Claiming a blessing

Katie Funk Wiebe longed for a blessing from her church — the Mennonite Brethren — and she’s getting it tomorrow evening (April 24) at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, with the presentation of a festschrift in her honour: The Voice of a Writer: Honoring the Life of Katie Funk Wiebe, edited by Valerie Rempel and Doug Heidebrecht.

I’ll be reviewing the book for the MB Herald, but I haven’t read it yet. Instead, after finishing the biography of Gloria Steinem mentioned in an earlier post, I re-read Funk Wiebe’s own telling of her story, in You Never Gave Me a Name (Cascadia, 2009). I’d read it in manuscript form in order to contribute a blurb for the cover, but wanted to come back to it in book form.

Which I’ve done….

The title strikes me as unusual, even a little odd. But it’s provocative, and in that provocation leads directly into the arc and accomplishment of Katie Funk Wiebe’s  life.

The plain name she was given by her immigrant parents didn’t seem nearly sophisticated enough for the dreams of the talented young woman; she preferred Kay. When she married, she became Mrs. Walter Wiebe, and when he was ordained, she was Mrs. Rev. Walter Wiebe, both names marking a certain (increasing) status but hiding her own. As a professor at Tabor College she was Mrs. Wiebe at first, and then as formalities disappeared for a new generation, simply Katie.  To her children she was Mom. Then, as a writer and speaker she used Katie Funk Wiebe, and gained name recognition.

Other things were given her: a particular heritage; a church unsure of its identity (evangelical, Anabaptist, fundamentalist?) and limiting of women; and the challenges of widowhood, single parenting, and college teaching. Inside what she was given is implied all that she wasn’t given as well — which she had to discover,  wrestle with, accept, or create.

In the “namelessness” of being a widow, a woman in the Mennonite Brethren church, and an older person, Katie Funk Wiebe named herself. She knew the loneliness of being set aside, hidden, unblessed, but she persevered to assert herself, to speak up for herself and others, and to claim blessing for herself even when it wasn’t granted by people or institutions. Continue reading