From Kansas to EMU: The Journey of A Hymnal

You sit down in a pew. Location: Lehman Auditorium. Ken J. Nafziger tells you to open to hymn number 516. A breeze stirs in the rafters from the movement of a hundred people flipping pages to the designated song. The hymn singing is directed by Nafziger’s waving hands. When the song is over people replace the hymnals back into their holsters, ready for the next time they need to find a song. But how did the hymnals find their place amongst their kin in a church auditorium?

Enter MennoMedia, the Mennonite publishing agency down the road from EMU’s campus. It is a small building, with offices on the first and second floors, and a mail room encompassing the basement level.

In the mail room, three workers bustle to fill orders, send books, and stock shelves. Lois Priest, mail room supervisor, oversees the happenings on the basement level.

An order starts in Newton, Kan., Priest says. That is the customer service line of MennoMedia. When an organization, such as a Mennonite church, needs hymnals, baptism certificates, or Anabaptist/Mennonite media for their libraries, they contact the MennoMedia people in Newton, Kan., who then refer the order to the basement of the Harrisonburg location. From there, the orders proceed onto FedEx trucks to be shipped around the country.

Russ Eanes, director of MennoMedia, oversees the operations of all MennoMedia locations: Harrisonburg, Va., Newton, Kan., Elkhart, Ind., and Kitchener, Ont. Canada. Eanes says the methods for how media is perceived and consumed is changing. In fact, MennoMedia has recently outlined a projected five year plan to reroute the direction of Mennonite produced media to suit the needs of the ever changing society.

“We want to tap into the millennial generation,” Eanes says.

Roughly two and a half years ago, MennoMedia, formed through a merger between a church publishing organization based in Scottsdale, Pa. and a mission based media organization. In that two and a half year time period, they have been behind in media communication techniques.

For example, only this year has MennoMedia finally converted all their titles to electronic form. That is, according to Eanes, about six years behind the societal trends.

But now that they have caught up, It is time to continue the progressive thinking. For example, the Mennonite cookbooks are among the best selling titles MennoMedia distributes. Trends in society today lend themselves to a shift from food ignorance to a yearning for knowledge about healthy eating habits with home grown foods. The Mennonite cookbooks embody this exact mindset.

In the future, MennoMedia wants to produce more and different titles that identify societal shifts while and when they happen. This is progressive thinking, the thinking that Eanes sees as a blueprint for the future of MennoMedia.

Eanes, in an ideal situation, envisions anywhere from two to six interns at any time working with MennoMedia, preferably interns from the millennial generation. By making the MennoMedia workplace a think-tank of multigenerational minds, MennoMedia can progress at the rate necessary for survival in our ever changing media driven society.

But what does the shift in media from hard copies to electronic files do to people like Lois Priest and the rest of the mail room workers?

“I haven’t noticed too much of a shift in the workload,” Priest says, which may also be related to the fact that MennoMedia in its current form has only existed for approximately two and a half years.

One thing is certain, however, and that is the amount of material that is sold around the beginning of the sunday school quarters.

“The workload always rises at the beginning of the quarters,” Priest says, “because all the churches need new Sunday school materials.”

Perhaps in the next five years, the function of the mail room will change. With shifts in society towards electronic media, how much of a desire for hard-copy books will linger.

Regardless of the result, Eanes still wants the perspective of millennials in internship positions, potentially leading to salary positions, to help gauge the direction of the market.

Eanes says on the topic of MennoMedia’s future, “In five years, [I want MennoMedia] to be a leader in church media instead of behind.”

-Chris Yoder, Staff Writer


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