Mennonite Creators' Discussion Group, 1993-2000

ed. Ann Hostetler

In the fall of 1992, Lois Snavely Frey (now Gray), heard Warren Rohrer speak about his work as an artist at People’s Place, a center for Mennonite arts and culture, in Intercourse, PA. Frey, a Lancaster, PA social worker interested in creativity, was captivated by Rohrer’s talk and asked him for a copy. He told her that there was no manuscript for his talk, but offered conversation. Thus the idea for the Mennonite creativity discussion group began to form in Frey’s mind.[1]

By 1993, US Mennonites in the arts were beginning to gain traction in the public sphere and thus find each other. The first Mennonite/s Writing conference had taken place in Waterloo, Ontario in 1990, celebrating the emergence of “Mennonite Literature” as one of Canada’s many “ethnic” literatures, encouraged by government grants.[2] The Festival Quarterly, a publication from People’s Place, run by Merle and Phyllis Good, entrepreneurs and creators themselves, sent the young Julia Spicher Kasdorf to cover the Mennonite/s Writing conference in 1990. The following year, Kasdorf won the Agnes Starrett Lynch book prize for her first volume of poetry, Sleeping Preacher, and four of the poems from the volume appeared in The New Yorker, bringing her wide recognition. By far the youngest alumna of the creativity discussion group, Julia has been instrumental in cultivating the current exhibitions of Warren and Jane’s work.

“Positive marginality” is a concept that guided Lois Gray in her study of creators from Mennonite background.[3] In a letter dated January 20, 1993, she wrote to six persons, inviting them to be part of a discussion group that would contribute to her research on creativity, especially in those who grew up in Mennonite families.

In the letter she introduced herself as “a clinical social worker with some advanced training in individual therapy.” She described her purpose as follows:

I am studying how creativity develops throughout the lifespan and as a Mennonite am very interested in looking at how the Mennonite culture helps or hinders the unfolding of creativity. My sense is that for the highly creative person there is a process of rejection of taught values followed by a re-expression of the old values in new forms, a kind of deconstruction and reconstruction.

In addition, I have a sense that the person who makes a contribution beyond their immediate community functions in a role of “positive marginality.” These persons may be marginal in the Mennonite world and in the larger world in terms of being atypical, but it is out of this tension that creativity develops and such persons can be a bridge between the two worlds.

I would like to bring together a group of Mennonites whose creative contributions have been recognized in the larger world to discuss the uniqueness of their positions. . . .

For me, this would provide material for my study/research out of which I hope to write something for publication, and for you it would provide the opportunity to look at your situation and share with others similar to yourselves.”

Five of the six invitees responded positively, and along with John and Roma Ruth, joined Lois for a first meeting on April 3, 1993. Attendees included: Julia Spicher Kasdorf (poet), Carl Keener (botanist), Elmer Miller (anthropologist),[4] Julie Musselman (fashion designer), Warren Rohrer (painter), and John Ruth (writer/historian/film producer). Lois described them as “persons whose work is known beyond their immediate communities, sometimes on an international level. They would all qualify as highly creative.”[5]

Warren, who worked in close partnership with his wife, Jane, suggested that spouses be invited. Thus Warren's wife Jane (poet), Julie's husband Jerry (clinical psychologist), John's wife Roma (artist), and Elmer's wife Lois (ceramic artist), also joined the meetings.[6]

All of the core group members had grown up in Eastern Pennsylvania, except for Julia. All of the men were in their sixties, and the women were in their fifties, except for Julia, who was in her early thirties. Lois, Warren, Carl, Elmer, and John had all attended Lancaster Conference Mennonite Churches and Lancaster Mennonite High School. John and Julie both grew up in Harleysville, PA, and Julie attended Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. She attended Goshen College in Goshen, IN, for one year, and later earned a design degree from Moore College of Art. Julia grew up in Irwin, PA, and attended the Mennonite Church of Scottday, across from the Mennonite Publishing House. She went to public high school in Greensburg, PA, where she also participated in the Governor's School for the arts. After attending Goshen College in Goshen, IN for two years, she transferred to NYU. Although the core group members all come from specific Mennonite contexts, they do not represent a cross-section of Mennonites in general.

The males in the group were from an era when bright young Mennonite men were encouraged to join the pastorate. Warren Rohrer was mentored to become a pastor, but chose to train in Art Education instead. Carl Keener was fascinated by theology, but decided to keep it avocational, for reasons he discusses in the following summary. John Ruth was ordained in 1950 by the Franconia Mennonite Conference. He was pastoring Salford Mennonite Church and writing his definitive narrative history of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference at the time the group was meeting. Elmer Miller received an MDiv in 1957 and served as a missionary to the Gran Chaco from 1958-1963, but decided to leave the pastorate and become an anthropologist when he returned.

Initially, Lois had anticipated that the group would meet for an hour or hour-and-a-half session, but when the first meeting lasted for over five hours, the group allotted half days for subsequent encounters. Meetings continued several times per year until 2000, with the following exceptions: Carl Keener attended only the first meeting and Warren Rohrer died of Leukemia in 1995. The group attended Warren’s one-man art show at the Locks Gallery, a number of them presented their work at Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster, and attended Warren’s two memorial services in 1995—one at the Locks Gallery in Philadelphia, and one at Community Mennonite in Lancaster, Pa. During these in-depth conversations and experiences they formed a community of conversation that fostered the development of their ideas, sense of identity, and personal growth, and provided support in ways they could not have anticipated.

The sessions were taped, but the massive amount of material quickly became unwieldy for an individual researcher in private practice. The tapes, which have been digitized by Philip Ruth, are held privately, but the quality of some of them is compromised, and none of them have yet been transcribed. The best current representation of the conversations is a copy of Lois’s typescript summary to John and Roma Ruth, with a letter, in which Lois describes her own relationship to her research “subjects,” characterizing the high context nature of Mennonite culture. (The typescript is held at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in a box labeled “Warren Rohrer.")

I couldn't be a detached observer in this group because of my connections. I go to church with Julia's brother and used to be in a house church group with his family. I grew up in the same community as Carl and knew his family. Elmer is a cousin to my brother-in-law and knows my sister. Julie's been a friend for nineteen years, with occasional not constant interchange between us over the years. I've gotten to know Warren very well through visiting with him and Jane. I was on the executive committee of a Mennonite historical group with John many years ago. These are probably some of the reasons why the group agreed to meet with me. I'm an insider.

Not only do group members have interconnections with me, they're also interconnected with each other, typical for Mennonites. The four men who are all in their early to mid-sixties [born between 1927 – 1931] all attended the same Mennonite high school [Lancaster Mennonite] and Eastern Mennonite College, [now University], the ones I graduated from, although not all at the same time. The group knows all the nuances of Mennonite language, clothes, rituals, and in-group jokes.

In editing this document, which John Ruth has contributed to the Lancaster Historical Society, I have made light corrections while maintaining the sequence and a sense of the free-flowing and interconnected nature of the conversation. For readability, I have added headings and labeled direct speech with the speaker’s name where possible. Any “stage directions” after a speaker’s name come from Lois’s description of the speaker’s manner. I have omitted passages not directly relevant to the Rohrer’s journey. Any editorial additions I have made are marked by [ ]. Deletions are marked by ellipses. The passages of text spliced between the speakers’ quotes are Lois’s summaries, unless otherwise indicated.

Please note that the "Mennonites" refered to in this summary are (Old) Mennonites, descendants of Swiss Brethren and Amish settlers who came to colonial America from Switzerland through Philadelphia at the invitation of William Penn.

For decades I have heard about these creativity meetings through Julia Spicher Kasdorf, who is also a friend, and am now delighted to allow readers to “eavesdrop” on these formative conversations about creativity and Mennonite identity through the following edited version of Lois’s account. Please keep in mind that the original conversations were uncensored and opinions were expressed spontaneously, as one might speak in the company of close friends. Read them in a spirit of curiosity, gratitude, and grace. – AH


The group knows all the nuances of Mennonite language, clothes, rituals, and in-group jokes. Throughout the day, John would recite the genealogical history of any name mentioned. (LFG)

JANE: My mother was not Mennonite, which is the reason I feel outside the usual stories.

Jane described experiencing this atmosphere when she attended a Lancaster County auction with Warren as "incredible in-ness and feeling out and finding it very sort of deadly." Later, when she wrote about it in one of her poems she spoke of "a long worn genealogy." She said, "I had a genealogy, but it was not the approved Mennonite genealogy."

JOHN: (impassioned) Nobody knows what they're talking about when they're talking about this Mennonite heritage.

WARREN: We do cherish this. We worship it. It's up on the mantelpiece.

John spoke of receiving a letter from a young man who said, “You represent everything I want and can't have, landed-ness, heritage, and in-group-ness . . . .” John continued, “And that's the crazy thing because, you see, I grew up with a sense of marginality, and it's my overcompensation for that which empowers my rhetoric, and then makes people think I have it." John currently lives on land which has been owned by his ancestors since 1718.

Jerry, although he grew up Mennonite, grew up in town, rather than in the Mennonite farm ghetto his wife Julie described as her growing up environment.

JERRY: I did not know that whole world. I saw it as totally, literally a world of clannishness, ignorance, barbarianism, beyond the castle walls . . . . I did not at all think we were the same kind of critter . . . . A lot of the things you and Julie talk about, I don't have a strong sense of . . . . I do not have that intensity of family focus and connection that Julie talks about and in a lot of ways luxuriates in and also gets upset about.

Julia's response to my invitation to participating in the group was, "I have mixed feelings about this—on one hand the time and travel, on another the sense of resisting exploration of being Mennonite as some sort of primary identity—like race?I'm also curious." So, other probable reasons for individuals’ willingness to join the group are their curiosity about meeting others with similar life experiences, some of whom they already know, and about understanding their similar journeys.

The group represents a high level of mastery in life. They want relationships of mutuality. They've all had experiences of hierarchical systems and have rebelled against those systems to make their marks.


People shared in depth. There was some nervous laughing and clearing of throats, but there was also rollicking laughter, anger, and sometimes tears. Here they could safely rage and poke fun at Mennonite provincialism. At one point Warren said, "I didn't know we were going to get into our anger so much. I don't even know if I want to spend a lot of time dealing with these things that we, essentially, I think, we have lived through and gone on from."

Elmer framed it as, "to me, it's not anger, it's hurt and frustration—maybe some anger."

All expressed anger at the community inhibitions that sought to keep them confined.(LFG)

John said, "They scare you if they can to keep you in the mold. At the point when you come to intellectual adolescence, if they can, they'll hammer you back in." He spoke of how the punitive authority exercised by some church leaders was "life killing, not life affirming." He added, "The people who were holding these communities together didn't need actual data. They tried to do it by the strength of repression, of intellectual deprivation. And they could get away with it roughly from 1910-1950's."

In speaking of Warren and his artistic perception, John said, "He couldn't discover that under the auspices of a culture that had no vocabulary for it. They would read him superficially. And they would treat him in terms of defense mechanisms. There's no love going to go through that . . . . When I talk about a reservoir of love that I intuit, he intuited a reservoir of beauty . . . . " John quoted Warren from a contact many years ago, " 'If my ancestors could do stitch after stitch, or ply a loom weave after weave, or plow the land furrow after furrow, I'm no better than they. I can do that, too.'" John added, "That makes a link for me."

Neither Carl nor Elmer were allowed to finish high school but received their diplomas through passing equivalency tests.

CARL: The reason my parents did not want me to go to (public) high school was the sports program . . . . That's one regret. I never had the chance to pitch ball . . . . I think every parent wants to protect one's child from encroachments of what they deem the world. How do you do that? Keep them on the farm.

WARREN: You said you regretted never being able to have an opportunity to see what you could do with sports. I regret never being able to learn to dance.

ELMER: I can relate to that.

Warren told the story of being sent to a Mennonite school in eighth grade because in seventh grade there was a party at someone's home where there was dancing. He said, "I have a great anguish over that."

Elmer spoke of "all these people who were forced out because they couldn't deal with this."

Warren spoke of his regular return to the Mennonite community "to be reminded what I came from like a kick in the 'ass . . . . I don't mean to negate the personal or the family individuals in my life and what their influence has been, but I think there is this beauty which comes out of all these experiences that one has . . . . It was a series of moments . . . . No longer did I stop and say what is this moment. I just let it pile up somehow."

JOHN: The Swiss Mennonites were people who were intellectually traumatized; traumatized. They quote the proverb, “The learned are those who from the faith have turned. . . .” That's being traumatized. Now . . . that's our heritage. Now, what do you do out of response to that if you still feel love and see beauty like he does? What do you do? . . . . [to Julia] With words we don't have as hard a time as Warren, in terms of rejection.

JULIA: It's also the idea of what is work. Painting a picture is not work.

JOHN: They don't know how to read it.

ELMER: I think it's harder for someone with words . . . . In art there's more ambiguity.

WARREN:Why do I want to be vaguely understood. That isn't an understanding of what I'm doing at all . . . . It is the tradition of artmaking that I'm responsible to . . . . It's not a case of what is difficult or easy. I don't think words are by any means easy.

Anger provides the energy for the work at times. (LFG)

WARREN: I would certainly like to have it (my art) recognized. I'd like to have had my father recognize it. I would like to have my brothers acknowledge . . . . I was recognized first. I got the alumni of the year award at EMC in 1984. You know why? Because the Metropolitan had just brought one of my paintings. They [the Mennonites] do not recognize my art, they recognize accomplishment.

There was a discussion about the politics of the Mennonite Church and what gains approval.

JANE: If you're an artist, it's just not in the politics at all.

LOIS: I heard you saying that, Julie, too, in fashion design, that it was such a struggle, but once you made it, you had people recognizing you within the church.

JULIE: I had to be successful first, then I got my mother's approval.

JULIA: Outside. An outside authority.

JULIE: I had to be successful first and win awards for her to believe that it was worth it.

There was a discussion about the explosion of color and imagination in an exhibit of quilts done by Mennonite women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, indicative of enormous energy and creativity. John commented, "Their thoughts are not chronicled, they're available but not chronicled, in little diaries, in family lore. No one has taken that kind of pilgrimage or trouble until it became fashionable after the Whitney show[7], but out of our own we wouldn't look there . . . . If the world says it's good, maybe we better get interested."

JANE: No, if I would have seen them, I would have known they were good, but they weren't shown.

JOHN: No, they were hidden because you didn't want to be proud. They were in the chest.

In the discussion about quilts that followed, Jane mentioned Warren's statement about Amish quilts in a review he did for the Moore College exhibit. He defined them as "abstract depressionism." In other words, that was the psychological end of the design.

WARREN: That to me is a kind of expression that the makers have no concept of . . . . The bars come out of the Lancaster County field structure--the planting.

JOHN: What about framing? They frame things don't they?

WARREN: Yeah. Order. Squeezing. Can't let things out.

JOHN: Contained.

LOIS: Always that containment. That's what you learn.

JOHN: Is that a bad thing? Did the sonata form contain Mozart?

LOIS: In other words, you need to learn a certain amount of containment.

JOHN: I don't know. Did it hamper him? [In other words, Did the sonata from hamper Mozart?] Would it have been better if he wouldn't have had that?


LOIS: Are you saying in a way that there's something about learning containment that is a valuable discipline?

JULIA: Artistic form. It's not repressional.

WARREN: It's intentional.

JOHN: I think I hear Warren saying that even though they recognize it, his brother or parent culture didn't give of themselves, didn't give it from their hearts.

WARREN: Because they couldn't . . . .

John spoke of Warren's situation as "the privilege and gift of escaping those trammels. He could eventually have compassion on them [his family and Mennonite community] that they were not given that same gift of vision.

JANE: I think he feels more compassion than is really realistic.

WARREN: (expanding) What controlled my parents was the approval of the group. It's impossible for them to approve of what I'm doing until the group approves, consequently; until they break with the obligation that that places on them--and they have the right to be individuals--I don't feel compassion is the important word here. They have choices to make just like I do.

JOHN: (musing) There is an integrity in the esthetics of seeing. Can it be conceivable that there is an esthetics of mutuality that flourishes and blooms and then ossifies and becomes hurtful, but that with an angle of vision an artist could render the beauty of that?

John went on to describe the ideal nostalgic picture of Mennonite simple productive living.

WARREN: The question is whether it is chosen by those individuals.

JOHN: You have a high view of the efficacy of autonomous choice.

They all rebelled. For some this was expressed through clothes since, as Elmer said, "Sort of a key marker was dress," in ways that often appear irrational and ridiculous to an outsider.

JULIE: When I was 15, I flushed my pigtails down the toilet. I just cut them off. My brother saw all those tiny little hairs around the rim of the toilet and told my mom . . . . We had endless arguments about my hair, my mom and I. She would absolutely insist that I could not leave the house unless I had my covering (a cap made of netting) on and a hair net.

When I went away for college[8], people wrote me letters, “Do not cut your hair.” I had been there for a couple of days, of course, and my hair got cut. It was very stupid. It was the week before my parents came for parents’ week. Why did I cut bangs then? Who knows?" My mom just started crying and my dad tried to come up with the worst thing he could. He told me that she reminded him of a woman from their community who had spent most of her life in a mental institution. But the worst thing was we just couldn't talk, and they had come all this way to see me. And I was feeling bad about that, but yet very rebellious and resentful. This was me and I was not going to change my hair and put it back.

In the college cafeteria line, my father said, “Julie, I wonder what Jesus would say if he'd see you now? Get down on your knees now and say you're going to let it grow” . . . . I just had had it, and I stomped out of the hall and left my parents alone, by themselves. I just couldn't leave them in there alone, though, so I waited for about five minutes and then I went back in and got them. That was miserable.[9]

CARL: Would you say all these experiences catalyzed your creativity? You had to be creative in how to dodge the rules. And then cope with an irate set of parents and still be creative with them.

Regarding wearing a cape dress, a particular design with an extra piece over the bodice for modesty's sake, Julie said, "If I would really commit myself then I had to wear a cape . . . the people who were considered, you know, mature Christians, and considered going to heaven were plain, wore capes." Later, in design school, Julie won an award for a dress she designed as her senior project. Someone at school said, "Hey, that's an Amish/Mennonite dress. It has a cape." Julie retaliated with, "It does not." But when she looked more closely she realized that she had "totally instinctively out of my background" created a contemporary cape dress. She said, "I was so surprised and, you know, embarrassed."

JOHN: When you could do that out of your own creativity and your own love, you could do something that out of compulsion you couldn't.

Elmer told of his experience singing in the Mennonite Hour Quartet when he was in college. "They all wore plain coats and I refused to wear one. It was a matter of conviction for me and I guess that issue of identity of Mennonites with dress got very complicated throughout my college years because, well, when I sang in the Mennonite Hour Quartet, we traveled around. I guess I became impressed with cultural relativism for the first time, not knowing that's what it was, seeing all these different kinds of Mennonites." He told of meeting a group for whom use of the German language was the connection rather than clothes. "They couldn't believe that I was going to be a minister and didn't know German . . . . You can't be Mennonite and not speak German. It was totally perplexing to them."

Warren wore a long tie rather than a bow tie at a time when that was an infraction serious enough to merit a special visit from his parents traveling from Pennsylvania to Virginia to dissuade him. Warren said that in their eyes wearing the tie was "like going to hell."

CARL: On the one hand, interesting experiences, rather painful on the other. I decided if I was going to wear a plain coat, I'm going to do it up righty, so I bought a white shirt with French cuffs and those place-on celluloid collars—stiff collars, clerical collars. And put a pencil or two in the front coat pocket. This was a la mode in those days. If you wanted to be a plain coat Mennonite, why not go whole hog? Now, when I went to Penn [for graduate school], this was the painful experience: I didn't wear a tie at that point, and I could get by as a teacher's assistant not wearing a tie, except one time, I was invited to go to dinner by one of the students who asked me to go to dinner with him. The entrance requirement into the dining hall was that you wore a tie. Well, the resident assistant had a bunch of ties, but I couldn't tie the things. Did he have a clip-on tie that I could put on? And he dug and dug and finally yanked out a bow tie that clipped on and I was saved. But what an embarrassment. Couldn't tie a tie and you're in graduate school . . . . It wasn't the Mennonite experience that made me aware of this, it was getting into the world . . .

The real cultural shock from being in a Mennonite setting was going into 1-W service and working in a TB hospital for two years. Up to that point, I was in Mennonite circles, and then getting into this kind of crowd . . . and hearing four letter words—to a pure Mennonite with lots of moralisms rolling over every nook and cranny of my existence. Getting into this other stuff. That was hard----to hear women swear and use bad language and a lot of sexual language. I can still see it. I tried to set her straight once or twice, one particular person; that didn't work. This one local woman, girl then, tried to make fun of the 1-W guys, especially, those with some timorous temperament, and she would just make fun of these guys and, oh, they got beet red, these country boys. I was a part of that."

JOHN: I never challenged it visually, but took my own interior path.

John's clothes divergence related to the larger world. He told a story from his days as a graduate student in English at Harvard.

JOHN: When it came time to go to the cocktail party, I decided I'm not going to go there incognito. I'm going to go as who I am, and so, I went there with my regular plain coat. I struggled with myself a little bit at first. But I thought I'd feel much more miserable if I sneaked in there as someone else's generic American than as who I am.

Julia's divergence is writing the stories of her family and experience with total honesty, without the idealizing which is a standard part of Mennonite life. . . .

JULIA: I felt as though I made choices in my youth without any idea of what that would mean. In making these choices, I couldn't return—this great loss that you incur almost unconsciously. In making a choice, I couldn't go back.

Julia spoke of being interviewed on NPR after her book of poetry was published and being asked by the interviewer, "Why do people leave what they know?" The question stopped her short but she replied automatically, "For knowledge. And it was an answer that surprised me," she said. She went on to say, "Everyone leaves home. It's just that not everyone's home is so enormous."

Julia commented on how everyone else in the group had spoken of "physical things of difference." But for her growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, it had not been physical difference but "an incredible sense of a doctrine of difference, a sense ofinner difference," which meant things like no movies, no TV. "It almost took going to New York to see all this stuff, to sort things out. It's like learning a new language."

JULIE: Beginning my work as a designer was almost like taking a leap into another world.

At the beginning of our meeting, John had passed around a picture he had of Julie [John’s first cousin on his mother’s side] when she was in eighth grade, dressed as a plain Mennonite. We all laughed at the contrast between it and her current appearance. Now, she looks like a designer.

Carl's theological ideas are counter to his more fundamentalist upbringing. As a professional botanist and an amateur theologian, he espouses evolution, not the story ofcreation taught to him in his church. He spoke of being encouraged to be a theologian but explained, "Why I didn't go into theology was I thought it was too risky. You can always be an amateur in a subject and know everything there is to know about it and get away with saying anything as long as you're not a professional. So my profession is systematic botany....As long as you’re an amateur, you can speak your mind because you're not expected to be a professional. I'm glad I was never ordained for that reason. And so systematic botany, well, that's safe, and I can engage in my studies in evolution rather safely in that respect and go off in other tangents, and still be part of the crowd. Professionally, I don't have much competition in the Mennonite Church."

Elmer discovered the lack of proof for theological beliefs when studying Greek in seminary. "It was Christmas vacation. Everybody was gone, and I had the library to myself, and I had one of those long tables. . . . and I had everything there. I remember the time the belief struck me, plain and simple, that somebody had to figure out which Greek word to use here . . . . I remember there were a number of possibilities. And I realized that this translation idea is really wacko.... this relativism I was thinking about from my childhood . . . . I remember (the professor) came in, and I did say, 'Were the translators inspired?'

'Oh, no, just the originals.'

He was so impressed that I was there working, everybody was home. You were supposed to go home and take a break. 'No,' I said, 'I'm too excited.' I could hear his steps going down the hall.

I have a lot of emotion about that moment. I mean I really felt alone. The loneliness had to do with realizing that my excitement and the conclusions I knew I had to draw and the implications of them for me was something I couldn't share with people, family, close friends. I remember that one person . . . I told him about my discovery . . . I laid this all out for him, and he said, 'Yes, I see. I understand what you're saying, but I can't take it as far. I can't accept. I can't let loose.' He understood exactly what I was thinking and seeing but, ah, I think his commitment to community or something wouldn't have let him pursue the question that to me was liberating. It was liberating, but it was also conflicting for me because it meant a break for me . . . . I would like to have let go at times, but I couldn't. I had to pursue it."

Later Elmer said, "I feel that my Mennonite connection inhibited my creativity. I have an anger or frustration about it. It's over my feelings of being confined. I had to fight my way out of every confrontation I had. Now, it's not even an issue in the Mennonite Church. I wouldn't have to be out here."

Jane's comment was, "The energy consumed in these issues--such a waste.”

. . . . . . .

When Warren moved into the world of art and made that his life, the need to conform and fit in the Mennonite community lost its pull. An image that was important for him was "the meandering stream. The stream that you walked along. The one that you looked at. The one that you made dams in. The little stream that I went to at my neighbor's house. We constantly were making dams. Changing the course of the water. Building up ponds, watching the water."

A significant related event was when he needed to do a painting for class and found a meandering stream on the Penn State campus.

WARREN: The water went over a rock and the light hit the water a certain way; it was very sparkly.

(He noted the time of day as ten after one.-LFG) The next day I came with my palette and my easel and my paint and my brushes . . . . So, I had my whole palette laid out and these mixes of color. And I took my shoes off, rolled up my pant legs, got into the stream, and waited for ten after one to come, and then, I painted furiously for a period of an hour or so, and thought I had made the biggest mess in my life. . . . I went back to the studio . . . . I put this thing back in the corner. I was really quite ashamed of it. The instructor asked, “Who did that?'" (In the end, the picture won him awards and recognition.-LFG).

And, I still had no idea what happened. . . . It took me probably twenty years. In fact, I remember the instructor saying, “We'll see in ten years whether something has come out of this.” And I thought that was kind of a put down, but nevertheless, it did take me at least 20 or 25 years to understand the significance of the participation.

WARREN: (on doing his own art) I did not set out to make these icons. That was not my purpose. The reality is that I was trying to find meaning in the art-making process, so I went back to the stream which was a source of great meaning and pleasure and enlightenment in my childhood. So then, I found equivalency to that stream process in painting.

. . . . . .

JULIE: I'm struggling very hard to project emotion through apparel, and I can't. I can't. I don't know how.

WARREN: You're doing it without knowing it.

JANE: You're sure doing it in that cape dress

JULIE: I'm trying to see this period in my life as an organic period.

ELMER: You don't want it to be accidental. You want it to be conscious.

JULIE: Yeah. I think I have to take the plunge and it will evolve. Just start working, and it will take off. I had this moment of epiphany, and I called John up. After I thought about it I said, “I'm not telling this to anybody.” I wouldn't go over and talk to him about it . . . . Is that what you're saying? The flow, the communication that doesn't take words.

JOHN: (regarding Warren’s comment) "He's saying that it's in the pattern of life . . . I hear him feeling a moment of being in observing and responding to a pattern of life. And the pattern is . . . the spiritual thing for him rather than the specific notation that it carries in terms of narrative, recognizable image and stuff like that.

LOIS: Isn't that Anabaptist in that there's more concern about the experience of the spirituality than writing it down in doctrine.

JOHN: You can relate it if you want to in terms of two kinds of integrity.

LOIS: That's how I see Mennonites being different. Despite it all, there's something about life, about living that is what we're about more than the written doctrine.

JOHN: But then how can these Anabaptists, if they have so much integrity, how can they basically belittle and trivialize for centuries this essentially human gift of seeing, the whole realm that people sometimes try to describe as using the term aesthetic? That doesn't matter. You can be crass about that. You can be cheating about that. You can be trivial about it. And that's part of your spirituality. Why wouldn't that almost mortally wound an artistic spirit, unless they have another entre into that central repository of positive energy?

JULIE: (to Warren) At some level you desire the approval of your community, and it's not gonna happen."

WARREN: My dialogue is with art itself . . . . My present paintings are two paintings that look the same, but they aren't. There's a dialogue between the two of them. There's a dialogue between those paintings and the artist, and a dialogue between those two paintings and the viewer. My paintings are about stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke . . . . It has to do with the cells in the air. It has to do with the molecules. . . . Most Mennonite art up to this time has been about the good, addressing what is good, the ethical . . . . This is why most Mennonite art is way off track—in terms of the statement of the painting, it is not being made. And I think, essentially, the issue is how concerns of ecology and the ills of the world, of the good and the bad, . . . become lumped into this big thing, which is a metaphor?"


LOIS: There seems to be a pattern of significant change in adolescence or young adulthood. John was ordained as a minister at twenty, and he said, "It changed my whole career." Ordination at that time in the Mennonite Church occurred by people voting for a person in the laity. Those who received a certain number of votes were "in the lot." This group chose from a pile of books. Whoever picked the one book with a piece of paper in it was ordained as minister. Ordination is for life. John spoke of his early adolescence prior to that. He went to high school away from home at Lancaster Mennonite School where he lived in the dormitory. He tells of his leaving home, "Driving out on Route 30 early one morning, I saw the lights on in a barn before daylight, and it hit me right in here. There're other people who do what we do. They live on the land. You could hear the milk buckets clanging before light. You could hear the cows munching hay. I'm part of something else. It's not just local. That hit me hard."

JOHN: (about leaving the farm for Lancaster Mennonite High School, where he was a boarding student) I didn't care how bad it was out there. It was people. According to the school handbook, men were not to wear long ties. I didn't wear a tie. And modest colored socks, well supported. Hey, this was where I was going to go. I read the fine print. I found a pair of men's garters. They go around the calf, and they keep the socks up. I still pull my socks up . . . Having registered, I went down along the Millstream . . . I lounged against the side of that little building, and I watched a circle of people playing croquet . . . I was joining something. I was always marginal before that. And here I could be in the middle of things, and I looked down, and I took particular satisfaction in realizing that my socks were “well-supported.” And this very thing that I thought was ridiculous was a badge of belonging. One half of my brain said, “This is totally relative. Who could care about things like this?” Yet it was the occasion of love for me.

In the 1980s, Julia transferred from a Mennonite college [Goshen College] to attend New York University. When Julie had left Pennsylvania for the same college in Indiana a few decades earlier, she made changes represented by the cutting of her hair. But she made even more major changes when she returned to finish college and design school in midlife at Moore College of Art.

Carl, Elmer, and Warren mentioned the significance of Lancaster Mennonite High School (LMS) in broadening their lives in some aspects, at the same time that it separated them from the larger culture. All of the men in the group also attended Eastern Mennonite College[10] before entering the non-Mennonite world. Of this experience, Elmer said, "EMC was a wonderful place for me. I would never have had the opportunity to have the world opened up to me had it not been for EMC." Warren also spoke of EMC as an "opening."


Mennonites are known for singing a cappella in four part harmony. About the singing, Julia said, "It really felt like the place where people brought their emotional life and where it was expressed, sorrow or joy. It was the one thing that was available to really express emotion in some fairly complex ways that maybe weren't available in just everyday language." So being able to sing or not sing is important in terms of feeling part of the group.

JULIA: As a child, I couldn't sing. I still can't sing. I remember veryclearly from an early age my mother saying in church, “You're off. You're off.” And sometimes she would lean over and sing in my ear, thinking that if she sang in my ear, I would just naturally catch up. And I couldn't do it. So, it was very frustrating because . . . family reunions or gatherings like that, it's what you did. You sang for hours sometimes. And I loved to sing. And I loved hymns. And I loved being in that world. So, I just sang very softly except when I was mowing the lawn, and then, I sang very loudly because no one could hear.

It's kind of moving to hear Mennonites sing, and I was trying to think, well, why is it? It's not just nostalgia for me. Part of the beauty of Mennonites singing has to do with people blending together and making this one sound that is so sweet and harmonious which requires sort of surrendering of the individual voice. I've sort of turned it into something positive. Perhaps it was a good thing that I couldn't sing. I had to cultivate a different kind of voice. (In poetry she speaks alone and doesn't blend with a group but is more a lone prophetic voice.- LFG)

Carl spoke of a broken engagement with a woman who "always was disappointed that I couldn't sing. I don't like the human voice. I like violins and pianos but not the human voice."

Elmer, who grew up geographically marginal to the Mennonite community, said, "I was very conscious that I was not from the real core. I was out there at the edge." He entered the center by singing in the Mennonite Hour Quartet.[11]

Throughout the day this matter of feeling marginal was repeatedly mentioned. All of the participants felt marginal in some way, within the Mennonite culture, because of their geographic location in regards to the center of the Mennonite community or because of their own or their family’s personal traits. Words used to describe their families included “tainted, different, and superiority/inferiority complex.” Warren spoke of the alienation he experienced because of his family’s deafness. "My grandparents were deaf. My brother was deaf." He had a sense of his family being "tainted." In addition, there was a sense of marginality when they entered the larger world.

ELMER: You said you felt marginalized and that surprised me because I obviously think you're one of the main core and have always been.

JOHN: Always felt marginal.

ELMER: Was it this creativity or these thoughts you had that made you feel marginal? Where did you first feel the marginality?"

JOHN: Here at home . . . My dad was different. He was stricter than the rest, but inside, he gave me an alternative point of view which functioned as liberal. It functioned as liberal because he didn't buy the party line.

ROMA: In looking at it from the outside, I think they got a feeling of superiority as far as spiritual values were concerned. Feeling marginal, but the compensation was knowing he was right.

Julie is part of the same kinship family as John and reported asking a common relative what John was like as a child. The relative said, "We never saw him. He was always in the house reading." She said that John was "different," and his dad was "strange."

JOHN: Are you creative because you're marginal, or because you're creative you have to bemarginal?

CARL: We were terribly poor. We ran around in a '25 Buick with curtained windows.

JOHN: I remember that thing. That was impressive.

CARL: That was an embarrassment. I'd rather have died than ride in that thing.

JOHN: (tongue in cheek) How did any of us amount to anything with these parents!?

LOIS: You survived being different.

CARL: Well, but I went inside, I think, and then read books and got out into the world that way and into plants and my interests.

JULIE: I read a lot, too, and was alone a lot in my house. I would lock myself in the bathroom, and when I was supposed to be cleaning, I would be reading. So, that was a real refugee for me.

JOHN: You cannot decode the family properly. You feel love, you feel profound transcendent love, but it can't be in the language that we're talking. The sources have to be deeper and that's why you look for a bigger family, and then you look at that, and you say, but it can't be. (John names of a church leader who used punitive power.). It's got to be the opposite of that. Then, why do I still want to affirm it? You tell me.

WARREN: My parents loved the church and they loved the fear of the bishop, and they operated in relationship to this concept of how they should be, so the confusion was if you loved the church so much, you don't love me. So, there was the absence and the lack. So, this is the message I got . . . . They were looking for love, too, and they felt it would be in the church.

. . . .

As a teenager and young adult Warren found a place in the Mennonite world through singing in special groups. He says, "I am aware of this swelling big sound, [but] now, I do not like to sing. To me it meant community approval."

For me, Warren's art has a quality of creating an atmosphere like music. (LFG)

John's first experience of connection came through hearing a student chorus at Lancaster Mennonite School.

JOHN: I stood in the hallway . . . . I pretended I was looking at the bulletin board. I'm 15 years old, in the spring of '45. I knew the people . . . . Anyway, I heard these guys. These were people three years older than me; my voice hadn't changed yet. I heard what I could become. It was four-part harmony. And they were singing.

From the eastern mountains, pressing on they come,

Wisemen in their wisdom to his humble home

Stirred by deep devotion, searching from afar

(Everyone helps John in remembering this line.)

As they journey onward, guided by the star.

And then I heard the bass line coming up, and I heard the altos. Every part . . . was doing something. I couldn't define the feelings. I heard the voiceof something. I just heard it. . . . . There was an interweaving, slow dance. I tell you voices from afar came there, and wherever they came from, they came through that collection of people that would splinter in every direction and for good reason . . . . Once you hear that voice, you never can downplay it again, you can never trivialize it . . . . When you hear it, like John Updike says, “in the context of your unanalyzed beginnings,” it hits with a flavor of its own.

WARREN: The thing that bothered me a little bit about this whole idea of meeting to discuss creativity, as though it's something unique. I think that it's not unique, and it's available to everyone and everyone is capable of hearing the voice. The thing that made this interesting to me was that you were attributing significance to this sound. I think what is more important was that you were able to hear it, and I think that's really where this creativity comes from.

JANE: Not that it was, but that he could hear it.

ROMA: (to John) Your sisters do not hear the way you do.

ELMER: Why do some hear and others not in the same family, having the same experience?

JANE: Less damage. Less woundedness.

LOIS: One indication that this group has not been over-traumatized is that they all have early memories.

JOHN: Is Warren's exceptional and unique relationship to the land in terms of aesthetic expression a coincidence or does it have any other relation than coincidence to his Mennonite matrix?

ELMER: I think his struggles with his identity certainly shaped it. I think it may be coincidence that he saw things, he saw that light.

WARREN: I also question my own need to keep getting this kick.

JOHN: If he grew up in a community that didn't see and he could see or felt an inarticulate sense, so far, of being able to see . . . . I feel abused by my Mennonites, I tell you why, they don't know their own story nor did they tell it to me, and the only way I'm going to get it is to go after it myself. That's abuse . . . . Warren is hurt, and I am hurt . . . . He's going to see this even if his people are too obtuse and crass and defensive to see it. He's going to see it.

LOIS: And he can show the picture to people who don't come from that background, and they can see it.

JANE: He's speaking for people who don't even, maybe, want to be spoken for.

JOHN: Is there a perspective from which Warren is doing his people a favor that they can't appreciate?

The group responded with, "Yes." "Exactly." "Absolutely." "Without question."

JANE: They can appreciate it less than the favor she's [Julia] doing her people because of the spoken language, the common word.[12] It's particularly arid in the visual.

JOHN: You deal with a greater level of distraction with his than hers.

JULIA: They can't see themselves in his and sometimes there's safety in not seeing yourself.

At this point, Warren told a funny story about jumping into the outhouse pit when some building was in progress on their farm when he was a child of seven. We all laughed.

WARREN: The metaphor for me was: “Things aren't always what they seem to be.” (On the Rodney Sawatsky article the group had read prior to the meeting.)[13] This made my spine tingle to read this. It's the first time I've even heard from a Mennonite or a Mennonite source any kind of commentary that would say there is value in what I'm doing. This is what I've been trying to do now for thirty years and here's a person who's expecting it. Now, here's another example of: “Things aren't always what they seem to be.” . . . . . This is one reason I'm even here today . . . . It's curiosity in me to know that things that I thought were a certain way aren't necessarily that way. . . . Sawatsky said that the Mennonites adopted the idea of the word to the point of supremacy, and when they broke from the Catholics, it was a matter of throwing out the baby with the bath water . . . . How in the process of immigration to this country, the focus on the land was go great . . . . I learned to value the land. . . . How does that image translate itself into a particular painting? . . . . I learned to do that not because of my land experience but because of my study of painting, and it is the discipline of the field that gave me license to do this . . . .

ELMER: The Mennonites who are moving off the land don't have the attachment to land anymore. Maybe your art is a documentation for people. Maybe the people can see now in perspective. It's like the anthropologist going abroad or learning another language, looking out and coming back. Maybe because they're not on the land, they can see.

JANE: No, not because they're not on the land, but because they're not in the museum.

WARREN: No, because they don't accept the idea of art....In the Mennonite Encyclopedia, there is no section on the arts.[14]

JOHN: He knows of people who enter deeply into his art, and his own people have a trivial notion of it.

WARREN: I felt approval without even knowing who Rodney Sawatsky was just by reading his paper because I knew that's what I was doing from my point of view. . . . The absence of any communication . . . . There is this absence of word usage in terms of appreciation.

CARL: Does a community which does not have its own icons self-destruct, ultimately? In other words, to find a soul, a community must have some kind of visual expression of its soul. And the Zurich Mennonites destroyed those icons.

JOHN: Why should they make icons to preserve what is questionable?

JANE: It's not a case of preserving, mainly. It's more of like interpreting what ought to be, as opposed to what is, or what's possible. Of possibility.

John spoke further of the Mennonite long-standing relationship to land in Lancaster County as he is writing of it in a book he is preparing for publication.[15] "Now the Mennonites were cashing in their land without ever having appreciated it, but I said, 'Not entirely' . . . in the work of Warren Rohrer of Philadelphia there was a profound dialogue with the land . . . where they couldn't produce it themselves officially, still that voice came. . . . through. I did not see it only as coincidental.”

John spoke of the paradox of the Mennonites who migrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century from Europe where their land had been taken from them because of their religious beliefs.

JOHN: The irony of them coming to Lancaster County which is maybe some of the best farm land in the world and getting it at bargain prices has always just knocked me apart . . . inherited by these disinherited people.

JANE: The family drama is one thing, but the Mennonite family drama is another thing. I have this sense of intense family drama, but it's not Mennonite, really, except when we dipped in and dipped out.

. . . . . .

JOHN: I think that when you are given by parental heritage discrete systems of their energy, and it falls on you to reconcile it, to find an interface between them, that becomes your life's drama."

JANE: Oh absolutely. No question.

JOHN: Sometimes, some people have three or four, some people have two. And I guess we could define them, but it wouldn't be exactly the same for any two people, and yet you can see patterns of similarity, and yeah, there is a Mennonite flavor but there is– What does Chaim Potok write about? What does Philip Roth write about?"

Speaking of the idea of deconstruction, John said, "Everything is a grid of patterns: cultural, linguistic, you name it . . . A poem is a momentary ‘stay against confusion’[16] and so is language, so is everything."

Repeatedly, during the day someone would mention that they thought being Mennonite wasn't that important in their creativity, yet talk relating to Mennonite ethos dominated throughout the day; in fact, the group seemed to luxuriate in this shared identity despite the fact that half of the participants are no longer active in Mennonite churches.

JOHN: That term “no Mennonite” and “non-Mennonite” is a most interesting term.

ELMER: I consider myself Mennonite. My colleagues call me “this Mennonite” but the Mennonites don't consider me a Mennonite, the Mennonites I know.

WARREN: I have the same response. I'm not a Mennonite, but I consider myself a Mennonite.

Adiscussion about cultural versus religious identity followed.

JULIA: In Canada, Mennonites are considered an ethnic group that's acknowledged by the government. Those Mennonite writers get grants from the government . . . I think it means something different in Canada than it does in the United States.

ELMER: We're Mennonites, no matter what happens. No matter how anyone else defines us. I have so much Mennonite in me, I see the world through whatever that means to me . . . I think that the Mennonite uniqueness that I took to mission work carries over to my anthropology work and puts a

stamp on it that gives me perspective . . . I still have this strong sense of identity that influences and makes me think about my work . . . I think the Mennonite experience gave me a freedom in that work.

. . . . . .

Elmer allowed himself to recognize truths that took him out of the Mennonite community, after five years as a missionary, and into contribution in the larger world where he became an anthropologist and a university professor. Of that transition, he said, "When I left the ministry, I wasn't sure. It was still a tough break for me, a tough call. But after I served five years with the Toba and discovered that if I accepted their Christianity genuinely, they believe in visions and miracles and dreams and things. They had them all the time. They had visions and would come to our house. They would dream that we were coming, and we would show up. I lived in a dream world. I lived with miracles where the most important stories in the Bible to them were the healing stories....They don't have to have a theology of miracles because they don't need one. Anyway, this experience with the Toba even nailed down further some of my feelings about these experiences. When I got into anthropology, I began figuring all the things out I'd been struggling with all those years . . . . Cultural relativity doesn't mean there's no sense of fixity for the people experiencing it. It means a way of gaining perspective maybe from an artist's point of view. . . . My quarrel wasn't with God. It had to do with the definitions I'd been given of God. When I figured that out, it was a freeing thing.

. . . . .


Warren, Julie, and Carl have all mentioned the importance of the support of their spouses in being able to accomplish. Many of the members of the group have a spouse whose background is in certain aspects more liberal than their own. Julia's husband is from a Russian Mennonite background rather than Swiss/German like she is. She said, "I married into that whole other story."

Elmer spoke of the family of his mother who died when he was not quite three as his means of access to the larger world since they were not Mennonite, and introduced him to experiences not available in his family.

They [participants in this discussion] have all clearly moved from parental to spouse and family connection. All are in a first, long-term marriage. These persons seem to have used their energies to develop personal abilities and have supported each other in their marriages. They have become two against the outside world. I am reminded of Kernberg's article, "Love, the Couple, and the Group: A Psychoanalytic Frame" (1980) in which he speaks of the value of having an external group for focus of aggressive feelings so that they aren't exercised destructively in the marriage.

Mentors were also mentioned. When Warren graduated from high school, he wanted to be a smoke jumper. He was persuaded by concerned adults, who didn't want him to be part of the military system as a Mennonite, that he was "bright enough to go to college." In high school, Warren did a lot of reading but wasn't considered a good student. In graduate school, Warren's teacher at Penn State [Hobson Pittman] had a genuine understanding of art beyond technique and opened the art world to Warren.

A church leader accepted Elmer's more liberal perspective when he was a missionary in South America. Instead of requiring correct theology, he simply asked, "Are you being a brother (to the Toba) ?" He told Elmer, "I was very tempted with Hinduism. I was very, very tempted with Hinduism when I was a missionary. The missionaries are the ones who almost become converted to another faith because they understand it." Elmer concluded, "So, I would have never left the mission field; I would have stayed there all my life if I had had that kind of support. Maybe. Maybe."

Madeleine L'Engle was a mentor to Julia through her book WALKING ON WATER. A former professor encouraged John to apply to Harvard for a scholarship in their graduate English program, and a church leader supported his accepting it.

Julie said, "It was support from women friends outside the church that gave me courage to listen to myself and trust that designing apparel was not, in itself, self-centered or evil, and that God did not work only through nurses, teachers, and people in church-related professions. Eventually, I began to believe that the church and I were struggling with similar problems. We both had complicated and exaggerated the issues surrounding dress and the value of an individual's appearance had taken on god-like proportions. . . . Once I actually got rolling, my community provided incredible support and I could not have done all I did without them. Coming home from my job at night became a refuge and relief.

Carl remembered "crucial junctions with respect to my thought processes which required space to develop them, one was evolution, the other process theism. I will have to admit that the Mennonites that I was associated with at both of those junctures in my own thought processes gave me the space to develop it. And John was a part of that."

ELMER: But they couldn't put it in the GOSPEL HERALD (the official weekly magazine of the Mennonite Church).

JOHN: Oh, he gets it in the GOSPEL HERALD.

CARL: Oh, yeah, sure.

JOHN: Baldly, sometimes.

CARL: I was not read out of community.

LOIS: So the people that you are involved with at the crucial times are important.

There was a lot of murmured affirmation.

Warren mentioned that he thought this study would be more "provable" if there were a person who was highly creative but not Mennonite. Warren also stated that he believed "creativity is not given to the few."

The group questioned me as to what I meant by creativity. I clarified that I was focusing on high creativity that has been acknowledged for making original contributions, recognizing that there're original contributions that aren't acknowledged.

ELMER: But if we're connecting with Mennonites, I've long ago given up getting any acknowledgement of my creativity among Mennonites. I don't even look for it. It's not there. . . . Among my profession. But there may be no Mennonite connection here at all.

At the conclusion of the first session, we had a discussion about meeting again. The group wanted to know what I had found out, what I wanted to know in addition, and what I was going to do with the material.

Carl suggested that I process and summarize the material to see if another meeting was necessary. Elmer asked where I felt we were in the process.

LOIS: I feel like we've rolled up our pant legs, and we're in the stream.

CARL: Haven't started to paint yet.

LOIS: I'm not sure. Maybe we have. . . . We've got things going. There's a lot more we could explore. I need to hear how you feel about that. Partly, I can't put this all together at this point because I think I've been listening. I've been hearing so much. I have to be able to process it. . . . Before this [meeting] there were certain questions I put out. There are some other kinds of questions I think I didn't include, and now I feel as though I have new questions, and I guess I've really been trying to approach this without having too many formed ideas of what I'm going to learn because then I think I would really be closed off. I couldn't hear. Although there are some things I had an idea about. This idea of positive marginality. I kind of hear that idea coming through.

Lois concludes:

Discussion followed about this being my project and how they fit into this project. I asked, "Does it have value to you? If it doesn't have value to you, also, then there isn't interest in doing it."

After some further discussion, Warren and Jane offered their home for out next meeting in the fall in conjunction with seeing Warren's new exhibit at the Locks Gallery. Everyone agreed that this sounded like a great plan.

Because the group's story is my story, too, I became so thoroughly immersed in the first five-hour meeting, that I felt a complete loss of my ability to be objective. I felt as though I had not been able to maintain enough distance and was totally incapable of doing this task. With time and as I listened to the tapes, I regained some objectivity.

October 30, [1993] we'll want to discuss Warren's exhibit. Some additional issues I'd like us to think about are:

1. What were the male/female roles and expectations in your family of origin? Did these differ from the regular Mennonite culture?

2. Was the structure in your family of origin hierarchical or egalitarian?

3. When growing up were you allowed to be a child or were you expected to be responsible beyond your years?

4. In regards to your abilities, do people expect too much or too little of you? How do you handle those expectations?

Editor’s Note:

On April 19, 1994, Lois sent the following questions to participants in advance of the May 21st meeting, scheduled for 10:00am at the home of Warren and Jane Rohrer in Mount Airy, PA, with lunch provided.

Julia has raised a question for discussion: If one has gifts, what is one’s responsibility to the Mennonite community? Perhaps the question could be expanded to:

What is one’s responsibility to the larger world? Or does one have a responsibility only to actualizing oneself?

Warren continues to ask the question: Is there anything different about coming from a Mennonite/Anabaptist background as to how one creates?[17]

[1] Telephone interview with Lois Frey Grey, 14 January, 2021

[2] The conference also brought together US and Canadian creative writers from Mennonite backgrounds, and many of the US writers met each other here for the first time. The conference inspired a series of conferences, the most recent of which, Mennonite/s Writing IX, will be held at Goshen College in October 2022.

[3] Lois discovered the term in Smith, Althea, "Positive Marginality: The Experience of Black Women Leaders," Refining Social Problems, ed. Edward Seidman and Julian Rappaport, 1986, 101-113.

[4] For more information on Elmer S. Miller’s career, see his obituary in Anthropology Today, 14 February 2020. https://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2020/02/14/elmer-s-miller/

[5] Lois Frey, Summary of conversation on creativity, April 3, 1993, 59-page document, Warren Rohrer Papers, Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society Archives, Lancaster, PA.

[6] David Kasdorf, Lois Miller, and Gladys Keener did not join the meetings.

[7] In 1972, an exhibit of Amish Quilts at the Whitney Museum of America Art in New York City was instrumental in redefining certain quilts as objects of art, rather than simply useful objects or antiques.

[8] Julie attended Goshen College in the 1950s. Although the college was much stricter in those days, it was liberal compared to many congregations, Julie’s home congregation included.

[9] Lois notes in her summary, “Julie’s pastor even wrote to her boyfriend at another college and asked him to speak to her about this infraction. That summer Julie wanted a leadership position in her home church. She was told that she had to let her hair grow or resign. She did neither and was allowed to continue.” (Frey, Summary, 16)

[10] Hereafter referred to as EMC; the institution is now Eastern Mennonite University, or EMU.

[11] The Mennonite Hour was the first Mennonite radio broadcast. See Horst, John L. "Mennonite Hour (Radio Program)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2010. Web. 15 Feb 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonite_Hour_(Radio_Program)&oldid=167542.

[12] Jane refers to Julia’s first book of poems, Sleeping Preacher, Univ. Pittsburgh Press, 1992.

[13] Sawatsky, Rodney J. “Mennonites and the Arts: An Immodest Proposal.” Keynote Address for the founding meeting of the Association of Mennonites in the Arts. August 5, 1989, Normal, Illinois. Reprinted in ARTS, New Brighton, Minnesota, 1989, 5-7. Available through ATLAS database. 16 February 2021.

[14] This statement is probably a loose reference to Sawatsky’s article, in which he says there is no entry on Aesthetics in the Mennonite Encyclopedia. A 1955 entry, “Art,” exists in the Mennonite Encyclopedia. See GAMEO (The Global Mennonite Encyclopedia Online) https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Art_(1955). In the past two decades, many articles on particular arts such as literature and drama have been added. However, to this date, there has been no entry on Aesthetics.

[15] The Earth is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History no. 39, Herald Press, 2001.

[16] Phrase attributed to Robert Frost.

[17] Correspondence shared with the editor by Lois Frey Gray.

About the Author

Lois Frey Gray

Lois Snavely Frey Gray was born in a house in Brickerville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from a long line of ancestors who lived in Lancaster County from the time they arrived in the early 18th century. Since then she has lived in five additional states, including New York, New York. She graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School, Eastern Mennonite College and the University of Tennessee with an MSSW. She enjoyed practicing psychotherapy for forty-two years. In the mid 90's, she joined the Religious Society of Friends. She currently lives in a Quaker continuing care community, Kendal at Longwood in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania with her husband Gray. From 1993-2000, she brought together the group of highly creative persons with a background similar to her own because of her curiosity about how creativity develops.