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MPH retiree couple holds on to faith in church even in the midst of hurt

   

Feb. 11, 2004
Joint release for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada
by Laurie L. Oswald

NEWTON, Kan., and WINNIPEG, Man. (MC USA and MC Canada) -- The journal entry that David E. Hostetler, a retiree of the former Mennonite Publishing House (MPH), wrote in 1957 rings as true for him today as it did then, he said.

Hostetler -- one of many retirees who lost their supplemental health benefits when the joint publishing ministry for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada floundered financially -- said he wrote the 1957 entry when discerning what to preach about one day in Brazil. He served there 14 years with the former Mennonite Board of Missions with his wife, Rose. They opened bookstores, helped plant churches and published Christian literature there.

In 2004, after months of struggle felt by the retirees during the transition from MPH to the Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN), David Hostetler said he still prays for the same thing.

“In that entry I searched for truth, for the integrity to keep the will of God in sight,” Hostetler said. “And isn’t that what I still need today in my own life and what we need in the life of the church -- the desire to seek the truth and the integrity to follow where it leads?

“People often quote the scripture that says ‘the truth will set you free.’ And I think truth -- however nebulas it seems right now -- is the way by which we want to interpret this matter. Someday far down the road, when this situation is cool enough to handle in a balanced and dispassionate way, someone should write the story from a different viewpoint while retaining its core of truth.”

But uncovering the truth of the situation behind the clouds of pain that came when the former MPH restructured and became MPN is no easy feat for a retiree who lost supplemental health benefits or for workers who lost jobs, he said.

Nevertheless, he and his wife, Rose, also a retiree, strive to see the loving hand of God bringing healing out of the hurt, they said. The hurt came after faithful years of service when they saw the demise of their former work place in Scottdale and the ripple effects that had on the Scottdale community. They were retired from MPH when the bottom fell out, but they had friends who did work at MPH, and they still had many ties there.

The healing is coming slowly, as they seek to rebuild trust in a church they love but also a church that disappointed them. They served that church for many years in overseas assignments and in the publishing ministry at home. And now they continue to be involved in that church through their membership at Scottdale Mennonite Church. The congregation is the June 2003 merger of Kingview Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church of Scottdale.

David Hostetler retired after working for 19 years at MPH since 1971. He served as editor of Purpose, and news editor for the Gospel Herald and Christian Living during his tenure there. Rose Hostetler retired in 1996, after working for Provident Bookstore in Scottdale for 23 years, during which she was manager for 20 years. The store has since closed.

“The chain of events seemed so incomprehensible at first, because it happened so fast and people had no idea it was coming,” Rose Hostetler said. “Our community felt traumatized by what was happening. There was inadequate information.”

David Hostetler said, “On some levels, I recognize the need for restructuring and am not questioning the need for reform. But I’ve continued to ponder why it had to be done in the way it was -- quickly and abruptly. We were told that that is the way things are done today in business. But isn’t this the church?”

Because the Hostetlers believe this church has the help of God’s Spirit to transform human frailties into renewed faith, they’re hoping misunderstandings and contradictions will be resolved. For Rose Hostetler, that means grieving the past of what the Provident Bookstore meant to the community, even as she now works part-time as a cashier at Rite-Aid Pharmacy in Scottdale and stays active at church.

And for David Hostetler, that means staying connected at Scottdale Mennonite Church as well as being host in their home to many friends, even though he’s “doing battle” with Parkinson’s Disease, diagnosed in 1997. Modern medicines are proving helpful.

“I felt disappointed because of the closing of the bookstore,” Rose Hostetler said. “When people talk to me at Rite-Aid, they tell me how sad they are that Provident is gone and that it is an enormous loss to the community.

“But I am trying to remain optimistic. It is important to stay in touch with the community and the church. Even with all the changes, one thing hasn’t changed: I still am challenged to be God’s person daily, and I like to think that I am still in God’s work. If we lose that attitude there is nothing left.”

David Hostetler said the loss of jobs meant the loss of some people in the community and the loss of the need for two Mennonite congregations. He sees this “downsizing” as a good thing.

“It’s kind of exciting, the fact that we can get together like this,” he said. “Before there seemed to be some competition. When people came to MPH to work, the two congregations vied for their loyalty. Now, we have just one congregation, which means we will pool our resources in new ways. So far the process is moving smoothly, thanks to good leadership and willing hearts.”

The couple is learning to combine their inner resources in new ways, too, as they continue to grapple with their feelings and hold on to their faith.

“My faith has been tested, leaving me to question and wonder and hope to regain confidence in our leaders,” Rose Hostetler said. “Some anger has been replaced by sadness. I want to believe in our church -- the church that taught me that being open and honest was important.

“To us, the Mennonite Church has a theology we can live by and a way of being/doing community, even though as humans we haven’t always hit the mark. We still have faith that God wants us here.”

Laurie L. Oswald, news service director for Mennonite Church USA, wrote this story for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. Contact: Laurie L. Oswald (316) 283-5100, E-mail: LaurieO@MennoniteUSA.org