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Introducing a New Book of Brethren in Christ Biographies: An Interview with Author Beth Mark

Earlier this month, The Search for Piety and Obedience introduced readers to a forthcoming book of Brethren in Christ biographies, to be published by the Brethren in Christ Historical Society and released in October 2014.

To prepare for these biographies, I’ve put together a series of posts on the book. The posts will include interviews with the authors and editor who contributed to the volume. My hope is that the series will explore the book and its subjects while also highlighting the themes that readers will find when the book comes off the press later this year.

The first entry in the series — an interview with editor E. Morris Sider — appeared on the blog last week.

Today’s entry is an interview with Beth Mark, who has written a biography of her parents, Paul and Lela (Swalm) Hostetler.

After the jump: An interview with author Beth Mark, whose biography of her parents, Paul and Lela Hostetler, will appear in an edited collection later this year.

Beth Mark
Beth Mark

Beth Mark is a librarian and the instruction coordinator at Murray Library at Messiah College. She has previously written a number of articles in Brethren in Christ History and Life, including a biography of her grandmother, Maggie Steckley Swalm.

Search for Piety and Obedience (SPO): What was the best or most exciting part of writing this biography?

Beth Mark (BM): The best part was learning things about my parents’ lives and ministry years that I didn’t previously know.  The second best was my growing awareness of how they fit into Brethren in Christ history.

SPO: What was the most challenging or difficult part of writing?

BM: By far the most challenging aspect was that I had a wealth of material — way more than I could use. My mother saved helpful files; they had each written a lot of their childhood memories; I had church records; and much more.

As is the case with any writer, I did a lot of organizing of files and note-taking. Researching is always my favorite part; buckling down to writing is the most difficult!

SPO: What was it like to write about your family members? In what ways did your connection to the subjects make the process more engaging or more rewarding?

BM: The only biographical writing I’ve done has been about family members, so it was somewhat similar. In this case, however, I lived with or in close proximity to my parents for 60 years. However, my perspective/memories were those of their child, not as an outside observer. It was rewarding to me, through interviews of others, to learn of my parents’ ministry from a different perspective.

SPO: Why are the subjects of your biography important to Brethren in Christ history

BM: Morris Sider helped me understand the answer to this question.

My parents’ lives provide a slice of Brethren in Christ history during a denominational sea change. Devin Manzullo-Thomas’ research on the change in the Brethren in Christ Church during the 1950s from legalism to a more Evangelical approach helped me to see my parents’ pastorates through this lens. Norman Hostetter’s writing — including his biography of his parents, John and Nellie Hostetter, published by the Brethren in Christ Historical Society in 1996 — was also helpful in this regard. My parents were in some ways a typical, conservatively dressed, Brethren in Christ couple who began ministry (in 1949) on the cusp of this big shift. In other ways their pastoral ministry illustrates how early adoption of evangelical methods of outreach and contemporary clothing (by them and their peer congregants) helped their congregations become more welcoming of non-historically Brethren in Christ individuals. Their second pastorate is illustrative of an early, non-rural church planting, although it wasn’t called that back in the early sixties. My father’s later ministry with the Brethren in Christ Stewardship office sheds light on how public communications were used in an attempt to gain support for giving to Cooperative Ministries, rather than to individual Brethren in Christ board ministries.

SPO: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?

BM: I hope that readers will find my parents’ story to be interesting, but also that it will provide them with fresh insights of how denominational changes played themselves out at the congregational level, and later at the denominational level (the latter in the area of finance).

SPO: Anything else you want to share with our readers about your work?

BM: When I started the project, my mother was in the last years of her life and I knew she might not live to see the completed biography. I am grateful that because of this project, I interviewed both of my parents, focusing on their ministry years, rather than just family memories (of which I already had many). Because of my mother’s health, after collecting a good amount of interviews of former church members (mostly by email) I decided to share the interviews with them. (She died just as I was beginning to write the biography.) I think that both my interviews with them and with others helped them look back over a period of 60 years and see where God had clearly led them and how their ministry fit into the historical context of the denomination. I’m grateful I could facilitate this opportunity for reflection.

SPO: Thanks, Beth!

4 responses to “Introducing a New Book of Brethren in Christ Biographies: An Interview with Author Beth Mark

  1. Interested in the biography Beth mentions that Norman Hostetter wrote on his parents- John and Nellie Hostetter. Bishop John is the earliest Central Conference bishop of which I have clear memories. I can remember Bishop Carl Ulery coming to DeRossett BIC- but just vaguely. What is the title of Norman’s book and is it available anywhere?

    1. Tim: Thanks for the comment! (And for reading the blog.) The book to which Beth refers is actually an issue of the journal “Brethren in Christ History and Life” in which this full-length biography appears. The issue is August 1998, and the title of the biography is “Challenging Tradition, Finding a Ministry: John and Nellie Hostetter in the Brethren in Christ Church.” Copies can be purchased by contacting Glen Pierce, Historical Society executive director, at [email protected]

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