Archive of all “News from CMBS” posts

MBBC History Published

The Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission’s most recent publication is Abe J. Dueck’s book, Mennonite Brethren Bible College: A History of Competing Visions. The book—released by Kindred Productions in April 2021—documents and assesses the Canadian Mennonite Brethren church’s education agenda from 1944 to 1992, a story of competing visions. To purchase your copy, see

Dueck was awarded one of the Historical Commission’s MB Studies Project Grants in 2016 for his research project on the history of the Mennonite Brethren Bible College.  The focus of his research was the guiding vision of MBBC as it was conceived in the early 1940s and as it evolved and became an issue of intense disagreement and conflict through the years.

MBBC was the main program supported by the Canadian Mennonite Brethren conference during the college’s existence (1944–1992), and, as such, its story is also in large measure the story of the conference as a whole. The theology, worship, and polity of the conference are reflected in the discussions and the often heated debates that transpired from year to year concerning the nature of the college. Now, five years later, Dueck’s research has been published.

The main sources of information used by Dueck are the detailed reports and minutes of the college boards or committees (later Board of Higher Education), the proceedings of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and the administrative and faculty minutes and related documents. In addition to these, he consulted other documentary sources, such as reports in denominational newspapers and magazines, letters, college catalogues, yearbooks of convention proceedings, biographies, and autobiographies.

Dr. Abe J. Dueck is academic dean emeritus of Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was born in Coaldale, Alberta, and studied at various institutions, including MBBC, the University of British Columbia, and Goshen Seminary. In 1971, he received his PhD in religion from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.


MBBC was not the end of the story of Mennonite Brethren higher education in Canada. The institutions that followed (Concord College and Canadian Mennonite University) developed in ways that took into account and built on many of the experiences, characteristics, and strengths of the founding colleges, including MBBC.

Dueck taught at MBBC for 23 years and served as academic dean for 15 years.

To view the CommonWord book launch on June 17, 2021, see

Abe Dueck, one time faculty and academic dean, deserves wide recognition for his courage and candor. His study of the Mennonite Brethren Bible College will be of interest to anyone familiar with the once flag-ship denominational center. As the title implies, throughout its history, the school struggled to find an identity acceptable to its supporting constituency, itself subject to a constantly shifting cultural milieu. Baffling for administrators and faculty alike was finding a healthy balance between theology and liberal arts or conceptualizing an acceptable divide between undergraduate and graduate offerings. Often surfacing in this study is the tension confronting the college in fine-tuning a music culture that would attract constituency approval. Dueck’s meticulous study offers not only a compelling narrative of MBBC but also a skillful analysis of the issues that throughout most of its existence threatened the health of the college and ultimately caused its demise (David Giesbrecht, former librarian at Columbia Bible College, Abbottsford, BC).

In this thorough study of MBBC’s 48-year history, Abe Dueck reveals the enthusiasm Mennonite Brethren had for education, alongside their almost constant disagreement about what kind of education it should be. This is a story populated by dynamic and influential personalities, robust debate, debilitating tension, but also reminders of God’s gracious blessing on the school and of its enormous contribution to the life of the Canadian MB Church (Dora Dueck, author and former MB Herald editorial staff, Delta, BC).

Oral Interviews Digitized

Posted on September 25

This is a group of women from the Mary Martha Home, posing for a 1926 photo in their uniforms (CMBS photo NP066-01-20 viewable at the Mennonite Archival Information Database).

Recently, I completed a media preservation project. It involved the digitization of audio recordings from analogue cassette tapes to digital mp3 files. In 1987, Frieda Esau Klippenstein interviewed 34 Mennonite women for an oral history project, documenting the experience of Mennonite domestics associated with the Mary Martha Home in Winnipeg. The interviews ranged from 60 to 75 minutes each.

The women—usually for a year or two, but some longer—had worked for wealthy Winnipeg families in their homes during the 1920s through to the 1950s—cooking, cleaning, and child minding. For many years, the women were under the supervision of Anna Thiessen (1892–1977), matron of the Mary Martha Home, a house at 437 Mountain Avenue and ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba.

The Mary Martha Home functioned as an employment agency and living quarters for the women between or during jobs. It was also a place for the women to gather on Thursdays, when their employers gave them the afternoon off. The women were mostly young, new to the city, and from Mennonite immigrant/refugee families; they did what they could to help their families resettle in Canada.

When the Mary Martha Home closed in 1959, more than 2,200 young women had benefited from its services.

The digitization of the interviews ensures that researchers will be able to access all 34 interviews, even as the original cassette tape recordings deteriorate with time.

Below is a 3-minute excerpt from Frieda Esau Klippenstein’s interview with Agatha Isaac in 1987.

To read the article Frieda Esau Klippenstein published in 1989 about her oral history project, see

For more information about the Mary Martha Home and the ministry of Anna Thiessen, see the links below.

♦The GAMEO article on the Mary Martha Home,

♦The MAID photo collection of the Mary Martha Home,

♦The online version of Anna Thiessen’s memoir,

5 Online Research Resources

John M. Schmidt (1918–2008), one of the early MB radio preachers, recording a Gospel Light Hour broadcast in the early 1950s from the Logan Ave. (MB) Mission Church, Winnipeg. He recorded after 10 pm to avoid traffic noises. Photo credit: MAID CA CMBS NP191-01-74.

My COVID-19 adaptation in March and April has been to work from home—writing file descriptions, scanning photos, editing encyclopedia articles, and updating the websites I manage. And I still go to the archives each week. I work alone, so physical distancing at the archives is not difficult; but, yes, CMBS is closed to the public, until further notice.

Since many are spending more time online these COVID days, I have been promoting the many Anabaptist-Mennonite online resources available for historical research; I’m thinking of five in particular.

For example, I finished scanning the 112 images in the John M. Schmidt photo collection—he is one of the Mennonite radio broadcasters that David Balzer wrote about in the March 2020 Mennonite Historian, now online at (1) the Mennonite Historian website, And those photographs are now viewable online at (2) the MAID website,

I also edited a biography of Schmidt for posting to (3) the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) website,,_John_M._(1918-2008), and updated the file description for Schmidt’s personal papers fonds at (4) the CMBS website,

And I scanned 16 additional Mennonite history books, uploading them to (5) the Internet Archive website, bringing the total to 96 e-books readable online,

That makes five different websites—accessible to researchers anywhere with internet service!

Looking for a baptism photo, obituary of a loved one, or a book, magazine article, or church decision on some theological issue—there are online research resources available and people like me who can help you find what you are looking for.

This is usable history, some of the best kind!

1950s Mennonite newspaper now viewable online


Pictured is an excerpt from the first issue of the Mennonite Observer, published on September 21, 1955. Modeled after Die Mennonitische Rundschau, the weekly Mennonite newspaper ran from 1955 to 1961.

The 12-page Mennonite Observer was published by The Christian Press in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As the language transition from German to English among Mennonites in Canada was intensifying, the English-language Mennonite Observer took the place of the Mennonite Brethren German-language Konferenz-Jugendblatt. Les Stobbe was the first editor of the Mennonite Observer, followed by Gerhard D. Huebert.

According to the masthead, the newspaper aimed “to have Christ at the helm, the salvation of man as its goal, and the essential unity of all true Mennonites as its guiding principle.” It was a newspaper with reports from Mennonite high schools and colleges in North America and beyond, missionary updates, congregational news, obituaries, and Bible-based devotional writings. The newspaper was designed to relate to people from a broad range of Mennonite conferences, even though its owners/editors were from the Mennonite Brethren Church.

The publication ceased in December 1961 and the Mennonite Brethren Herald took its place with a new mandate, starting in January 1962. The MB Herald became the official communication organ of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, a publication which ran for 58 years; the final edition was printed in January 2020 (see post).

Thanks to the efforts of Susan Huebert (many hours of scanning!), all the issues of the Mennonite Observer are now viewable online. With the author index created by David Perlmutter, the church, mission, school, and community news from this era are now more easily accessible to researchers. For a description of the Mennonite Observer and links to each of the 351 issues, click here.

Discerning women in ministry leadership in the Mennonite Brethren church

“It’s like a detective story; you see all these threads woven together,” says Doug Heidebrecht.

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.

Women in Ministry Leadership was launched on May 10, 2019, at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, with some 45 people in attendance. It is a more popular presentation of Heidebrecht’s PhD dissertation, “Contextualizing Community Hermeneutics: Mennonite Brethren and Women in Church Leadership” (University of Wales, 2013).

Since the Mennonite Brethren General Conference gathering in 1999, he has been researching the paths Mennonite Brethren have walked regarding women in leadership roles even as the conference continued move in new directions leading to the 2006 Canadian conference resolution.

“No other issue has received this level of attention by Mennonite Brethren during the second half of the 20th century,” Heidebrecht writes.

Katie Funk Wiebe speaks at General MB Conference convention in Winnipeg, 1990. MAID photo NP149-1-8662.

Women’s columns in MB periodicals during the 1960s gave women a public voice in the conference, and became the first avenue for engaging questions regarding women’s involvement in the church that were being raised within the larger society. Katie Funk Wiebe, in particular, was significant in calling for change not only through her prolific writing (articles and books), but also in her speaking and teaching ministry.

However, it was the unprecedented “spontaneous attendance” of five women – Irene E. Willems, Betty Willems, Mary Poetker, Kae Neufeld, and Anne Neufeld – as delegates at the 1968 annual Canadian MB convention that opened the door for increasing participation of women in conference gatherings and raised new theological questions for provincial and later national conferences, says Heidebrecht.


Heidebrecht explores three interwoven themes in the book.

  • What does the Bible say?
  • How does the church live faithfully in 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 the 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 (US).

“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.

Heidebrecht wrote about the Canadian Conference 2006 resolution in a final chapter of the book, a component not included in his dissertation. “Have we remained in 2006?” one participant asked at the book launch. “What gives hope is local churches wrestling with their own convictions,” says Heidebrecht.

“This book gives a sense of the story, the push and pull, frustrating and fascinating dimensions,” says Isaak.

This article was written by Karla Braun for MB Herald and was posted on May 15, 2019. See

Anna Janzen Neufeld diaries donated