The deep and abiding faith of Mennonite mothers

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BOOK REVIEW

Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men
Edited by Mary-Ann Loewen
University of Regina Press, 2015
144 pages
ISBN 978-0889774032

The genesis of Sons and Mothers: Stories from Mennonite Men came at the June 2013 book launch for a different book, Mothering Mennonite, a collection of stories women wrote about their Mennonite mothers. “That evening, I decided to take up the challenge of crossing the gender/generation divide and allow men to share their stories about their Mennonite mothers,” writes Mary-Ann Loewen, who became the “coaxer,” as she puts it, of stories from the 12 men who appear in this volume.

The contributors-teachers, writers, academics, a poet, a conductor, a therapist, a pastor-often bring literary talent to bear as they write about the maternal relationship against a background of faith.

Michael Goertzen, who now teaches abroad, mixes prose and poetry for a picture of Hilda, who fled the Russian Civil War after the Revolution, with a dose of survivor guilt: “In a silent struggle, she grappled with her own Anabaptist traditions, songs and those abandoned farms of the Molotschna Colony and other communities where she and her ancestors had lived.”

In free verse, Christoff Engbrecht in Winnipeg recalls his mother, Sharon, as “queen of rotundas/lazysusans, vestibules and chandeliers/gorse and hassocks/and slow turf fires.”

Each of the portraits explores a mother-and-son’s relationship with the faith that traces its heritage to the 16th-century Anabaptist (re-baptizer) movement in Switzerland and is popularly named for Dutch pastor Menno Simons. In Canada today, there are about 200,000 Mennonites, with concentrations in southern Ontario and Manitoba.

One revealing aspect of the book is seeing how men discover the complex relationship between mothers and church. Paul Tiessen hints at things hidden in “Things my friends did not know about my mom”-the main thing being his mother Helen’s gradual withdrawal from “the ongoing and vigorous activity of church life.” She would visit her mother on Sundays and listen to the church service “through a closed-circuit hookup.” Tiessen sensitively seeks to understand this through exploring the social and psychological effect of early trauma-another emigration from Russia-on his mother.

For some of the men, a mother’s deep faith drives them further from their religious upbringing, to discover their own relationship with God. There are also universal family dynamics, such as aging mothers who want to stay in their homes through physical and mental crises.

Although the mother-son relationship is universal and relevant to people of all faiths, and even no faith, the book could have benefited from a brief description of the Mennonite movement, just so readers don’t need to have a laptop and Wikipedia by their sides.

In addition, the choice of authors reveals a class bias. All the writers are upper middle class and well-educated. There are no farmers, truck drivers, train engineers, auto mechanics, factory workers. Working-class Mennonite men also deserve to have their stories published-perhaps in a second volume.

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Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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