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June 2001
vol. 56 no. 2

In this issue, Mennonite Life inaugurates an occasional feature on the most widely practiced Mennonite art form —the sermon. We believe some of our best creative thinking, writing, and theology may be happening in the pulpits in our churches. Yet the sermon remains one of the most under-appreciated and under-studied of Mennonite art forms. A 1998 symposium at Bethel College, “Proclaiming the Word,” was one effort to correct this situation. A presentation from that symposium, by June Alliman Yoder of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, is the first article in this issue.

Feeding the Sheep: The State of the Mennonite Pulpit
June Alliman Yoder
June Alliman Yoder is Associate Professor of Communication and Preaching at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. This article is an edited version of her oral presentation at a symposium, "Proclaiming the Word," held at Bethel College, February 22-24, 1998.

The new technology of electronic publication opens new possibilities for highlighting the practice of Mennonite preaching. Preaching is essentially an oral art, rather than a written art. Sermons published in books lose much of the intensity and vibrancy which belong to the experience of their original creation and delivery. Thanks to the capacity of electronic audio, however, we now can listen to sermons online and recapture much more closely the experience of preacher and congregation.

Earlier generations exhibited more interest in reading sermons than does our own. In 1891, Samuel F. Sprunger, pastor of the large Mennonite church in Berne, Indiana, felt constrained to apologize when he published an international collection of Mennonite sermons preached in the U.S., Russia, Germany and Switzerland. “Yet another sermon collection? . . . Aren’t there already enough of them?” (Festklänge, Berne, 1891). Sprunger’s goal in publishing Mennonite sermons was to contribute to denominational unity based on essential faith in Christ.

John Esau, retired Mennonite preacher, has written that sermon preparation “demands inspiration—that flash of insight into truth, that moment of emotional energy matched with wisdom, that careful attention to words and their power to convey truth.” Inspiration for sermon preparation was besieged in the 1960s and 1970s when a cultural revolution against all established authority put preaching on the defensive. By the beginning of the twenty-first century the cultural mood has shifted. But a genuine revival of preaching remains to be achieved.

The sermons in this issue of Mennonite Life are a small beginning. They are a sample of the resources readily at hand in the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College, rather than a wide-ranging winnowing of materials for the greatest examples of excellence in preaching. These representative sermons come from several sources. The first, a sermon from Prussia in 1790, with its sharp polarities (light/darkness, good/evil, converted/unconverted) represents a theological contrast to the more modern sermons. In its opening lines, the Prussian sermon uses almost the same language as that of Christian Halteman's Easter Sunday sermon of 1782 in the Salford Mennonite congregation in Pennsylvania: "There are two kinds of people in the world." (See the article by John Ruth in Mennonite Life, March 1983, "Lecture for a Limited Audience.")

We have both text and audio for the rest of the sermons presented in this issue. Two of the selections, actually brief meditations rather than sermons, by Edmund G. Kaufman and Winifred Waltner, were delivered in the 1950s on a daily “Faith and Life” devotional series on radio station KJRG in Newton, Kansas. One, preached by Russell L. Mast at the Bethel College Mennonite Church, was the lead sermon in a collection published by Herald Press of Scottdale, Pennsylvania (Lost and Found, 1963). An example of a present-day sermon is that by Eric Massanari of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas.

Prussian Mennonite Sermon from 1790
Original author unknown
Translated by John D. Thiesen
John D. Thiesen is archivist and co-director of libraries at Bethel College, and one of the editors of Mennonite Life.

Facing Life with Faith
E. G. Kaufman
Edmund G. Kaufman (1891-1980) was a missionary in China, and president of Bethel College for twenty years (1933-53). In 1955, at the time of this radio meditation, Kaufman was teaching in the Bible and Religion department of Bethel College.

The Spirit of Christmas
Winifred Waltner

Winifred Schlosser Waltner was born to missionary parents in China, and graduated with a BA from Greenville College, Greenville, IL in 1936 and a Masters in Religious Education (MRE) from the Biblical Seminary in New York in 1938. In her time she was not invited to give sermons, but she had numerous speaking appointments such as this radio meditation. One of her four daughters is a Mennonite pastor.

A Lost Generation
Russell L. Mast

Russell Mast was pastor of Mennonite churches from 1951-1981in Freeman, South Dakota; North Newton, Kansas; Souderton, Pennsylvania; and Henderson, Nebraska. He is now retired and living in his original home community of Walnut Creek, Ohio.

Body and Soul
Eric Massanari

Eric Massanari has been pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church, Newton, Kansas, since 1999. He is a 1991 graduate of Goshen College and a 1999 graduate of Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colorado.

This issue also includes a memoir by Walter Friesen about his childhood memories of the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s in western Kansas.

Of Dust and Water: Survival in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s
Walter S. Friesen

Walter S. Friesen's first career was in teaching, counseling, and administration (Meade Bible Academy, Kansas State University, Pima College, Wichita State University, Bethel College) 1956-1977. He then served in pastoral ministries and counseling (Arvada, Colorado; First in Denver, Colorado; Eden near Moundridge, Kansas; Hope in Fort Worth, Texas; Bethesda Home in Goessel, Kansas; Hesston College) 1977-present. He is currently semi-retired and doing interim assignments.

Every year since 1947, Mennonite Life has published an annual Mennonite bibliography. You will also find, in the sidebar at left, a link to a Mennonite Life Bibliographies page where we have posted some earlier years of the annual bibliography.

Mennonite Bibliography 2000
Barbara A. Thiesen
Barbara A. Thiesen is Co-Director of Libraries and Technical Services Librarian at Bethel College.

Finally, we have learned that the unidentified photographer for the “Congo Picture Book” in our March 2001 issue was Melvin J. Loewen, former Mennonite missionary with Congo Inland Mission. Mel discovered the photos while browsing through that issue and sent the following message: “In 1958 the Congo Missions were asked by the Belgian Colonial government to submit photos and artifacts of their work as part of an exhibit to be shown at the Worlds Fair held that year in Brussels. I took the photographs you now find in the “Congo Picture Book” while serving as the missionary school director in Djoko Punda, Kasai Province. I developed the films as best I could at night in the bathroom sink and submitted the pictures to our CIM (Congo Inland Mission) office for their appraisal. I later heard the pictures had become part of the Protestant exhibit in Brussels.”

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