Steinbach: Then & Now Local History Lectures = Best Saturday Night!

Okay, so this past Saturday was the third annual local history lecture by the EastMenn Historical Committee, in partnership with the Mennonite Heritage Village. Local history nerds that we are, Andrew and I took seats right at the front.

The poster had proclaimed that the evening would feature a lecture from Ralph Friesen entitled “Revive Us Again: A Brief History of Revivalism in Steinbach”. This being the age of social media, the neat thing is that Ralph himself shared this post on the Vintage Steinbach Facebook page, almost daring people to come out in order to “throw tomatoes, ask barbed questions, or just be informed”. This made me think that he might be sharing some info or a point of view that wouldn’t be well-received. I was looking forward to this!

With his talk, Ralph demonstrated Steinbach’s population’s particular perculiar pattern of neverendingly craving religious revival and renewal, and I really wish we could’ve come up with stellar questions to keep the conversation going. I think sometimes attendees are so stunned and just want to keep hearing more. (Or maybe it’s just me?)

I liked how he suggested the revival served as “socially-approved entertainment”. And that “the art of mass revival” smacked of “evangelicism on the business model”, complete with “decision cards and donations”. And how these people… our people… have a tendency to consistently strive to pursue “a truer expression of faith than the one they had left”. (“Anabaptist Disease”, anyone?)

I was fascinated to learn about the various evangelists who came through town, and the “tabernacle” that was built to host revival meetings on a regular basis. This all made me think of all the times that I was at evangelistic meetings or was blindsided by alter calls, when I had the distinct impression that I was expected to have some sort of intense, dramatic conversion experience.

Honestly, I’d love to hear this whole talk again, or maybe see it published so I could read it.

Then Glen Klassen shared some fascinating photos of early Steinbach, mostly taken by Walt Barkman, but also by about four other people who lived in the village (town?) and also had cameras. When he showed the first photo of Walt, a collective gasp went up from the audience… he was quite dashing for a Steinbach man back in… oh what year would that have been? 1906 or something? Glen proceeded to show photos complete with captions by Walt — it was like taking a tour of a town that no longer exists. I loved seeing photos of Main Street when it was a muddy path with little bridges on either side to cross the ditches. A photograph depicting a mother and child at the table in the kitchen, are rare and special glimpses into everyday life. One of the most stunning photos was a dramatic image of the flour mill burning down, and firefighters scrambling on a nearby rooftop, the smoke billowing over the town. I’d love to see these photos again… Glen asked the crowd how many of us would be interested in purchasing a book featuring these photos. Andrew and I put up our hands!

Following the slide show and a brief break, the evening continued with Glen sharing his talk entitled “Extra Cash: The Role of Nonprofits in the Life of Steinbach”. He’s done a lot of research, and shared the results with us… Steinbach has a large amount of nonprofits, considering the population, and the government seems to depend on these nonprofits to continue doing the work. The government funds certain ones, like Envision and the daycares. There are many wonderful nonprofits doing imporant work in our community, but many are underfunded. As costs continue to go up, the amount of money they’re being given to operate with has remained static for about 9 years (if I’m remembering this number correctly). That’s a problem. I’ve decided to pay some careful attention to these nonprofits, moving forward.

I very much appreciated the information that was shared on Saturday night. Both Ralph and Glen were fun to listen to, even while sharing some challenging facts (or maybe because of the challenging facts that they shared), and the crowd was jovial. I felt like everyone was leaving the evening feeling invigorated… and certainly looking forward to the next event put on by the EastMenn Historical Committee.