U.S. Conference discontinues financial support of publishing ministry
By Connie Faber
The U.S. Conference will discontinue its financial support of Kindred Productions, the North America Mennonite Brethren publishing ministry, at the end of the 2016 calendar year. This shift marks the first time in more than 100 years that U.S. Mennonite Brethren will not be actively involved in a denominational publishing house.
Amy Sterk of Goessel Kan., is currently the Kindred Productions U.S. representative, a position she’s held since 2009. In addition to staffing the U.S. office and processing and mailing U.S. orders, Sterk has attended national and district conventions, bringing with her an assortment of Kindred publications and resources for attendees to review and purchase. Sterk also facilitated a newsletter for the Southern District Conference.
"It's been my pleasure to partner with USMB for the last seven years,” says Sterk, who will close the U.S. office December 31. “It's been good to serve you by supplying resources to the churches and individuals of USMB. I value the relationships I have made.”
Leadership Board sets new funding priorities
Kindred Productions is the first agency to feel the effects of the recent Leadership Board decision to narrow the number of Mennonite Brethren and inter-Mennonite agencies that receive USMB financial support.
“At this point, only funding for the Kindred office has been completely ended,” says Don Morris, USMB national director, in an email interview. “But agencies that are asking for increased funding will likely not see their requests met in the near future, and some could find that future funding is decreased or cut completely.”
The decision to limit financial support of various ministries stems from the analysis of consultant George Bullard that for a denomination of its size, USMB is spread too thin in terms of funding various agencies, says Morris.
Bullard began working with USMB in July 2014, and for the next 18 months he led more than 50 people in a national ministry vision and strategy review process. The review resulted in the Future Story, a new national ministry strategy unveiled this summer at the National Convention that emphasizes building up the local church, networking and three core commitments: church planting and evangelism, discipleship and leadership development.
The writing and strategy teams that worked on developing the Future Story determined that “USMB should focus most intently on our closest relationships as we move into the future,” says Morris. “Therefore, increasing or perhaps even maintaining funding for some affiliations and agencies may be affected in the future, as determined by the USMB Leadership Board.”
According to Morris, the Leadership Board concluded at its February 2016 meeting that because materials and books published by Kindred can “easily be purchased directly online,” U.S. financial support could be discontinued.
“The Kindred website is easy to navigate to determine what can be found there and ordered directly,” says Morris, who encourages churches and individuals to order from Kindred Productions. “With considerations of budget limitations, this is one area that can still be facilitated for our churches [since their] needs can be addressed directly.”
Changes may extend beyond office closing
Elenore Doerksen, acting Kindred Productions manager who is also the Canadian Conference of MB Churches communications (CCMBC) team leader, says that Kindred will continue to offer subsidized shipping rates until the end of 2016. To receive discounted U.S. shipping, Doerksen says orders should be placed by calling 1-800-545-7322.
The shift in Kindred Productions’ focus from serving both Canada and the U.S. to just resourcing Canada will have implications beyond the closure of the U.S. office, but Doerksen is unsure what those additional changes will be.
“This change reflects another shift in the story of MB publications,” says Doerksen. “As a ministry of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, we will be focusing on providing resources and services which help Canadian MB churches fulfill their mission of reaching people with the good news of Jesus. While Kindred is now operated in Canada alone, we are available to the USMB churches via our website and Canadian office.”
Kindred Productions will also be available to assist USMB in publishing resources on a contract basis, says Doerksen.
MB publishing history begins in U.S.
The MB publishing story begins in 1904 when the Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America Publications Committee established a Publishing House in Medford, Okla., and began producing a newspaper as well as books and Sunday school literature. Eventually the Publishing House was relocated to McPherson, Kan., before it was moved to Hillsboro, Kan., in 1909.
The MB Publishing House served North American MB churches for the next 70 years, publishing pamphlets, adult Sunday school quarterlies, resources for MB church membership classes, books and materials specifically for pastors, two editions of the denominational hymnal and a devotional guide that became the inter-Mennonite devotional Rejoice!.
In the early 1980s the binational General Conference Board of Christian Literature, which oversaw the MB Publishing House, decided to adopt a new name as the imprint name for all books published under its authority. The board asked the constituency to submit names and in June 1980 the Christian Leader announced that Kindred Press was chosen as the new name. In 1994 Kindred Press became Kindred Productions.
In 1982 the MB Publishing House was among the “for profit” operations sold by the U.S. Conference. Printing of Kindred Press books and resources shifted to a variety of press shops, including Christian Press, a press shop in Winnipeg, Man., operated by the Canadian Conference.
USMB is Kindred's "preferred customer"
When the General Conference was dissolved in 2002, the Canadian Conference assumed ownership of Kindred Productions, with the U.S. Conference having “preferred customer” status. At that time Kindred Productions opened a U.S. distribution office in Hillsboro, Kan., and the U.S. Conference agreed to provide the Canadian Conference with an annual assistance payment for at least five years.
When the agreement was reviewed six years later, the U.S. Conference once more affirmed “the importance of denominationally distinct materials and desires to continue to be a participant in that ministry,” according to the 2008 Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Operation of Kindred Productions. The U.S. Conference again agreed to provide an annual payment to the Canadian Conference to cover the costs of operating a U.S. fulfillment office. The two conferences also agreed to annually review the costs of operating the U.S. fulfillment office.
Thanks to the financial support of the U.S. Conference, Kindred Productions maintained a U.S. office for 14 years, minus a brief period of time when the Hillsboro office was temporarily closed and then moved to Goessel. When the decision to discontinue funding a U.S. fulfillment office was made in early 2016, the U.S. Conference was providing $5,000 a year to Kindred Production.