Here’s some excellent news. Sophia, a magazine produced by a volunteer collective of mostly Mennonite Brethren women between 1991 and 2003 is now available for reading online, in PDF format.
Thank you, Conrad Stoesz, archivist, for your ongoing interest and efforts to provide, as you put it in a letter some time ago, “a new level of access to the unique content of Sophia.” It was unique, I think, looking back, and I’m grateful – and proud of – the work, friendships, and energy it represents, and grateful too to have been part of the Sophia collective for some time. In 2006, I wrote a brief overview and assessment of Sophia for the Mennonite Historian, but each woman who was involved will have her own perspective and memories, I’m sure. (One of my friends responded to Conrad’s note about the project, “Yikes! Those old rants of mine…” though believe me, she was gracious and articulate.) At any rate, I’m glad the magazine is available this way, and who knows, perhaps some day a grad student who needs a thesis topic will find a fascinating one in these women of the “olden days.”
Currently I’m in the middle of one of my periodic flings at reducing the paper accumulation of my life and office, and happen to be “reviewing” my 1993-4 journals. Here I encounter Sophia again and again, and the liveliness and loveliness of those times return, the disagreements too, especially as we tried to decide how closely to identify ourselves with the struggle for a greater role for women within the church. In any case, Sophia certainly became identified with that longing and quest.
Now, when “the women’s issue” (an expression I’ve always disliked because it reminds me too much of that poor woman in the Bible with her “issue of blood” — though it just occurs to me that she suffered under it for 12 years, which is about how long Sophia ran) seems simply obvious for me, it’s good to be reminded that we were on a journey, within a particular setting, finding our way, and some of us more fearful than others (I speak of myself).
Just today, in fact, I came across some 1994 journal notes of lament about “a kind of cost, I’m finding, to be identified with the magazine.” This because a person we’d asked for design help said he didn’t want to be associated with the content of the magazine, and then an abrupt “No” without explanation from a woman we admired, when we asked her to write an article for us. “I hate feeling the disapproval, I hate the cost,” I bleated to my private pages, though when I went on to ask myself whether there was anything I couldn’t “second” about what we were doing, I realized the answer was No.
What seems important in retrospect is that the journey happened within a vital community of women, engaged together in talking and writing and finding subscribers and doing everything else that goes into producing a magazine. Our friendships were not superficial, but significant. I hope it’s not just the project but also that sense of community that will shine through for the record.