“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
For John, that quote by author Douglas Adams pretty much sums up his life.
Born and raised in southern Ontario, in 1976 John decided to attend university in Winnipeg on a whim — just for one year. But one year turned into two, then three and four and now, all these years later, he is a Winnipegger.
In 1978, on another whim, he applied for a summer internship at a magazine. Although he had zero experience, he got the job. The storytelling bug bit hard, and he’s never looked back.
That decision led to a winding and almost whimsical career through three countries and nine different jobs, mostly in communications and marketing for international relief and development organizations (which provided the added bonus of being able to tell stories from around the world).
Along the way, John came to see the importance of working with the media as a great way for non-profits to share stories with the public. This led him to write Making the News: An Essential Guide for Effective Media Relations (Novalis).
One constant through John’s career has been his belief that almost every story has religion angle, and that the media could do a better job of telling it — as a succession of Free Press editors, beginning with Nick Hirst, knows only too well!
This belief also prompted him to organize Canada’s first-ever conference on faith and the media in in Ottawa in 1998, in collaboration with various media and local and national faith groups. More than 250 people from the media and faith groups attended the conference, which was sponsored by the Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication and the Canadian Association of Journalists.
In 2006, John received the Distinguished Contribution to Religious Communications from the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada. He has also won awards for his writing from the Associated Church Press and the Canadian Church Press.
John is a big believer in interfaith relations. Faith groups may differ on matters of belief, but also have many things in common. This includes making sure the role religion plays in society isn’t ignored by the media.
As the faith page columnist since 2003, John is grateful for how the Free Press has maintained its commitment to covering religion — even as other Canadian newspapers have dropped the religion beat.
John is a member of River East Church (Mennonite). He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
Recent articles of John Longhurst
For decades, mainline Protestant denominations in Canada have been declining. So it came as no surprise when the 2021 census reported that, since 2011, the number of Canadians affiliating with United, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Anglican churches collectively dropped from 4.5 million to 2.9 million.
But what was surprising this time around was learning that two evangelical denominations, Baptists and Pentecostals, also declined in the last decade. The number of people who identify as Baptist fell from 635,840 to 436,040, while those saying they are Pentecostal dropped from 478,705 to 399,025.
Since those are the only two evangelical denominations that Statistics Canada has been specifically tracking over time, it’s hard to tell if the decrease applies to all evangelical denominations.
What also muddies the waters are two other categories in the census — “Other Christian” and “Christian Not Otherwise Specified.” Both of those have grown over the last 10 years.
Five months after hearing Pope Francis deliver his apology to Indigenous people in Alberta, and nine months after going to Rome with the delegation of Indigenous people to report about their request for him to apologize, I’m still processing my response to those events.
While in those places, I was humbled and horrified to hear their stories of pain as they recounted their experiences at residential schools.
People told me about being taken away from parents at ages as young as four years old, and crying all the way to the school. People told me about witnessing or experiencing physical and sexual abuse at the hands of school officials, including priests. These are people who lost their language, culture and connection to family and home.
At the same time, I was impressed by their strength, dignity and resilience — despite those horrific abuses — and how their Indigenous spirituality and traditions are giving them the ability to carry on.
What this world could use is a little mitzvah — or kindness. That’s the idea behind the fourth annual Winnipeg Mitzvah Day.
Organized by the Winnipeg section of the National Council of Jewish Women Canada, Mitzvah Day — Nov. 20 — is a day for people to do a good deed for others.
“Mitzvah,” in Hebrew, literally means “commandment,” but it has taken on the idea of doing a good deed, local section president Sharon Graham said.
“It’s about making a difference in our community,” she said, adding the event originated in the United Kingdom and spread to other countries.
November is Holocaust Education month. It’s a time to remember how the Nazis tried to exterminate all the Jews in Europe, and pledge to never let something like that happen again.
It’s also time to remember those who survived that unspeakable horror. Over the past number of years, I’ve been privileged to interview some of those Holocaust survivors for this newspaper. Those were unforgettable experiences.
One of the people I interviewed was Angela Orosz-Richt of Montreal, the youngest Canadian survivor of Auschwitz.
Her mother was three months pregnant in May 1944 when she and her husband were deported by the Nazis from Hungary to Auschwitz. Her mother kept her pregnancy a secret from everyone, Orosz-Richt told me, adding her mother was experimented on by the infamous Auschwitz death doctor, Josef Mengele.
There’s a lot to make people worry these days: rising inflation, a looming recession, climate change, homelessness and crime, and the war in Ukraine.
So, it might seem like a tall order to find inner peace.
“There’s so much that triggers us these days,” said Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, minister at Westworth United Church.
To help her deal with the challenging news in the world today, MacKenzie Shepherd practises “centering prayer,” a way to let go of worrisome thoughts.
Are you feeling tired? Has the weight of work and family responsibilities worn you down? Not getting enough sleep at night? Or maybe the barrage of bad news every day in the media has left you mentally and emotionally exhausted.
If that’s you, maybe what you need is a nap. That’s what Tricia Hersey prescribes.
Hersey, also known as the Nap Bishop, is a poet, artist, author and theologian who started the Nap Ministry in 2016 — a ministry that promotes the liberating power of rest.
“I begin experimenting with rest as a tool for my own liberation and healing in 2013,” she said on her website of the time she was starting divinity school, raising a child and working two jobs.
One-hundred years ago, the largest voluntary mass migration in Canadian history began when more than 7,000 Mennonites left Manitoba and Saskatchewan for new lives in Mexico.
The emigrants, who departed by train from places such as Plum Coulee and Swift Current, Sask., were fleeing what they viewed as persecution and oppression by the Canadian and provincial governments.
“They were resisting the push to Anglicize Canada after the (First World) War, and the requirement to send their children to English-language schools,” said Ben Nobbs-Thiessen, who holds the chair in Mennonite studies at the University of Winnipeg.
The school question was a breaking point, he said, since the community believed the government had broken its promise to let it educate its children in its own schools.
The Doctrine of Discovery was one of the topics on the table when Canada’s Roman Catholic bishops met for their annual plenary meeting in Cornwall, Ont., at the end of September.
The meeting, held in person for the first time in two years, included an update on the cost of the Papal visit in July. The $18.6 million tab will be covered by donations and contributions from the bishops.
At the same time, they emphasized their commitment to raise $30 million for the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund. About $5.5 million has been raised to date.
At the meeting, the bishops reiterated their rejection of the Doctrine of Discovery — they issued a statement against it in 2016 — and added they are in active discussions with the Vatican about issuing a new statement on behalf of the whole Roman Catholic Church.