When the Christian Leader Editorial Committee held its first in-person meeting Jan. 16-18, 2023, in Wichita, Kansas, there were two goals, chair Don Morris, USMB national director and CL editor-in-chief, told the group.
The first agenda was to review how the committee’s involvement in the process of selecting feature themes and writers is working and the second was to plan for the second half of 2023. When the meeting concluded a day and a half later, the committee had achieved those goals and more.
“This went surprisingly well,” said Aaron Garza, of Huron, South Dakota, when committee members were asked for feedback in the closing session.
The Editorial Committee was formed in late 2021 by the USMB Leadership Board at the recommendation of the CL Review Team. The hope was for the 10-member committee to accomplish its task by meeting once or twice a year. However, the group met via Zoom five times in 2022 and exchanged multiple emails while planning each of the first four issues for which it was responsible.
While Morris intended for one of the Committee members to serve as chair, he agreed to fill that role while the committee members gained experience.
Evaluating the process
The January meeting began with editors Connie Faber and Janae Rempel giving their observations on the first year of the new editorial process. They noted the benefit of having input from a variety of people and the challenge of working with a complex five-month editorial calendar.
The Editorial Committee then evaluated the way in which it has carried out its mandate.
Members were quick to note that current expectations are not sustainable over the long term given their limitations as volunteers.
Committee members and the editors agreed that during the past year there was some confusion as to what decisions about themes, specific articles and writers the editors would make and which decisions the committee should be part of.
The Editorial Committee affirmed their trust in the editors and repeatedly emphasized their desire to help the editorial process. The committee clarified that they want the editors to have more control over the editorial process and that they see themselves as advising and collaborating in the selection of themes and writers.
Moving forward, the Editorial Committee would like to serve in an advisory rather an “directive” capacity. The asked editor Faber to chair the Editorial Committee and agreed that Morris, who had been chairing the meetings, will continue to attend and participate.
These shifts are in line with the process approved by the USMB Leadership Board in November 2021, Morris assured the committee. According to its job description, the Editorial Committee is to “collaborate with the editor and associate editor in selecting themes/topics, isolating timely issues” and provide help “in discerning ‘right voices’ to write specific articles.”
Diversity and disagreements
The Editorial Committee discussed the phrase “right voices” and took that to mean a diversity of voices representing various viewpoints within the USMB Confession of Faith. They noted that U.S. Mennonite Brethren disagree in some areas and that the magazine can only go “so far” in creating unity.
“Maybe our MB family needs to be reminded that it’s OK to disagree,” notes the minutes.
While there may be limits to how much agreement can be achieved, the hope is that an Editorial Committee that includes district representatives will provide a broad perspective. The importance of telling stories to draw USMB together was affirmed as was the importance of affirming the Confession of Faith. Committee members agreed that they want the magazine to have a positive impact, so conflict is lessened.
With their role clarified, the Editorial Committee moved to the second goal of the meeting – selecting themes and writers. They identified themes and potential writers for the July/Aug (faithfulness), Sept/Oct (peace) and Nov/Dec 2023 (heroes) issues.
The committee generated a list of more than 60 possible writers, including pastors and qualified experts/professionals in specific areas.
They also identified themes for 2024, including the Lord’s prayer, “burning bush” moments, Christ’s second coming and teens/young adults and the church.
The Editorial Committee assumes that shifting its focus to serving in an advisory capacity should limit the need for numerous Zoom meetings in 2023 and allow the Editorial Committee to accomplish much of its work in an annual in-person meeting.
The Editorial Committee includes Don Morris, USMB national director and CL editor-in-chief; editor Connie Faber; associate editor Janae Rempel; Matt Ehresman, Wichita, Kansas; Michele Fiester, Rapid City, South Dakota; Aaron Garza, Huron, South Dakota; Ryan Loewen, Newton, Kansas; Tony Petersen, Fresno, California; and Shelly Spencer, Fresno, California. Morris anticipates appointing someone from the Eastern District Conference to replace Lynn Patterson.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and one grandson. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.