“It’s like a detective story; you see all these threads woven together,” says Doug Heidebrecht of his research on women in ministry leadership in the Mennonite Brethren church.
Heidebrecht’s Women in Ministry Leadership: The Journey of the Mennonite Brethren, 1954–2010 is the story of the denominational conversation regarding women in ministry positions within Canadian and U.S. Mennonite Brethren churches. The book, published by Kindred Productions and the MB Historical Commission, is a more popular presentation of Heidebrecht’s doctoral dissertation, “Contextualizing Community Hermeneutics: Mennonite Brethren and Women in Church Leadership” (University of Wales, 2013).
Since the binational General Conference gathering in 1999, Heidebrecht has been researching the paths Mennonite Brethren have walked regarding women in leadership roles even as the U.S. Conference and Canadian Conference continued moving in new directions. In the 2006 Canadian Conference affirmed a resolution that the decision would be left to individual congregations, based on their local context. The U.S. Conference held a study conference on the topic in early 2019 and the U.S. Board of Faith and Life is in process of discerning next steps.
“No other issue has received this level of attention by Mennonite Brethren during the second half of the 20th century,” Heidebrecht writes.
Heidebrecht explores three interwoven themes in the book.
- What does the Bible say?
- How does the church live faithfully in a world that is changing?
- And how do Mennonite Brethren wrestle together as a community toward the seemingly elusive goal of consensus?
In the course of his research, Heidebrecht had many conversations with key participants in past study conferences and the formation of resolutions. However, the book is based on written materials: board meeting minutes, papers and published articles.
The focus is not solely on official leaders. Heidebrecht also presents how people in church engaged in this conversation through correspondence and Letters to the Editor from the Mennonite Brethren Herald (Canada) and the Christian Leader (U.S.).
How do you give voice to the people in the pews? Heidebrecht says the letters provided an avenue to bring those voices—of both men and women—into the book. He recognizes the sensitive nature of telling a story that is still unfolding where many participants continue to be actively involved in Mennonite Brethren churches and leadership roles.
Though his source materials are in the public record, Heidebrecht’s work makes the evidence accessible to readers by telling the story, highlighting the decision-making process, and interpreting the underlying currents all in one place.
“It’s a story that needed to be told,” says Jon Isaak, secretary of the MB Historical Commission, which commissioned Heidebrecht to update his dissertation research to 2010 and publish the book with Kindred Productions.