NEWTON—Between them, Paul Schrag and Gordon Houser have 74 years experience working at their respective Mennonite publications, Mennonite Word Review newspaper for Schrag and The Mennonite magazine for Houser.
That is, until the publications recently combined into the magazine Anabaptist World (AW) and Houser retired on Sept. 1, after working there for 42 years. Schrag has been at Mennonite World Review (MWR) and its various incarnations for 32 years.
Schrag said he uses Houser’s 42 years of employment to deflect people’s amazement at his 32 years.
Schrag, who is the editor for Anabaptist World, said it wasn’t a difficult decision to go to a magazine.
“The quality of printing and the frequency of publication affects that, too,” he said.
MWR printed 26 times a year, while The Mennonite was monthly. Schrag said a magazine is perceived to have a longer shelf life than a newspaper.
“A magazine is more likely to sit around on a coffee table,” he said.
Schrag said the magazine will be in the 40-, 44- and 48-page range.
The initial circulation for AW, which had its first issue out Sept. 25, was 8,200, which was a nice increase from what MWR had at a little more than 5,000. The Mennonite’s circulation was a little fewer than 5,000, so with the circulations combined and including overlap, their circulation is 8,200.
“We’re continuing the missions of both publications,” Schrag said, adding most of their subscriptions are in the United States.
MWR was an inter-Mennonite publication, with 80 percent of readers in Mennonite Church USA. There was some overlap, which is one reason the merger made sense to them.
They also decided to go with a magazine format because the printer bids for printing a newspaper as opposed to a magazine were about the same, Schrag said.
Now, they have three staff members in Newton—Schrag, Associate Editor Tim Huber and Business Manager Dana Neff. Two staff members—the executive director and graphic designer—work out of Goshen, Ind., and an additional hire, a digital strategist, also will be on board.
The designer The Mennonite used will continue with AW, Houser said.
“The Mennonite has gone through various incarnations,” Houser said.
The Mennonite’s history
The Mennonite was 135 years old when it merged with Mennonite World Review. Nathaniel Bertolet Grubb founded The Mennonite, which was an English-language periodical, according to an article written by John D. Thiesen in the last issue of The Mennonite.
Grubb was editor until 1891.
Grubb and Brother A.M. Fretz printed 1,000 copies of a 16-page prospectus of The Mennonite and presented it to the Eastern Conference, which was to meet on Oct. 6, 1885. It was received favorably.
The entire General Conference adopted it in 1893.
Mennonite World Review
This newspaper was founded in 1923 as Mennonite Weekly Review, changing to Mennonite World Review in 2012.
Throughout the years, Schrag and Houser attended the same three Mennonite World Conference Assemblies, one in Harrisburg, Pa., another in Paraguay and another in Canada.
“My first world conference was in 1978 in Wichita,” Houser said.
Those are a few memorable events they both attended.
Houser also recalled a couple of articles The Mennonite ran during the years that stood out in his mind. One was about a pastor and bishop who had a gay son and officiated his wedding.
“He switched his beliefs about gay marriage and got a lot of flack for it,” Houser said, adding the web version of the article went viral.
Another was an article called “The Children Are Watching,” about a woman who was a lesbian and what she recalled about two lesbian women getting kicked out of the church.
“It’s been a long-term issue in the Mennonite Church,” Houser said about people who are gay. “Churches have left the denomination over that issue.”
AW is going to continue to cover a variety of issues.
“Anabaptist World is continuing both previous missions,” Schrag said. “It’s kind of a hybrid. We’re serving Mennonite Church USA like The Mennonite did but doing it as an independent publication like Mennonite Weekly Review was. We’re trying to do two things at once, but we believe it’s actually possible.”
He said Anabaptist is a broader term than Mennonites and includes Mennonites, Amish and others.
To encompass some of those folks, in its first issue, AW did an article on the Amish population.
“Our area of interest includes Anabaptism,” Schrag said.
Houser said a goal is to reach Anabaptists who are not part of a Mennonite church.
“You don’t have to be Amish or Mennonite to be Anabaptist,” Schrag said.
Houser isn’t going to sit still in his retirement, but things are slower.
“I’m enjoying a quieter pace,” he said, adding he hopes to do some traveling to visit grandchildren in Indiana and the St. Louis area.
He also plans to do book reviews for AW.