Western Anabaptists gather for writing conference

Sep 2, 2019 by

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The first-ever Western Anabaptist Writing Conference is over. We call it WAWC, pronounced “walk.”

It was held Aug. 10 at the new Pioneer Christian Academy in Brownsville, Ore., which used to be the old Brownsville Elementary School. Everything looked a bit mid-renovation because the old carpets were ripped out but the new ones weren’t coming until two days after WAWC.

Dorcas Smucker leads a workshop on how to begin writing at the Western Anabaptist Writers Conference Aug. 10 at Pioneer Christian Academy in Brownsville, Ore. — Dorcas Smucker

Dorcas Smucker leads a workshop on how to begin writing at the Western Anabaptist Writers Conference Aug. 10 at Pioneer Christian Academy in Brownsville, Ore. — Dorcas Smucker

But you know how it is — 50 years from now, the old-timers will tell stories of how makeshift it was the first year, but oh my, what a good time we had.

“First-ever” and “50 years from now” imply that there will be more conferences. Many attendees thought this event should be repeated next year, but I think we should sleep for a week before we actually make that decision.

Why was such a conference needed? you ask.

1. Anabaptist (Mennonites, Old Order Amish, Brethren, Holdemans, Hutterites, Western Fellowship, Eastern, Pilgrim, Midwest Fellowship, New Order Amish, Beachy Amish, Conservative Conference Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, German Baptists . . . you get the idea) writing and publishing are different from most other publishing, both Christian and secular. More collaborative, less competitive. More about excellence and humility than platform and promotion. And more about steady, long-term material than quick bestsellers.

2. Mennonite writing conferences in the East are a very long way from here, and writers in the West are a long way from each other.

3. Writing is a lonely process at the best of times. Meeting with other writers who “get” you can be a powerful boost and can re-start a neglected calling to write.

I did most of the planning. Paul supported me fully. Lots of people helped out.

Our daughter Amy took care of the book and resource tables. My friend Jane’s family decorated with old books. Another friend, Shannon, took care of the registration table with her daughter Annika. Others made food, taught workshops and cleaned.

Chris Miller, the principal of PCA and the husband of Paul’s niece Stephie, was our keynote speaker and taught us about what we have to offer and the phrases that silence us.

Around 30 people attended, including Penny from British Columbia who was in the middle of moving and had lost her passport. “You need to go!” said her husband and son, and her 6-feet-2 son crawled around in a trailer full of boxes and found the passport.

Non-Anabaptists were welcome to attend, and a handful of them did, adding a fun flavor to the conversations.

I heard people say, “I don’t know which workshop to take! I’d like to take them all!” Those words were music to my ears. Imagine! Too many good options!

What would it take for WAWC to become a destination conference, I wonder, and for writers from Idaho, Washington, California, British Columbia, Alberta and other places to get their friends together and take a trip to Oregon in August, just for this? (With a few stops at Crater Lake and Mt. Hood besides, of course.)

Like the local non-Anabaptists, Mennonites from the East would be welcome to attend. But we would always try to focus on the unique needs of Anabaptist writers in the West.

I’m already convincing myself to do another conference. If WAWC continues, many decisions arise about turning it over to a committee, forming an organization, bylaws, constitutions, and other confusing things.

For now, I’m resting, grateful, and ready to write.

Dorcas Smucker lives in a farmhouse near Harrisburg, Ore. She is married to Paul, a pastor at Brownsville (Ore.) Mennonite Church; a mother of six; and the author of six books. She writes at Life in the Shoe, where this post first appeared.


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