New Canadian Mennonite editor up for challenge
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Like for media everywhere, church-related publications are challenged today.
Among the challenges are aging readerships (the No. 1 reason for cancelled subscriptions is death, some editors darkly joke), falling circulation, rising costs and decline in advertising revenue.
Figuring out when the era of print is over also preoccupies editors. At some point, it simply won’t make financial sense to print and mail a small number of copies. But what message will that send to those, especially older people, who aren’t online?
Despite all this, some magazines still soldier on, performing a valuable role by reflecting back to readers the state of their denominations today.
This includes sharing uncomfortable truths about decline, sometimes along with stories about scandal and other malfeasance.
At the same time, they also share stories of hope and possibility; many individuals and churches are doing amazing things while serving others and making a difference across Canada.
At the same time, as people tend to sort themselves into like-minded congregations, they are also one of the few places where people from different theological persuasions can still interact with each other.
That poses an additional challenge; publications often stand in an uncomfortable place between people who disagree over topics like the role and meaning of the Bible, LGBTTQ+ rights, climate change and vaccines. Editors walk a fine line trying to keep readers open to different points of view.
Altogether, it’s a big challenge.
One person who has taken on this challenge is Manitoban Will Braun, the new editor of Canadian Mennonite, the national publication of Mennonite Church Canada. Braun, 49, lives with his wife and two sons on a farm near Morden, about 12 kilometres from the U.S. border. They are part of the Pembina Mennonite Fellowship.
I asked Braun a few questions about his new role. Although he serves a Mennonite denomination, many of his answers apply to any Christian group struggling with controversial topics and polarization of members.
John Longhurst: What is the circulation of Canadian Mennonite?
Will Braun: It’s about 8,000, and that’s a challenge. The numbers are headed in the wrong direction.
JL: What is your vision for the magazine?
WB: I am really interested in what people are thinking. I would like for the magazine to go deeper into those thoughts so we can have adult conversations about challenging topics. I would like to create a model for healthy conversation about controversial topics during this time of change and evolution in the church.
JL: What controversial topics are you thinking of?
WB: LGBTTQ+, Indigenous issues, climate change, COVID and mandates. These are among the hardest issues to talk about today. How people view them has become a litmus test for faith. It’s a tension. We need to find creative ways to hold that tension without losing people.
JL: What role can the church play in this?
WB: One thing that truly amazes me about churches and denominations is they are rare places, significant places, where people from different sides can meet and have interactions. There is something important that happens there.
JL: What concerns you about the polarization happening over some issues in the church?
WB: I worry we are bringing back shunning in the form of cancel culture — things that can’t be discussed. For me, that’s problematic. There are some real pains and concerns out there. We need to find healthy ways through that.
JL: What role can church magazines play in this?
WB: A magazine can take risks that other church bodies can’t. It can be a place where reasonable voices can talk. That said, I know it’s a daunting task. But if we don’t take risks, we won’t have room in our hearts for the stories we need to hear.
JL: The church in Canada is becoming more diverse. How can the magazine address that?
WB: That is a challenge for us. We are basically a magazine made by white people for white people. We don’t need to spend too much time wringing our hands about that, but we need to find ways to address it.
I would like to include the voices of people in newcomer churches and from churches in the global south. I would like to broaden the circle of conversation. I want to know what is going on with Anabaptist Christians in India, Ethiopia and Columbia. All these global connections are an incredible gift to the Mennonite church.
For too long our narrative in Canada has been about telling stories about all the good we do in the world. We used the world like a mirror to reflect our own generosity. I know that sounds harsh. I would like for us to tell stories that don’t just start and end with ourselves.
JL: Any final words?
WB: I love change and experimentation with different things. I want to open new windows from time to time and see what is going on in the world. Also, the older I get, the more imperfect I feel and the less sure I am about how right I am. I want to extend more grace and receive it.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.