “mainline”) Mennonite denominations like Mennonite Church Canada and the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches began in the 1970s. This also occurred in the USA. The Brethren/Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (BMC, now Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests) formed in 1976 to advocate for gay and lesbian persons in the Mennonite and Church of the Brethren denominations and to encourage greater dialogue within the church. More recently, beginning in 2008, a Pink Menno campaign was launched, primarily focused on Mennonite Church USA in an effort to create more openness.

Martin Rock

Martin Rock, founder of BMC. Source: BMC oral history project

BMC did not have a regional chapter in Ontario until 1984. Its first overt activity in Ontario took place at the Mennonite Church’s 1979 biannual general assembly held at the University of Waterloo and known as Waterloo ’79. On the BMC representative’s first day at the conference he discovered an “assembly line” at Conrad Grebel College tearing a page out of a large stack of songbooks. It was #91 in Sing and Rejoice!, which was to be the hymnbook for the conference. The third verse of that hymn said “Praising God is the privilege of all; Black and white, straight and gay, old and young, short and tall.” An

Sing-and-Rejoice

The offending line in Sing and Rejoice!

Ontario Mennonite had complained about the verse, followed by pressure from congregational leaders. Rough censorship was the immediate solution for the general assembly, and the third verse was omitted in later printings of the songbook. Later in the meetings a BMC member was prevented from circulating a small brochure on What is the appropriate Christian Response to Homosexuality. This was the beginning of a decades-long series of unsuccessful BMC attempts to have exhibit space or formal recognition at Mennonite Church delegate sessions.

By the early 1980s Mennonite and other Protestant church bodies began to issue formal statements, sometimes after lengthy study processes. A number of works by Mennonite academics also appeared for use by congregations. The debate, as with the earlier issue of accepting divorced and remarried members, was over how to interpret key biblical passages, especially the New Testament passages of Romans 1:24–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Those pleading for welcoming gays and lesbians argued these passages addressed cultural issues faced by Christians in the first century that were not equivalent to late 20th-century sexuality issues. Those who wished to retain barriers against homosexual behavior said these Biblical passages were timeless in application and self-evident in meaning. People on both sides also expressed strongly held contrary views on the causes of an individual’s homosexual orientation and whether that orientation could be changed through therapy.

The earliest Mennonite statement explicitly on homosexuality and the church, by the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (1981), suggested that homosexual activity was sinful, but that homosexual orientation was not. All subsequent resolutions by Mennonite denominational bodies took essentially the same stance, including those by the General Conference Mennonite Church (1986), Mennonite Church (1987), Conservative Mennonite Conference (1995), Conference of Mennonites in Canada (1998), and the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (2004). The confessions of faith of all Mennonite denominations have continued to support this view up to 2017.

Notwithstanding the official denominational positions, a growing number of voices advocated the acceptance into the church of gay and lesbian Christians who were living in same-sex relationships. These calls primarily occurred within the binational Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church. These denominational bodies eventually restructured as Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada between 1999 and 2001. Sometimes these growing voices of acceptance included entire congregations that publicly welcomed gay and lesbian persons in relationships to full participation in the church, and identified as publicly “welcoming” congregations. Two MCEC congregations that joined the Supporting Congregations Network quite early were the Warden Woods (Toronto) and the Olive Branch (Kitchener-Waterloo) congregations, though both of these congregations later closed.

The Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Canada has continued to have discussion as well, though none of its congregations has become “welcoming.” They held study conferences in 2013 and 2015 on human sexuality, though the study conference leaders tried to restrict input to positions that reflected the confession of faith. This does not mean that there is no support for LGBTQ people in Mennonite Brethren churches, but congregations have not achieved the unity required for a public statement. (My thanks to Arli Klassen for pointing me to these links.)

One Ontario example of welcoming ministry to the LGBTQ community concerned Ron Lentz, a nurse and Mennonite from Pennsylvania. He came to Canada in the 1970s and contracted AIDS in 1982. He was fired from the Toronto Western Hospital for having AIDS, but later won reinstatement through a legal challenge. He helped to found an AIDS drop in center in 1987 described as “a blend of Alcoholics Anonymous and Mennonite Community principles.” His December 1988 death was remembered in a January 1989 service at the Danforth Mennonite Church in Toronto.

Welcoming congregational initiatives generated several, sometimes contradictory, types of response within denominations. In a number of Mennonite Church USA area conferences it resulted in the expulsion of the congregations from the area conference (and the denomination). Expulsion occurred also in Canada, but less frequently. No Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) congregations in Ontario were expelled for their openness to full membership and participation by gays and lesbians, partly because of a concerted effort of Mennonite Church Canada and MCEC leadership to maintain  dialogue between the interpretive factions. The dialogue approach by these leaders, however, caused some more conservative Mennonite Church Canada congregations, particularly in western Canada, to withdraw from the denomination.

Since 2000 there has been acceleration, both in the pace of interpretive change and theological tension,  within both Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Two Mennonite Church USA area conferences have authorized ministerial credentials for gay or lesbian pastors who were in a same-sex relationship. At the same time, a number of congregations and three area conferences, including the large Lancaster Mennonite Conference, have withdrawn from Mennonite Church USA. This turmoil has had a devastating impact on the denomination, threatening the financial viability of some of its programs and diverting attention from other issues.

Being a Faithful ChurchFor its part, Mennonite Church Canada went through a multi-year discernment process from 2007 to 2016 called “Being a Faithful Church.” It encouraged each member congregation to undertake a study of Biblical interpretation, especially in the area of human sexuality, and to provide feedback to the denomination on possible ways to move forward on the issue. The delegates at the denomination’s annual meeting in 2016 approved a resolution that stated the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective continued to serve the church, while acknowledging there were different understandings within MC Canada on committed same-sex relationships. It called for the denomination to create/leave room “to test alternative understandings from that of the larger Body to see if they are a prophetic nudging of the Spirit of God.”

This compromise was unsatisfactory for many on both sides of the issue. More congregations on the conservative side withdrew from Mennonite Church Canada, especially in western Canada. Others felt the action was much too cautious, and called for explicit acceptance of LGBTQ people. The impact on Mennonite Church Canada has been similar to that in Mennonite Church USA. A reduction and decentralization of denominational programming in Mennonite Church Canada is underway, in part because of increasingly reduced financial support from its congregations. A reduction in financial support has been common in many Protestant denominations, including other Mennonite groups. Controversy over issues of human sexuality has not been the only factor in this reduced congregational giving, but it has been a significant factor within Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

As evidence of the distance Mennonite Church Canada has travelled on this issue in recent years, on September 28, 2017 the General Board of MC Canada issued an apology to its LGBTQ members. In this apology, the General Board confessed it had not permitted the continuing loving dialogue called for in its predecessor denominations’ human sexuality statements in 1986 and 1987, and confessed that many LGBTQ persons had felt silenced even during the “Being a Faithful Church” process.

Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC), an area conference of Mennonite Church Canada, is located primarily in Ontario. To this point in 2017 no congregations in MCEC have withdrawn over the issue of sexuality, though it appears several congregations are contemplating such an action.

Nonetheless there has been deep pain within Ontario MCEC congregations over the issue. One of the most visible cases was that of an associate pastor at the Toronto United Mennonite Church (TUMC). She began serving on the two-person pastoral team in January 1999. In April 2002 she declared to the congregation her lesbian sexual orientation and revealed that she was in a dating relationship with a Mennonite woman from another congregation. This disclosure led both TUMC, and MCEC, which oversees ministerial credentials, into long discernment processes. Two congregational votes on June 21, 2003 resulted in inadequate support for the associate pastor’s continued employment in the congregation. Meanwhile, MCEC immediately ended  a process that would have led to her full ordination. This painful story received much visibility in the church press within and beyond the Ontario Mennonite community.

The leadership of MCEC then took a deliberate decision in 2004 to not exclude congregations who were welcoming to LGBTQ persons. This was outlined in a document, “Pointing a Direction on Homosexuality.” Since that time a number of MCEC congregations have self-identified as welcoming to LGBTQ persons. This was done through formal statements, including statements on congregational websites, as well as inclusion of the rainbow symbol on their websites.

At the time of writing, after a quick search of MCEC congregational websites, I had identified ten mostly urban MCEC congregations that self-identified as welcoming to LGBTQ persons on their websites. These included Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church (Kitchener), Erb Street Mennonite Church (Waterloo), Waterloo North Mennonite Church, Rockway Mennonite Church (Kitchener), St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, Breslau Mennonite Church, Community Mennonite Church of Stouffville, Toronto United Mennonite Church, Hamilton Mennonite Church and Ottawa Mennonite Church. I believe there are other congregations with welcoming statements that could be listed. I may have missed some. I would appreciate updates that could be added to this page. Congregational statements can be sent to me at steiner.sam [at] gmail.com.

Stirling Statement

Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church’s statement on their website, 2017. See also their Litany of Lament and Confession

I was prompted to reflect historically on Mennonites and homosexuality in this blog by a controversy occasioned by the inclusion of a paid supplement sponsored by the Maple View Mennonite Church of Wellesley, Ontario in the September 25, 2017 issue of Canadian Mennonite. The supplement adapted a statement by the Evangelical Free Church of America on human sexuality that was an uncompromising restatement of the traditional exclusionary view on homosexuality. I engaged in the social media discussion on the Mennonite Church Canada Facebook group by defending the right of Maple View Mennonite Church to place such an ad, though I questioned whether it would be effective. A vast majority of social media voices felt the supplement should not have been included by Canadian Mennonite because it did not invite dialogue and was harmful to the LGBTQ community that had already suffered much from the church. The response of the Canadian Mennonite at time of posting the blog was incomplete. On its Facebook page it said it “acknowledges the deep pain and anger that was caused by the Maple View supplement,” but would make a fuller statement the following week. The formal response came in this statement (also published in the print edition of October 23), though the statement was not well-received by most of the early responses to it.

The consequences of this controversy within Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada will remain unclear for many years. Certainly denominational structures are changing and shrinking. The reasons include aging demographics, a desire for more localized programming, a fading interest in the institutional church, along with weariness and dismay over painful controversies. The matter of relating to its LGBTQ communities has been one such controversy in the Mennonite community.

To learn more about Ontario Mennonite history, read In Search of Promised Lands.

I obtained some of my information on the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests from its periodical, Dialogue.

Missions in Québec–Janet Mills Martin

Richard-Lougheed

Richard Lougheed, 2014

In recent days I’ve been reading a manuscript by Richard Lougheed, a church history professor at the École de Théologie Évangélique de Montréal. in Québec. The manuscript is about the history of Anabaptist mission efforts in Québec, including those of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario (now Mennonite Church Eastern Canada), the Mennonite Brethren, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonites (Holdeman Mennonites) and the Brethren in Christ (now Be in Christ). Richard is a church leader who came to know the Mennonites well while serving as an Anglican-United Church pastor in Rouyn-Noranda during the years that Robert Witmer was the leader of a small Mennonite congregation there. Richard became a Mennonite, and has done much to gather the history of Mennonites in that province.

His manuscript will hopefully soon become a book, covering an oft-neglected part of Canadian Mennonite history.

It brought to mind the efforts within the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in the 1950s to launch a mission effort in Québec. Two of the pioneers in this effort were Janet and Tilman Martin. They were a bit of an odd couple — Tilman was born an Old Order Mennonite, but ended up at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church and Ontario Mennonite Bible School. He went on to study at Toronto Bible College where he met Janet, an woman born in London, England.

Janet died in 2002; Richard Lougheed wrote a short article on her for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), which is reproduced below.


Janet Martin, 1982

Janet and Tilman Martin, 1982. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

Janet  Martin: Quebec missionary, born as Janet Madeleine Mills in London, England on 18 June 1933 to Basil Mills and Margery Roland. After being raised in a secular setting she was introduced to the idea of Christian faith when evacuated to Wales. After World War II she immigrated to Canada with her parents. Janet came to personal faith in the Harrow Associated Gospel Church and was baptized by them in Lake Erie, Ontario. She later attended Toronto Bible College, where she met fellow student Tilman Martin. They married in Harrow on 6 June 1953. Janet Martin became a member of the St. Jacob’s congregation of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. She and Tilman continued their education at Ontario Mennonite Bible Institute.

From 1954 on Janet Martin was in full-time service for the church with Tilman — one year in Waters, Ontario and 46 years in Quebec. She and Tilman were the pioneer missionaries for Quebec along with Harold and Pauline Reesor, sent by the Mennonite Board of Missions (Elkhart) and later the Mennonite Mission Board of Ontario. The Martin and Reesor couples arrived in Quebec in August 1956. Janet Martin participated fully in ministries in Montréal-Nord (1957-1973), Joliette, the Camp Le Sablier and in the prisons where Tilman served as chaplain for 15 years. She often opened their home to prisoners on parole or on visits. In fact through their home base Janet Martin provided radical hospitality for children, grandchildren, those revolving around the church and others in need. Janet Martin spent her retirement actively engaged in the Ottawa Mennonite congregation. She had five children, one of whom died young. Janet Martin died in Gatineau, Quebec on 29 July 2002.

Martin was a pioneer missionary, musician (particularly solo vocals), and correspondent in French for l’Aurore newspaper and in English for The Canadian Mennonite. Janet Martin served as longtime liaison between Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and the Quebec churches. As a historian she collected enough documents to provide a beginning for the archives of the Société historique Mennonite du Québec.

Reflections on Menno-Pause

This post accompanies The 50th Anniversary of Menno-Pause, and includes reflections by Lowell Miller, Tom Harley, Verlin Miller and Sue Clemmer Steiner.

Lowell Miller

Fifty Years Later

There once were five guys at GC
Who wrote what they wanted to see
They tried a new style
But just a short while
And the Pres put them all out to sea.

We went separate ways
For most of our days
After what we did write
Was considered a blight
And an insult to Mennonite ways

It’s been fifty years
Since we left GC in tears
We’ve lived normal lives
With children and wives
Have wrestled and overcome fears.

We still like to think
Some with paper and ink
Some by fishing
Some by wishing
And look for a good way to link.

— Lowell Miller, September 2017


Tom Harley

I am now 71 going on 102.  I was then 21 going on 14.

My memory is notoriously unreliable. But if I remember correctly, I wrote two satiric pieces for Menno-pause. One was the article about dancing. It was bitingly satiric. But it was far more ironic than it was satiric. I had never danced. I had no interest in dancing. I couldn’t dance. I wouldn’t dance. I was afraid of dancing. If Goshen College had sponsored a dance, I would have been too shy to go, too scared of women to participate, and too ashamed of my body to make it do anything even remotely akin to dancing. But hey, such is the life of a revolutionary satirist.

But I think I also wrote the “deleted words” summary. I liked it then and still do. It too is ironic. I actually got thrown out of college for deleting the word fuck 37 times. That is a remarkable feat. We had the common decency and social sensitivity to remove obscenities from our writing, and they still chucked us out. In retrospect, I wish we had left those words in. It certainly did us no good to take them out. And it was such hard work – they had been so strategically placed and artfully deployed.

Long live satire. Long live free speech. Long live gay rights. Long live progressive politics. Farewell uptight institutions and quaint Moralism. Farewell homophobia. Farewell coverings.

— Tom Harley, September 2017


Verlin Miller

Post Menno-Pause Reflections Fifty years later

This week watching the PBS Vietnam War series of Ken Burns and Lyn Novick brought back to me the angst, anger and fear during the 60’s. The impulse for Menno-Pause cannot be understood without the experience of the immediacy of a world gone crazy with violence. The Vietnam series is required viewing for anyone wanting to understand. My “coming of age” maybe began with the rude awakening of John Kennedy’s assassination, news of the civil rights movement in the South, the Vietnam war and the draft, and the broader student peace movement of the 60’s.   Our story [my story] can’t be told without folk and blues roots music, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and of course Sargent Pepper. We listened to them together. I also learned to appreciate Tom’s collection of Hayden and more [having not had Mary Oyer was my loss]. And I still have memories of Pete Seeger’s “Waist deep in the big muddy and the big fool says push on” and The Smothers Brothers sarcasm.

We were five young men from rather conservative churches and sheltered cultural backgrounds exploring dissent in a time when leadership was fearful of losing control. We felt that we had been “sold a bill of goods’ –both theologically in our churches and politically/socially by our conservative cultures– which demanded fresh responses. We were not really activists like some people we knew, but felt compelled to speak somehow.

There was a kind of meanness in the suspensions, since all would immediately lose their student deferment and be subject to the draft. Any Girardian or reader of James Alison would recognize right away the dynamics involved in a large majority of Goshen College students standing and applauding President Mininger’s speech justifying the abrupt suspension. “The many righteous have to stand up to the wicked few”. We were not heroes, though in the aftermath, I think Sam and Tom’s resistance to the draft was heroic. But it was clear that for some Menno-Pause was “dangerous” and many of you reading this decided you were on “the other side”-siding with President Mininger’s call for “family values” and exclusion- standing and applauding with approval for removing and punishing the “audacity of a visible danger on campus”. I still don’t understand that need to make a stand against. It was a fearful time. Some no doubt had little idea how to respond or which side they were on.  For the editors there was a personal urgency to call for a sane world. During my years in college I read all I could of the Anabaptist history of dissent, followed John Howard Yoder and the Concern movement as they wrote and spoke.

I have been asked in more recent years if I had “survivors guilt”.  I’m sure I felt some of that, but what I remember is the devastation and anger at the loss of my closest friends. I felt deeply the pain and disruption in their lives.  I kept contact in the transition and I knew the time was volatile. I didn’t feel the college administrators were on our side and felt betrayed by the acquiescence of some professors. Today I’m grateful and highly value my time, friendship and shared hilarity with the other four editors.

As far as my own journey, I was heavily influenced by the student house church movement that began on campus and later became a part of the Mennonite “fringe” communal movement of the Atlanta Fellowship, Reba Place Fellowship and the Fellowship of Hope.

The success of Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, also the Marginal Mennonite Society and the Daily Bonnet on Facebook stem from similar impulses. I am shocked but maybe not surprised at the current absurdities of today’s political situation. Fifty years later, dissent and resistance is needed now as much as any time in our history.

— Verlin Miller September 29, 2017


Sue Clemmer Steiner

Navigating Churning Waters

There’s a spot in Indiana where the leafy maple grows;
Tis our dear and glorious Parkside where the Elkhart River flows…[1]

Thus begins the official Goshen College song. Yet in my four years as a Goshen undergrad in the late 1960’s, I ignored the Elkhart River completely. It was a mile away, over by the College Cabin and the dam, and was probably the most beautiful spot in Goshen. Yet I never once canoed on it or even got my pant legs wet from the banks.

But at Goshen College I did get my pant legs wet in another way. I steered a venerable but fragile craft through churning waters, avoiding rocks, trying not to take on too much water or capsize my little boat. The craft I steered was the college’s official student newspaper—The Goshen College Record—housed “across the tracks” in a non-descript cement block building.[2] During my stint as Record editor during the tumultuous 1967-68 school year, I claimed a voice I still own. I also began to imagine myself as a leader.

Thirteen years later I wrote in a commissioned article in the Goshen College Bulletin:[3]

To recall the late 60’s at Goshen College takes almost more energy than
I can muster. The times were heady, frantic, larger than life. It seems to me now that they must have run on sheer energy.

As editor of the Record, I had the job of analyzing the times while they happened. During that era, it seems to me, both the idealism and the disillusionment of the age impinged upon our sheltered institution—and our sheltered psyches—with a force which caught everyone off guard.

That year the war in Vietnam heated up, spreading dis-ease, threatening to keep us coming-of-age folks from the good life we thought was our due. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, spurring a distressed Record reporter to write: “Today the American Dream looks like it is nothing but a gargoyled vision of another time.”[4]

And early in the year, while the Record staff was still finding its way, four male members of our “publications Brüderhof”—including photographer Sam Steiner—distributed two mimeographed issues of an underground newspaper they called Menno-Pause.[5] While I had no part in creating the content, I did unlock an office door so the guys could make page stencils. The “M-P boys” saw their irreverent little rag as “a gadfly…a watchdog…a critic…an extended student opinion board…and general all-around crap.” They assumed it would be officially ignored.

We at the Record struggled with whether and how to officially respond. We were not of one mind. After much discussion, we agreed on a staff editorial stating our hope that Menno-Pause would survive beyond its initial issues.[6] To do so, we suggested, the paper would need to get beyond “immature sarcasm” and crude language and “choose more significant subject matter.”[7] Perhaps we showed our true colours by including in that issue of the Record three photos by Sam Steiner, as well as an innocuous signed news article or column by each of the other M-P boys. Privately, we enjoyed the unscientific stats on the rise and fall of the head covering in Menno-Pause, based on photos from the college yearbook from 1953-67.

None of us foresaw the degree to which Menno-Pause could be interpreted as a political act against the institution and its value system. The suspension of the M-P boys, applauded by a large bloc of the student body at a Presidential Forum, sparked a crisis for campus opinion leaders. The applause took us completely by surprise. It hit me smack in the face. It felt thunderous and endless and directed at me too.

We had dimly realized that some students considered us Record and yearbook folks to be a “self-styled elite.” Certainly some members of our loosely-connected Brüderhof were part of campus subgroups focusing on the arts or on popular music or on left-leaning politics. We tended to inhabit the English department or one of the social sciences. And our religious expressions were less conventional than the campus norm. But we hadn’t grasped how suspect these various associations and inclinations made us to some students.

From time to time we claimed to want to know what the “silent majority” thought. Yet we were unprepared when we found out. I and other campus leaders with mildly left-wing leanings wondered if we any longer had a mandate to do our jobs. We felt like a rejected minority.

During those dark days when I felt very unsure of myself, I had two invaluable guides. John Fisher, for whom I graded freshman English essays, advised: the important thing is to stay cool until tomorrow. He informed me that I was not going to even think of resigning. We need your leadership now more than ever, he asserted.

Meanwhile a beleaguered Dan Hess, the young faculty advisor we claimed as almost one of us, called a soul-searching meeting of the Record staff. We talked about the minimum requirement for campus publications to continue—the ability to be able to discern the main body of campus opinion and to present it at face value.

Over the next days and weeks, I glimpsed a way forward. I felt determination rising within me. We’d show those students who applauded. We were going to be darn good journalists!

With Dan’s support, we set ourselves to it. We began with a double-page spread on Menno-Pause which gave due voice to all varieties of campus opinion. Our features on the meaning of Vietnam and of Martin Luther King’s death for Goshen students followed the same pattern. I’m still proud of them.

My editorials took on a tone and angle of approach I still recognize and own. My confidence grew as various people—including a few administrators—wrote notes to me in campus mail, thanking me for my editorials and expressing the opinion that we were doing good journalism.

That year at Goshen, I sorted out how to honour my own views while endeavouring to represent the whole student body, and to some degree those things important to the institution itself. Somehow I figured out how to do this while staying connected with the M-P boys and other friends who expressed little use for “the establishment.” Weekdays I studied and edited the Record. Some weekends I visited two of the M-P boys in Chicago. Less than two years later, I married one of them.

That Record year also afforded me the chance to try my wings as a staff leader, team builder and encourager. Forging a team spirit, making space for others to shine, but also knowing when my own voice needs to be clearly heard—this has always been my best leadership stance. I learned it at Goshen College, navigating a small craft called the Record during that tumultuous year.[8]

[1] “Goshen College ever singing” was adopted as Goshen’s alma mater in 1911. After falling into disuse, it has  recently enjoyed a modest revival.

[2] Previously, caged mice occupied the space as part of a psychology experiment.

[3] Sue Clemmer Steiner, “1967-68: The Way They Were” in Goshen College Bulletin, March 1981 (Vol. 66, No. 2), 4-5.

[4] Dan Kauffman, “A Nation Divided—Will There Be A Sane Answer?” in The Goshen College Record, April 12, 1968 (Vol. 69, No. 12), 4.

[5] Copies of Menno-Pause are on deposit at the Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN) and at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario at Conrad Grebel University College (Waterloo, ON).

[6] We adapted a pro-M-P piece submitted by columnist Steve Kreider, reworking it with his participation.

[7] “On Campus Gadflies,” in The Goshen College Record, October 6, 1967 (Vol. 69, No. 2), 2.

[8] In spring 1968, I wrote an 11-page piece for myself and a few others, chronicling what had happened and my reactions.  It was invaluable to me as I wrote this essay.

— Sue Clemmer Steiner, extracted from Flowing with the River: Soundings from my Life and Ministry (2013; no longer in print)


If you have memories of the Menno-Pause affair at Goshen College, please share them in the comment section (“Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this blog.)

See also The 50th Anniversary of Menno-Pause, with historical review and comments by Sam Steiner See also Menno Pause Revisited by Dan Hess, first published in CMW Journal in 2009

The 50th Anniversary of Menno-Pause

Sam-Steiner-68

Sam Steiner, 1966. Maple Leaf photo

Today (September 29, 2017) marks the 50th anniversary of the first issue of Menno-Pause, an underground newspaper, at Goshen College, a Mennonite College in Indiana. It can fairly be said that my move to Canada in October 1968 as a draft dodger partially resulted from this publication, though the experience was shared with other students at Goshen College in September/October 1967. Menno-Pause was an experiment that lasted one month.

I hope regular readers of this Ontario Mennonite History blog will forgive this personal intrusion into the series. This account is primarily a re-issue of a post I made two years ago, with additional comments and photographs.

Jim-Wenger

Jim Wenger, ca. 1967

The five editors during our experiment included James S. “Jim” Wenger, a brilliant English major we all assumed would become a university professor. He was a voracious reader, a lover of ideas, as well as being a gifted pianist. Lowell Miller, a farm boy from Ohio, was another English major who enjoyed theological debate. In September 1967 Jim and Lowell roomed together at one end of Yoder Hall, the largest men’s dorm at the College.

Tom-Harley

Tom Harley, ca. 1967

Tom Harley was a political science major with an incisive wit, a love for both Joseph Haydn and the Beatles, and a passion for trout fishing. I was a political science major, a photographer, and a lover of urban blues. Some thought that I was also a faux rebel because I had been suspended from the college twice previously for illegally entering a campus building and for refusing to hand in attendance cards at thrice-weekly mandatory “convocations”/chapels. In fall 1967 Tom and I were roommates at the other end of Yoder Hall in Room 201, after Tom made a last-minute decision to live in the dorm instead of his home, which was in Goshen.

Verlin Miller, another English major with a rich curiosity for people and ideas, was a staff assistant on another floor in Yoder Hall.

Sam-and-Verlin-1965

Sam Steiner and Verlin Miller, 1965

The five editors were friends before Menno-Pause started. I had been the photographer for the Maple Leaf yearbook in 1966/67 when Jim was its editor. Tom and I were the only political science majors at the college, and had spent a lot of time with the College’s sole political science prof, Dan Leatherman. Verlin and I roomed together part of the summer of 1967 with a shared interest in blues and underground newspapers. Lowell Miller was the only editor I didn’t know before our adventure began.

Maple-Leaf

Sam & Jim with Phyllis Detweiler and Carolyn Mullet of Maple Leaf staff, Maple Leaf photo

We were all young, naive Mennonites from rural areas or small towns (except for Tom, who was just young and naive and came from a small city). We were part of a “publications Brüderhof” at the college, loosely connected to The Record (the official student newspaper), the Maple Leaf (the annual student yearbook), and Foolscap (the student literary publication). In September 1967 I was the photographer and Tom was a regular columnist for the Record, while Jim and Lowell also wrote for the Record.

Sue-Clemmer-1967

Sue Clemmer, Record editor, 1967. Maple Leaf photo

Sue Clemmer, the Record editor, was part of the Brüderhof, as was Phyllis Detweiler, the Maple Leaf editor. Jim and Lowell were both on staff for Foolscap.

Jim Wenger was the intellectual leader of our little band.  He had studied the growing phenomenon of underground newspapers in spring 1967 for the English department’s Communication and Society course. In this course he analyzed the East Village Other, a New York City alternative publication. He was a convinced adherent of the free speech movement, and wished for a living example at Goshen College. He also wanted to shake his “egghead” academic reputation because he had a near 4.0 grade average, except for lower marks in Physical Education (which sometimes earned him the nickname of “Volleyball”).

339px-Port-huron-statementJim and I, and possibly a few other Goshen students, were also adherents of the New Left movement through individual memberships in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS’s philosophy was articulated in its Port Huron statement. It emphasized the buzzword “participatory democracy” (which stated students should truly participate in shaping their own education). SDS was extremely appealing to students restive about a college that they believed listened to its conservative Mennonite “constituency” more than it did to its students.

The summer of 1967 Verlin and I saw a modest underground newspaper published by two Mennonite Voluntary Service workers who lived in the south side of Chicago, Steve Stucky and Mark Wagler. We mused about the possibilities at the college, and took inspiration from their work.

Doug_Swartzentruber

Doug Swartzentruber, 1968. Maple Leaf photo

Bill-Horrisberger

Bill Horrisberger, 1968. Maple Leaf photo

In early September the five of us began to plan, mostly in Yoder 201, often against the backdrop of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” By September 10 we were serious about producing an underground paper. Tom came up with the name of the paper. We co-opted others to help. They included Carol Beechy (for a women’s perspective column), Doug Swartzendruber (designed the cover), Eric Yoder, and Bill Horrisberger.  We delegated Jim and Lowell to give Record editor Sue Clemmer a “head’s up” that our alternative publication was coming.

Cover of Menno-Pause, issue one.

Menno-Pause, issues 1 & 2. Click on the image to download a pdf copy. My apologies for the poor quality of issue #1

Since our work on the paper was an open secret, four of us decided to sign the masthead of Menno-Pause issue #1. We encouraged Verlin to leave his name off the masthead, since he had an official role that might be jeopardized by a visible connection to the paper. For reasons I no longer explicitly recall, the individual articles were all unsigned, though it was probably to prevent one writer from being singled out for sanction because of a specific article.

Jim drafted our purpose statement: “The Menno-Pause is a gadfly (poking and prodding the GC sacred cows), a watchdog (checking and analysing disciplinary action), a critic (positive or negative analysis of GC education), an extended student opinion board-and general all-around crap.” We characterized ourselves as the “campus underground newspaper team.”

On the evening of September 28, Sue Clemmer provided us access to the English department’s stencil cutting and mimeograph machines. Verlin frantically typed the stencils. We had a blank space that needed filling, so we added a list of unacceptable words that been “deleted,” including shucks, goodness gracious, and fuck (37 times). Peg Mullet and Kathy Helmuth assisted us in printing the two-sheet, four page paper. Lenny Preheim agreed to circulate issues in the dining hall the next morning. He showed up late, so I gave away almost all of the 400 copies in less than 30 minutes in the breakfast lineup.

Record-editorial

Record editorial, October 6, p. 2

The reaction was mixed, but there were many requests for leftover copies. Critical comments suggested we had come closest to meeting the last phrase of our purpose statement (“general all-around crap”). Even our friends at the Record later editorialized: “Unfortunately, the first issue was cruder than it was funny.”

Dan-Hess

Dan Hess, 1967. Maple Leaf photo

We delivered a personal copy to Dan Hess, the faculty adviser for student publications. (Dan Leatherman, our political science prof, was on leave, living in Chicago that year working on a PhD degree, and wasn’t available for counsel during these days.) Hess was soon asked if he could provide the administration a copy of our paper. By Saturday afternoon we had received our first letter to the editor–a critical analysis by Delmar Good, a young Economics professor, of Lowell Miller’s graph and analysis on “the decline and fall of the covering [prayer veil]” in the student yearbook over the years.

By Monday (October 2), it was clear that President Paul Mininger and other administrators were very unhappy. Dan Hess advised Jim Wenger, based on his earlier research, to gather a folder of articles that would provide background on the underground press movement for President Mininger. Hess also advised us to prepare a second issue as quickly as possible to provide a better example of our intent.

Paul-Mininger

Paul Mininger, 1967. Maple Leaf photo

We thought this advice was good, and immediately began work on the next issue. There was one conflict within the editorial board. Should we pursue the use of “obscene” language? Tom said it was not crucial to the paper. Jim was not sure. I thought we should not go out of our way to use it, but that we should claim the right to use it as the situation demanded.

We finally decided to discuss the issue of obscene language in the second issue, and delegated the task for the primary article to Tom, since he would probably have the coolest head in writing it. Jim found a quote from Eberhard Kronhausen (who wrote learned books on pornography) that seemed to fit the front page nicely, and we also found a little piece by Episcopal rabble-rouser Malcolm Boyd that addressed the issue.

We also wanted to present something explicitly positive. So Jim wrote a short article about Prof. Mary Oyer, a real academic hero of Jim’s in the area of Fine Arts and Music. I opposed this, probably because she once publicly lectured me for falling asleep in her class, but was overruled by the other editors.

Russ-Liechty

Dean of Students Russ Liechty, 1968. Maple Leaf photo

That Thursday we were pulled out of class for a meeting “in ten minutes” with President Mininger and Dean of Students Russ Liechty. They expressed concern about “the word on the back page,”  the combination of letters in the name of our team, and the name of the paper. We talked about the nature of underground papers and satire, that this was a first effort. I defended our use of the language.

After the meeting with the four of us, Jim and I were kept for individual meetings with President Mininger and Dean Liechty. In my meeting they expressed great disappointment because of my earlier infractions at the college. I claimed that in my re-admission from a previous suspension I had specifically retained the right to speak to issues at the college. I suspect I was fairly defensive.

None of the rest of us editors knew that Jim Wenger was in the process of sorting out his sexual identity. That summer he had placed an personal ad in the Berkeley Barb soliciting a male partner. An alumnus of the college had seen the ad, and had sent a copy to the Goshen College administration. Despite this act, however, Jim was also then tentatively exploring a romantic relationship with a female member of our publications Brüderhof. I assume the administrators discussed the ad with Jim, though I don’t know that as a fact. I have searched for this ad in in the online archives of the Berkeley Barb and East Village Other (the paper he had studied in his research) on several occasions, but I’ve never been able to find the ad.

Our second issue came out on Monday, October 9. Copies created with a slightly more sophisticated process in downtown Goshen at a Mennonite agency, again were snapped up in short order. In the aftermath Jim and I were invited to participate in the campus church on the following Sunday to talk about dissent on Christian campuses.

As it happened, all the decisions we had made about content in issue #2 were used against us in the ensuing decisions. Even the article about Mary Oyer was interpreted as being destructive to the integrity of the college community.

Wednesday night, October 11, the four publicly-identified editors meet individually with the Faculty Discipline Committee. In my meeting President Mininger read a lengthy statement on the goals and purposes of Goshen College. I was then asked why I should be allowed to remain at Goshen College. I responded, likely with limited coherence, that I thought I could make a contribution to the life of the college. When asked if I had regrets, I said I regretted that we had failed to properly communicate our goals. The three other publicly identified editors had similar experiences.

A Presidential Forum for all students was announced for Thursday evening, October 12, in the church-chapel. The meeting was scheduled for 8:30 pm. Since a faculty meeting had gone on most of the day, we did not learn our personal fates until 7:30 that evening. It was harsher than we expected. All four public editors were suspended for the remainder of the academic year. We had speculated that I might be disciplined because of my prior “record” at the College. This disciplinary action changed all our lives in varying ways.

Record-summary

The Record‘s summary of events. October 27, p. 6

The administration asked us not to attend the Presidential Forum. For reasons I don’t recall, we agreed. At the forum a large majority of the students supported the suspension with a round of applause. Verlin, and other members of the publications Brüderhof in attendance at the meeting, were surprised by the intensity of the student support for the administration, and felt it was directed against them as well.

The next days found the four of us contacting family, sorting out logistics and making plans. Some of the editors had a debriefing at Dan Hess’ home. Sunday afternoon the editors were interviewed by Sue Clemmer as part of a two-page spread in the Record. After a “last [spaghetti] supper” prepared by Forreyce Lewis for the editors and their friends on Sunday night, the four of us left for Chicago.

Menno-Pause editors, October 1967

Menno-Pause editors, October 15, 1967. L-R: Jim Wenger, Tom Harley, Sam Steiner, Lowell Miller. Goshen College Record photo, October 27, pp. 6-7

Record-quotes

Quotes in the Record’s two page spread, October 27, p. 6

Two things attracted us to Chicago. The Voluntary Service (VS) unit on Chicago’s south side housed Steve Stucky and Mark Wagler, the two guys, who had shown us an underground paper the previous summer, as well as Mark’s wife and infant son. Also, Dan Leatherman, our political science prof, lived with his family near the VS unit.

Tom and Lowell soon left Chicago and returned to their homes. Jim and I moved to the northern edge of Chicago and got jobs at the Evanston Hospital–Jim in the kitchen, I as a supply clerk in the general stores area. Jim was able to use his work to fulfill his alternative service obligation to the Selective Service System. He remained working in the hospital kitchen for the rest of his life. I worked at the hospital for about six months until I destroyed my draft card, returned it to my local draft board, and was dismissed from the hospital.

Sometime in late 1967 or early 1968 Jim confirmed his sexual orientation as a gay man, and came out to me and other close friends. Within a half a year or so he had begun a life-long committed relationship with Peter Johnsen. They shared almost 30 years together. Jim died May 31, 1997 after initially contracting non-HIV pneumonia, and finally succumbing from a superbug he caught while in the hospital.

Sue and Sam wedding

Wedding party L-R: Sara Freed (former Record editor), Sue Clemmer, J. R. Burkholder (minister), Sam Steiner, Tom Harley. Verlin Miller was an usher. 

During this tumultuous time in Chicago (1967/68), Jim and I were periodically visited by various friends from the Goshen publication Brüderhof. As my legal and living situation worsened, they expressed growing concern for my psychological well-being. One friend from the Brüderhof in particular, Sue Clemmer, persuaded me that Canada was a healthier alternative for me than prison. I left for Canada during the last week of October 1968. Our courtship deepened, and we were married in Canada on August 2, 1969.

People have asked if there was ever reconciliation with the administrative leaders at Goshen College. Tom returned to Goshen and Lowell ended up following another educational path; I finished my undergraduate degree in Canada.

Jim Wenger, ca. 1992

Jim Wenger, ca. 1992. Photo by Peter Johnsen. Used as a publicity photo for his musical performances.

Jim Wenger never returned to academia, and stopped playing the piano for almost 20 years. He eventually healed enough to begin to play the piano again in the late 1980s and  to create tapes of his piano music for friends as Christmas presents. He began to perform as a piano soloist in the early 1990s, including at the Art Association of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, near his home community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Jim and Peter returned to the Goshen College for the first (and only?) time for a weekend in October 1993 as a guest of Dan and Joy Hess. Jim later described it as cathartic for himself–“many positive and negative memories flowed.” He also had what he described as a “joyful reunion” with Mary Oyer. In 1995, as recounted by Dan Hess, Jim had one meeting with then former President Mininger, though we don’t know what was said in that encounter.

I first encountered Paul Mininger after my suspension around 1980 in the home of Richard Detweiler, then pastor of the Souderton Mennonite Church. Mininger was the preacher at the Souderton Church one Sunday when Sue and I were visiting her family in Souderton. Richard Detweiler was Sue’s first cousin. Richard and his wife, Mary Jane, invited us to Sunday lunch and Richard forced me to sit next to Mininger at the dining room table. We had a cordial conversation.

Paul Mininger and I later had several longer conversations. In 1991 I made a presentation about my college and draft experience to a Mennonite Historical Society meeting at the Mennonite Church Assembly in Eugene, Oregon. Paul Mininger asked if I would mind if he came to the presentation. He exhibited a warmth in our conversations then that I had not experienced when a student. I felt we ended on good terms.

On reflection, the four of us were naive in estimating what a small Mennonite college, still shaking off the traditions of the 1950s and early 1960s, was capable of absorbing. The applause of the student body at our dismissal forced the editorial staff at the Record and the Maple Leaf to reassess whether their left-leaning “self-styled” elite was able to serve the full spectrum of the student community. They worked hard at it in the subsequent months.

Nonetheless I’ve always felt the college administration’s reaction was excessive, exhibiting greater fear of our power to disrupt the college community than was reality in 1967. In addition to the profanity, and the perceived attack on community, our loose association with SDS and Jim Wenger’s working out of his sexual orientation  seemed to be held against us in formulating the level of discipline imposed on us.

For me, the events were life-changing as with the loss of my student deferment I launched into conflict with the U.S.’s Selective Service System. I also had to come to grips with my own response to Jim’s homosexuality at a time when I had not ever considered the issue. I refused induction in spring 1968 and went to Canada in October 1968. I worked as a grocery clerk and a computer programmer for several years, and completed my BA at Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo in 1973. In that study I also came to embrace the Mennonite Church, and became passionately interested in its history. I worked in the library and archives at Conrad Grebel College from September 1974 to December 2008.

Over the years Menno-Pause made its way into the folklore of Goshen College’s history. However, I believe the only published reflections on this publication are in Susan Fisher Miller’s Culture for service: A history of Goshen College, 1894-1994, J. Daniel Hess’s memoir reflection, “Menno Pause Revisited” and two chapters in Sue Clemmer Steiner’s Flowing with the River: soundings from my life and ministry (2013)

In 2014 the surviving editors held a reunion at the home of Verlin and Elaine Miller. It was a time to laugh and remember; it was a time to mourn the loss of our friend, Jim Wenger.

After our reunion, Lowell Miller wrote the following limerick that he sent to each of us:

There once were four guys who wrote stuff
They were tired of flimflam and fluff
They twice went to press
But suffered redress
And were kicked out of school in a huff.

Menno-Pause editors, 2014

Surviving Menno-Pause editors, June 2014. Back (L-R): Tom Harley, Lowell Miller; Front: Sam Steiner, Verlin Miller

My own experience with the U.S. draft in 1967/1968 has appeared in Melissa Miller and Phil Shenk, The Path of Most Resistance: Stories of Mennonite Conscientious Objectors Who Did Not Cooperate with the Vietnam War Draft. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982: 95–114 and Samuel J. Steiner,  “Alternative Service or Alternative Resistance? A Vietnam War Draft Resister in Canada.” Journal of Mennonite Studies 25 (2007): 195–204. https://jms.uwinnipeg.ca/index.php/jms/article/viewFile/1234/1226. It has also been interpreted in a drama authored by Rebecca Steiner, Gadfly: Sam Steiner Dodges the Draft, and put on in fringe festivals across Canada in 2012, and at Goshen College in 2013 by Theatre of the Beat.

This reflection on Menno-Pause is enormously undergirded by three unpublished typescripts on the Menno-Pause event written in late 1967 and early 1968. These were by myself, Jim Wenger and Sue Clemmer. Copies of these reflections are available at the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College and in the Mennonite Archives of Ontario in Waterloo, Ontario.

See also Reflections on Menno-Pause by Lowell Miller, Tom Harley, Verlin Miller and Sue Clemmer Steiner See also Menno Pause Revisited by Dan Hess, first published in CMW Journal in 2009

This extended blog, and the accompanying “Reflections” replace the blog that would normally be posted next Monday.

Winfield Fretz, the Innovator

One individual who had a profound impact on Ontario Mennonites in the second half of the 20th century was Joseph Winfield Fretz, a native Pennsylvanian, who taught for many years at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, before serving as the founding president of Conrad Grebel University College.

Winfield also was a driving force in beginning the Kindred Credit Union, the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario and MCC’s New Hamburg Relief Sale. Winfield engaged the Old Order Mennonite community in Ontario like no scholar had done previously.

He was a gregarious man, who seemed to never forget anyone’s name, and would pick up a conversation from a decade ago as if little time had passed.

As it happens, Winfield’s wife, Marguerite, was also my second cousin once-removed. Below is the GAMEO article I wrote in 2013. For the full bibliography and other links, see the article in GAMEO.


450px-Fretz-Marguerite-Winfield-1937

Marguerite 

Joseph Winfield Fretz: sociologist, college president, and institutional innovator, was born 29 September 1910 in Bedminster Township, Bucks CountyPennsylvania to John Clarence Fretz (15 August 1878-27 May 1963) and Ella Landis Fretz (19 March 1873-10 June 1963). “Winfield” was the ninth of 11 children. His three oldest siblings were from his mother’s first unhappy marriage to Christian Gross (3 August 1869-17 July 1895). On 9 September 1936 Winfield married Marguerite Irene Geiger (2 July 1913-17 March 2002). They had three sons and one daughter. J. Winfield Fretz died 24 January 2005 in North NewtonKansas. He and Marguerite were cremated and their remains interned at the Deep Run Mennonite cemetery in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

Winfield had a happy childhood on the family farm where he was born. The family attended the Deep Run Mennonite Church-West, a General Conference Mennonite congregation where his uncle, Allen Fretz, was the pastor. However, life in the country ended in 1922 due to the farm’s bankruptcy resulting from over expansion and the the loss of several livestock herds to disease. The family moved into the town of Lansdale, where his father worked for a pretzel bakery. Winfield, who had previously attended a one-room school, was thrust into a larger urban educational system. He was put back a year in order to catch up on some basic courses, but he soon thrived in the Lansdale high school of 300 students where he graduated in 1930. He was class president his last two years, and was captain of the basketball team.

Against the advice of his pastor at the new Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale, Winfield declined attending Moody Bible Institute, and chose rather to study at Bluffton College, a Mennonite school. He majored in history, and was deeply influenced by C. Henry Smith, his major professor. Another influence was a fellow student of Methodist background and socialist political leanings who questioned how the teachings of Jesus and the principles of capitalism could be reconciled. Through these conversations Fretz became aware of the co-operative movement associated with the Ohio Farm Bureau. This was the beginning of his life-long interest in mutual aid organizations. Fretz graduated from Bluffton with a B.A. in 1934, but had difficulty finding work due to the Depression. For a time he was employed by Bluffton College as a student recruiter.

Fretz’s courtship with Marguerite Geiger took place during the two years following his graduation. Immediately after their 1936 marriage, they moved to Chicago where Winfield began graduate studies at the University of Chicago where his mentor, C. Henry Smith, had also studied. He completed his M.A. with a dissertation on “Christian Mutual Aid among Mennonites” in 1938. Mennonite Quarterly Review (MQR) editor Harold Bender was so impressed, he published two chapters of the dissertation in MQR in 1939. In 1940 Fretz completed a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Chicago Theological Seminary, and in 1941 he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago on “Mennonite Mutual Aid: a Contribution Toward the Establishment of a Christian Community.”

Winfield and Marguerite Fretz moved to Kansas where he accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Economics at Bethel College in fall 1942; he served on the Bethel faculty until 1963. Soon after arriving at Bethel, in order to help the College’s tight financial situation during the war, he accepted a two-year assignment with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). In this assignment he visited Russian Mennonite immigrant communities in Canada from British Columbia to Ontario. His report on this study was also published in MQR, and solidified his strong relationship with Mennonite Church academics at Goshen College and further enhanced activity within the inter-Mennonite scholarly community. One result was the formation of the Conference on Mennonite Cultural Problems, a gathering that met annually from 1942 to 1947, and then biennially until 1967. This inter-Mennonite gathering encouraged a myriad of research projects. In 1951-1952 Fretz took another leave sponsored by MCC to study 25 years of Mennonite colonization in Latin America; this resulted in the book, Pilgrims in Paraguay (1953). He did another immigration study in 1958 that produced Immigrant Group Settlements in Paraguay (1962). During the 1950s, partly to supplement the family income and partly as an experiment in “real world” economics, he opened “The Guest House” restaurant in Newton, together with his sister, Ethel. This enterprise continued until after his move to Canada, and was the first to break racial segregation customs in Newton and serve black and Hispanic customers through the front door rather than the back door.

Fretz’s interest in mutual aid extended to his volunteer board work. He served as chair of MCC’s Aid Section, and was the executive secretary of the General Conference Mennonite Church’s Board of Mutual Aid in the 1940s and 1950s. Although not a founder, he was active in the Mennonite Community Association formed in 1947.

Following an administrative crisis at Bethel College, Fretz agreed to serve as Acting President of the College for 1959-1960. The experience was not a good one, and he decided it was time to seek a new position outside the college. In 1962 he considered an offer that would have seen him become a country director for CARE, a leading international relief organization. However this changed after a conversation he had with Harvey Taves, the MCC Ontario director, at an MCC meeting in Manitoba. During a break during the meetings, Taves asked Fretz if he would like to become a college president in Canada. Followup conversations with the presidential search committee soon followed. In 1963 Winfield and Marguerite Fretz, with their youngest two children, Thomas and Sara, moved to Waterloo, Ontario to help found the new Conrad Grebel College affiliated with the University of Waterloo. For the first year Fretz taught on the university campus as Conrad Grebel College was built; the residence facility opened in fall 1964.

Fretz served as the College’s president until 1973, and continued on the faculty until his retirement in 1979. In the 1963/64 year Fretz taught a total of 38 students. By the time he ended his service as president, the College was teaching over 1750 “course-students” per year with a full-time faculty of seven.

Winfield and Marguerite Fretz joined Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church within a year of arriving in Canada, and Winfield served actively as a lay leader on the Board of Deacons and the Missions Committee. His innovation continued as a founding board member of the Mennonite Savings & Credit Union in 1964; it utillized the mutual aid concepts he had articulated for years. Fretz was also the founding president of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario in 1965 and founding president of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada in 1968. In addition he was a key promoter of Mennonite Relief Sales in Ontario.

In 1989, during retirement back in North Newton, Kansas, Fretz completed his book, The Waterloo Mennonites: a Community in Paradox, based on research he had done in the 1970s. He also found time to serve as Acting President of Mennonite Biblical Seminary inElkhartIndiana in 1983-1984. He received two honorary doctorates–from the University of Waterloo in 1982 and from Bluffton College in 1988.

Winfield Fretz had boundless energy and enthusiasm; he was known for routinely sleeping only four or five hours a night. He had a remarkable memory for names and details of a person’s life; he would ask about family members after years of no contact. He was able to relate to Mennonites of every stripe and theology; he garnered the trust of Old Order Mennonites, as well as leading business persons and academics. His ecumenical spirit served to draw Mennonites together in cooperation, not in division or rancor.

–Sam Steiner