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Fall 1997 · Vol. 26 No. 2 · pp. 94–96 

Book Review

The Work of Their Hands: Mennonite Women's Societies in Canada

Gloria Neufeld Redekop. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996. 176 pages.

Reviewed by Linda Matties

Gloria Neufeld Redekop provides a magnificent service to the cause of Mennonite women’s historiography with this book. With a Ph.D. in Women and Religion from the University of Ottawa, she is well {95} qualified to tackle such a subject. Redekop has compiled and analyzed data about the Canadian Conference of Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren women’s groups known as the Naehverein. Material was obtained from churches that were established primarily by and for Russian Mennonites. She traces the Russian origins of such groups to show continuity between Russian and Canadian practices. She also sets the organizational structure, purposes, and activities of these groups within the wider spectrum of Canadian Christianity.

Despite a few technical glitches, The Work of Their Hands is well laid out and quite easy to read. There is a date on p. 28 that should read 1845, rather than 1945. There are some rather odd spellings for German words on pp. 30 and 45. The many graphs and charts enable the reader to see the sources of Redekop’s analysis and conclusions.

It is to be hoped that scholars and lay men and women will read this book. Scholars will want to interact with Redekop’s hypothesis that the women’s societies formed a kind of parallel church for the women who participated. Young women will find the book helpful in determining the role they would like to play in the church. I suspect that the women who belong to these societies will have something further to say to this subject as well, and their responses would make an interesting sequel to this book.

Redekop detects a change from a “service by doing” emphasis to a fellowship and spiritual growth emphasis. This shows up with a change in priorities and in name changes. One needs to ask if the understanding of spiritual growth and fellowship has also changed. Is spiritual growth and fellowship really more important now or has there been a change in understanding what that means? In an earlier era, women may have seen working together as a way to promote spiritual growth and fellowship as they understood it at that time.

Redekop has also documented a decline in emphasis on mission in the priorities, activities, and group names. One needs to ask if there is a relationship between frequent deficits in mission board budgets and this change in emphasis within women’s societies. This could be a real eye-opener for cash-strapped mission boards.

Declining interest in women’s societies has been ascribed to employment outside the home, widening societal interests, and greater opportunities for women to serve within the church structure. Of great concern is the aging membership and the lack of interest among younger women. One needs to ask what theological influences have shaped this declining interest.

Redekop has opened the door to what I hope will be a vigorous discussion about the role that these women’s societies played in the larger {96} spectrum of Mennonite life. Her work also provides a pattern for studying and evaluating other women’s groups such as the currently emerging Reader’s Groups which are popular among professional women.

Linda Matties
Abbotsford, British Columbia

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