The 500th anniversary of Anabaptism in 2025 gives the church a unique opportunity to celebrate and dream. This week on ~ing Podcast, host Ben Wideman is joined by Mollee Moua to talk with Amy Gingerich, Executive Director and Publisher of MennoMedia. We’ll learn more about why MennoMedia decided to take on this project, talk through some of the challenges in a project of this size, and learn how MennoMedia will shape this significant anniversary of the Anabaptist movement. This is part two of a miniseries where we’ll meet more of the people involved with this incredible project.
To learn more about Anabaptism at 500 or how to add your voice to the first-ever Anabaptist Community Bible, visit Anabaptismat500.com
We hope you consider advertising with ~ing Podcast. Are you connected to an organization with similar values or themes to our guests? Consider becoming an episode or season sponsor! we’ll help you reach our growing audience. To find out more, email [email protected]
~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit Publisher that creates thoughtful, Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at www.mennomedia.org/ing-podcast.
Amy Gingerich, Mollee Moua, Ben Wideman
Ben Wideman 00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine. What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?
Amy Gingerich 00:09
We think our message, what we are what we are promoting in our products, which is… I would articulate as the intersection of faith and life… we are articulating for people how to live out their Jesus centered faith daily, we bring those pieces together, I think that’s our sweet spot in the larger marketplace. And just as a way that marketplace is working these days in terms of publishing increasingly, we don’t know who is buying our product.
Ben Wideman 00:36
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together. Hello, friends, welcome back to ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited to continue our series taking a look at Anabaptism at 500. We’re really glad to be joined here today by Amy Gingrich. Amy is the Executive Director for MennoMedia, and a person who I’m hoping we can learn a little bit about why MennoMedia was interested in taking on a project like this. I’m joined again by – I guess my cohost during this during this season of miniseries – Mollee Moua is here with us. And she’ll be joining me as a host as we talk through some of these things with Amy. So thank you to both of you for being here with us today. Amy, that was a very simple introduction to who you are… how do you introduce yourself to people these days?
Amy Gingerich 01:45
Just like that, I became Executive Director and Publisher at MennoMedia. And I’ve been in this role since 2018.
Ben Wideman 01:54
Well, thanks so much for joining us here today. I think it’d be interesting just to talk about the origin of this project. First, how did MennoMedia wind up deciding to celebrate this anniversary in this unique way?
Amy Gingerich 02:09
Well, first of all, I think it’s a natural fit for us at MennoMedia, based on what we do with media, especially print but also in other forms as well. At MennoMedia, we often have our eye on different dates, right? So for a number of years, I had been thinking about oh, the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism is coming up. Publishing isn’t something that happens overnight. And so that date had been on my radar for a while. In early 2020, our leadership team was together. And for those of you who know MennoMedia and know our products and resources, you might recall that in 2020, we were wrapping up a really big project called Voices Together. And that was when we got together a strategic planning time in late February. That was prior to the pandemic. At that point, we were planning on Voices Together to head to the printer at the beginning of June. And then it would be in people’s hands in September, because of some pandemic related delays. People didn’t get it start to get it in their at their churches until late November, I believe. Because of again, some COVID delays and things. But in late February, when our team got together and 2020, we started saying, “Okay, we have a lot to celebrate. This project is not done, there was still a lot of work yet to do with Voices Together. Let’s not forget the amount of work that still needed to be done at that point.” Indexing takes a lot longer than anyone ever anticipates for a project of that nature. But we, but the end was in sight – all to say – and we started thinking what would be the next big things, what would be our strategic priorities as an organization. And I remember just kind of tossing out 2025 as the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism. If we look… if we pin it to that first baptism on January 1525. And so we started just brainstorming around the room around that event and what some pieces could be around that event. Would we think about events when we think about print products? I mean, I’ll be honest, we we know how to do print things. So those came pretty easy to us as we started brainstorming. And Joe Questel, our Director of Sales and Marketing, had previously worked in in Bible divisions with other publishers, and he tossed out the idea of an Anabaptist Bible. And he said, “You know, we’ve never done an Anabaptist Bible project before.” And so we started brainstorming, what would it look like? What would what would make something an Anabaptist version of the Bible? As we looked at the time period, we realized we don’t actually have enough time to do our own translation. So let’s take that off the table immediately. Let’s be realistic about what we can do. So I think we started with a pretty broad big vision as You do in brainstorming, but even then we were trying to be a little bit realistic. And then I’ll be honest, the world sort of changed, right. Within the next few weeks, our plan was that we would take this big idea, along with the other things we talked about in that strategic planning time to our board, which was meeting March 10, to 12 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. And I will just say, that was my very first meeting that was canceled. And so kind of presenting all of that to the board didn’t happen as we had intended at that time. And we put a pin in the idea. And it just kind of continued to grow, I think, in our minds, over 2020. And then really, in fall of 2020, we said, you know, we got to get back to this, we got to start really thinking about the feasibility of this. Our excitement is one thing, but what do other people think about this idea? And so started then from there in fall 2020, thinking a bit more strategically about how are we going to pay for this, started having conversations with donors started having conversations with scholars with people in the pew, about what what would be other ideas, ideas beyond those of the four people on our leadership team for how to shape this project. So what you see and what we talked about as the suite of resources, that was kind of the the nugget of where it all started in February 2020.
Mollee Moua 06:22
I guess just as you’re dreaming about the project in February, or even now, what are some of your dreams or maybe aspirations for this project? And what that can do for us in 2025,
Amy Gingerich 06:36
One of my big dreams and aspirations for the project is just to get people back into the Bible. You know, increasingly, I think people aren’t really sure what is the Bible’s relevance for today, I believe we live in complex times, we often say at MennoMedia, that we’re creating resources for the complex world in which we live. So where is the Bible’s relevance? Several people have said to me, “Wow, this is a really ambitious project. But I’ll be honest, I don’t really read my Bible. How did you decide to go there?” And so really, one of my hopes and dreams for this is that we can get people into their Bibles and engaging their Bibles, engaging the biblical story, having conversations around the biblical story, to me, that’s the heart of Anabaptism is, you know, the movement was founded by young people engaging scripture for themselves. I’m a parent, I’ve got two kids, they’re nine and 11. And the idea that I want them to know what’s in their Bible to know sort of the arc of Scripture to understand how to read a text, how to discern a text that’s important to me. And so thinking about future generations, as well as myself thinking about how do we come to the Bible? How not just the Bible, how does the Bible sustain us? How does community sustain us? In our faith, those would be some of my hopes for the project, that in the suite of the different resources, whether it’s in a children’s book, or the Bible project, or a devotional, that there would be different points that people could jump in at and find something relevant for their life and for their faith to carry them forward.
Ben Wideman 08:13
You’ve already touched a little bit on some of the decisions you’ve had to make in terms of choosing not to chase after a complete translation. But I’m curious, this, this ambitious project does sound somewhat limitless like really, it’s It’s your imagination of where you could take it, how do you determine, you know, this is really MennoMedia’s sweetspot, this is something we can handle, versus this is just too big of a, of a passion or a dream to include with this suite of resources?
Amy Gingerich 08:44
That’s a great question, Ben. And I would start by saying that MennoMedia is a North American publisher. That isn’t to say, we can’t produce things for people around the world. But if we’re producing a printed product printing and shipping things is very expensive. And I think it’s, it’s a super North American mindset to think that people around the world might want our printed product. I mean, let’s ask those people first before we ship something, you know, to them around the world. And so really, what we have to continue to remind ourselves of is that we are a North American publisher, we know how to get things printed, and distributed in North America to North American audiences. Beyond that, if we just don’t have the research, to ignore the customer base to say what those people want around the world. And I say those people just because they’re out there out, you know, it’s the whole wide world out there beyond North America. And so I think that’s a critique we’ve heard, how are you calling this Anabaptism at 500? I live in, let’s say, Ethiopia. What’s his projects relevance for me? Good question. I’m not, you know, we’re hopeful that in our app that people can use that all around the world. We’re still in the discovery phase. Is that app determining what is going to be in that product? I think it’s our hope (and Mollee and you jump in here too) as a staff member, it’s our hope that there would be pieces that would be relevant around the world. But we also know that like for a printed Bible, Bibles, weigh something, printed Bibles weigh something, and they cost a lot of money to ship. And so we need to be really mindful that the products need to be rooted in being able to ship them throughout North America, of the of the of the physical products. The other thing I think that limits us is money. I think this is all being funded by donor dollars. And we want to be really good stewards of that money. We want to be careful planners of what we’re doing, and not just say, yes, we’ll do this. And let’s add on this and add on this without doing our due diligence, both in terms of what the audience wants and is asking for. So we’ve done some surveys, more surveys will be forthcoming. On different product pieces. Mollee has coordinated some focus groups, we’re doing more focus groups. So I think what we’re limited by would be the overall saleability of the products and the overall market that we would have in North America for these products. We would see the market much beyond Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church, Canada. Yes, we are denominational publisher of those. However, we have long standing partnerships with denominations and congregations outside just those two denominations. We work very closely with the Church of the Brethren for example, with our Shine curriculum and with the Mennonite Brethren on our Rejoice daily devotional. And so, you know, we’re we’re seeing this as a much wider audience among Anabaptists in North America. But really, that is that is the primary audience that we’re trying to reach.
Mollee Moua 12:02
The one big piece of the project is is the app and I think we’re pretty excited about, but that being the one piece that can be accessible for people globally, because I think usually people will definitely have a cell phone. And so our hope is that it can be like a free app that’s able to, we’re still figuring out, okay, what is it that this app is going to do, but I think as a piece of technology that we’re hoping that can connect people, whether that’s through a Bible study through Menno media curriculum, but yeah, I think that is an exciting piece that we’re still working on developing.
Ben Wideman 12:41
How did you go about assembling a team, this is clearly not a task that you’re only doing in house or with a certain number of your staff members. So how did you build out a team to take to take on 500 years of history,
Amy Gingerich 12:57
With our voices together project we kind of, we learned a lot in that process, right? That was the first big, you know, multi year project that would come to completion, that we’d done it in some time. And so we had decided that for this project, we would hire a full time project director and a full time managing editor. And so we posted both of those positions a little more than a year ago. Mollee just accepted her job a little more than a year ago. And then started in January 1 last year. And John also, John Roth – as project director also started January 1. So we had posted those positions a year ago, we definitely want to this project as we envisioned it staff wise. And in the preliminary focus group research we did, we definitely wanted it to be representative of Canadian audiences of us audiences, as we thought about staff, and then a group around them. We thought about this being an advisory group around the staff rather than a group that makes all the decisions, empowering the staff to make the decisions but pulling together an advisory group that would be people from Canada, people from the US people who are pastors, people in the pew older, younger, we wanted to make sure we had some BiPAC representation, lots of BiPAC representation, we wanted to make sure we had urban and rural and we wanted to get a pretty diverse group together to help us respond.
Mollee Moua 14:26
Yeah, just people from not only from MCUSA and MC Canada congregations as well. And so yeah, and so our advisory advisory group consists of some people such as Sarah Augustine, you know, who is part of dismantling the… what is Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery? Yeah, that’s right. And so just being aware of maybe some of the voices that sometimes get overlooked sometimes and some of the mainstream things, but really paying attention to… Hearing from all voices and you know, thinking of okay, you know, who can we have on the board that can be aware of those things that maybe we’re not that we’re missing that we’re not as involved with. And so, yeah, we’ve had a really great Advisory Group team so far, that have been really great at kind of keeping us on our toes, as well as really big supporters in their community and just bringing us really important advice that perhaps John and I or Amy in our steering committee hasn’t been aware of. I think a part of having an advisory group was important to us as, as Anabaptist, like a principle of, of involving more than just ourselves. Like, we wanted this to be a project not just only specifically from MennoMedia staff, but also be a project of, of the people that we’re trying to reach out to. And so it was important for us throughout this process that as Anabaptists. And as you know, as many churches do, anytime there’s there’s a sermon, it takes a long time. So, you know, we’ve had, as Amy mentioned, focus groups, and we’re thinking about the Bible, and even you know, the details such as the layout, and things like that. And so and so having people’s voices involved throughout all of the process, I think, has been an important principle and value for us. And so yeah, as Amy says, we’re hoping there’s some more coming out, as we continue to think about, about the app, you know, what is it that, you know, keep you coming back to an app, like, we want to make something that’s useful, that’s practical that people can connect to. And so we want to hear from people, right?
Amy Gingerich 16:50
Well, we have lots of ideas in our head. I mean, we do, right? We, we are Ideas People, and it’s so fun to brainstorm with Mollee and John and with other staff. And then it’s so illustrative to take it to the Advisory Group. I remember at the Advisory Group’s meeting in August, there was this whole plan about how are we going to do these Bible studies, right? We need 500 Bible study groups to participate, and we are getting registrations, Mollee’s getting all those right now, and they’re coming in. But back in August, when we had that meeting, there was a document on like, how, how to lead a Bible study group, is that what it was called Molly? Or what was that?
Mollee Moua 17:29
Yeah, something like that.
Amy Gingerich 17:30
Something like that. And the Advisory Group looked at that. And there’s a few people in the Advisory Group who are educators or in children’s education and background and pedagogy kind of folks, right? And they looked at that, and they were like, this is way too confusing, which was great, right? Because this stuff lives in our head. And I mean, I love words. And so I’m like, oh, and let’s add this. And what about this? Oh, we got to add that to and then suddenly, it’s really long. And so that’s where an advisory group is so helpful to come in with their different lenses. And there, they represent themselves, their own congregations and contacts. And they can just quickly look at that and assess it and say, No, you need to really simplify this.
Mollee Moua 18:11
With the Voices Together project, that was, you know, very specifically, I think, for MC USA and MC Canada congregations. But the project itself is Anabaptism 500 includes more than that, I guess. When you were envisioning that, you know, were you I guess, how were you thinking that we would expand the umbrella beyond MCSE and MC Canada?
Amy Gingerich 18:40
For a number of years already, we’ve been talking about MennoMedia as a centered-set publisher, rather than a bounded-set publisher. And let me unpack a little bit what I mean there. And there’s lots of people who are much more articulate on that idea than me. But I think generally we can, we can talk about how MennoMedia and its predecessor publishing organizations were founded by and for Mennonites, right? So that they would be publishing things for our Mennonite church congregations. So it was this publisher pushing out just to Mennonite church congregations at the same time. Third Way Media, which was a media division of what is now Mennonite Mission Network, took an outward approach and was trying to reach people via radio programs and other things outside. So now at MennoMedia we kind of have both of those legacies in our organization. But increasingly, there are not enough Mennonites in Mennonite Church USA and and Mennonite Church Canada out there to sustain a publishing ministry if we were just publishing for those people. And let’s be honest, Mennonites today are people of the broader world. And I think for us to survive, we need to be broadcasting and taking our message of our core values. As Anabaptist to a much wider audience, I buy things that Amazon, I’m guessing you both do as well from time to time. Maybe you buy things from your chapters bookstore if you’re in Canada or Barnes and Noble in the US. We sell many of our books – our Herald Press books, that’s our trade book in print name – to the trade. To Amazon… Amazon’s our largest customer. Your congregation might be buying books that you read an adult Sunday school from Amazon, but they might be our books. Therefore, we don’t know what congregations are buying from us. Several years ago, at a Mennonite Church conference, several people said to me, “Oh, great book, my church studied this,” and I wrote down those church names. And after I got home, I looked up in our inventory system, and only one of those had bought it directly from us. So increasingly, we don’t know who our customers are, at least on the book side. Now, if you’re ordering curriculum, like our Shine, children’s curriculum, or our Adult Bible study called Salt & Light, Rejoice daily devotional, churches are coming directly to us for those because we’re not selling those through the trades. So we do know who those churches are. But we think our message what we are what we are promoting in our products, which is I would articulate is the intersection of faith and life, we are articulating for people how to live out their Jesus centered faith daily, we bring those pieces together, I think that’s our sweet spot in the larger marketplace. And just as a the way that marketplace is working these days in terms of publishing, increasingly, we don’t know who is buying our product. So who are we making this for? We cannot articulate that we’re just making it for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, because we really do see this, all of these products in this week going out to the trade in a much bigger way than a hymnal which is produced primarily for a church based audience. And we’ve just sold directly so churches could either buy it directly from us, or there were a few select bookstores that we sold it through like common word in Canada, and a couple in the United States in areas where Mennonites live.
Ben Wideman 22:09
There are so many different ways of describing a study Bible. I’m curious how you wound up on the name for this one. And and what what are we calling this Anabaptist resource?
Amy Gingerich 22:23
That is a great question, and one that we have spent a lot of time discerning this fall when we started this project, you know, we were saying was kind of like this, but not like that. And we’re not you know, we’re gonna buy the translation rights for for this. But how do we describe this. And ultimately, we felt like if we use the word study and call it an Anabaptist Study Bible, which I think it is a study Bible. This is, you know, a group that brings a Bible that brings together the study of Anabaptist groups, it also implies that it’s done by scholars. And that’s not the approach we’re taking here, right? We’re getting 500, individual Bible study groups, to send us their notes. And then those are the notes that will be printed in the margins, or, you know, around the page in this Bible project. So we decided, Oh, well, we should probably strike through the word study. Because for people that do Bibles, that signal something else, something different than what this is, we aren’t just assigning this, this 66 books of the Bible to 66 Bible scholars, that’s that is, in fact, how the Lutheran Study Bible was done some years ago, but that’s not our approach here. So okay, let’s strike the word study. So then we were calling this the Anabaptist Bible project. But I will just say that we have gotten a lot of heat on that title. And there have been a lot of people with very strong opinions, negative opinions about that title, How presumptuous of you, well, there actually, there’s a Catholic Bible, there’s numerous Bibles. We just haven’t used that name before as Anabaptist. And so people didn’t really know what it meant, or how to interpret that. And they weren’t afraid to call them let us know how they felt about that. Let us know their concerns about the title, which is fine, which is fine. And so props to Molly and John, why don’t you just say a little bit, Molly, about the discernment that you two worked on this fall around the title? So we set the question out to focus group participants that we had earlier in the spring, and as well as other key key people who were involved and involved in the project. And so we had a really good response. People are really interested and invested in the project, which is really great. And so yeah, we sent that or a survey out to about 300 people. And there was a pretty strong response for the title that we ended up going with which was, which is now the Anabaptist Community Bible. And so they just felt that, and we also feel that, the word added, word “community” just really reflects the process that we’re taking with the Bible, as well as the important value of community and Anabaptist congregations. And so we just feel much stronger about that in terms of, you know, people were asking, yeah, what is the Anabaptist Bible? Is it the new revelation for Anabaptists? Is it a new translation, and so hoping we’re hoping with this new title, that that can, yeah, hopefully put people at ease, but also get people excited, because, you know, we want to, that’s what we want to encourage is for people to read scriptures on their own, but also to reach out as a community.
Ben Wideman 25:50
I hope this conversation has helped you get excited, as Mollee just said, if you want to learn more, Anabaptism at 500 (the number five hundred) .com is where you can go to learn more about this project. It’s been really insightful for me to hear you talk a little bit more Amy and you as well, Mollee to have both your voices helping to get me to understand this project just a little bit more. Thanks for taking it on. I’m sure even at this stage, now that things are moving, it’s still probably feels daunting, daunting from time to time, just knowing how much is going into it. But we really appreciate it. And I know that this conversation will be appreciated by all who were able to listen to it. So thank you.
Amy Gingerich 26:32
Thank you and sign up for your Bible study at the website. We still have room for more study groups to join us.
Ben Wideman 26:38
Mollee and I will be back. We’ll have more from this project in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that. Thanks. As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.