I didn’t realize until this week that their graves are in the foreground every time I look out the window of my office toward Mt. Hood. But after reading about Edd and Alice Yoder in the recently-published book, In The Hollow of God’s Hand, by their granddaughter, Joanne Wolfe (Eaglefeather Press of Nova Scotia, 2018), I went to look for their graves in Zion Mennonite Church’s cemetery. I didn’t have far to go beyond the parking lot. Edd was laid to rest in Zion’s cemetery in 1957; his wife, Alice, in 1959.
A copy of In The Hollow…. came free and unsolicited directly from the author to Zion Church just a few months ago, providentially perhaps, in the year of Zion’s 125th anniversary. Upon reading the last page and closing the book, I felt both grateful and humbled for the love and the labor that went into founding and serving the church that I know and serve today. Alice grew up in Zion as the daughter of Zion’s first bishop, Amos Troyer. Two of the leaders pictured in a hallway of Zion’s facilities were father-in-law and a son-in-law.
A transplant from Ohio via North Dakota, Edd Yoder was not one of Zion’s founders; he was a key figure in Zion’s second generation of leadership as a lay preacher and pastor. Like most Mennonite churches of the time, the Zion congregation did not support Edd and his family financially, except sometimes by gifts in kind, such as the occasional gift of food, clothing, cash, or help around the farm and home. He supported his family by renting out land in North Dakota, by farming, and from other odd, short-term jobs like logging, field labor, even cooking for large construction crews. No wonder, when Edd was chosen as pastor by drawing lots, his first words to the congregation were, “Pray for me.” Alice would play more than a supporting role in the church and ministry.
I was humbled by all that Edd and his wife, Alice, did, endured, and overcame to serve the congregation and the community, while seeking to make ends meet. Not having a formal education beyond high school, Edd read and studied extensively and constantly for his ministry, while engaged in it. Stress came also from a wider community with mixed feelings about Mennonites, especially during the First World War. Mennonites were under suspicion then for being and speaking German, and for their pacifism. Once, after visiting young Mennonite conscientious objectors in California, Edd had to come home a roundabout way to avoid a lynch mob that awaited him at the train station in Hubbard. That lynch mob later came looking for him at home, while Edd and the family huddled and prayed inside. The mob was deterred at the last moment by means that could only have been miraculous. Other Mennonite pastors and CO’s at the time did not fare as well. The Yoder’s also had to deal with the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the Great Depression, and changes and differences emerging in the culture, organizations and practices of Mennonites.
If ever you see me standing some morning by Edd and Alice’s grave, it may be because I am feeling either overloaded or under-motivated, and have gone there to regain some inspiration and perspective. That perspective would include humility, I hope. I would think about how others have done more than I have, over more time, against greater odds, with less education and support. I hope that my perspective would also include gratitude for sharing the same sacred calling that Edd had, but now with much more support from the congregation, and with fewer conflicting roles and responsibilities, and fewer challenges the scope of lynch mobs, grinding poverty, and global epidemics.
In this, Zion’s 125th anniversary year, it is easy to discount aspects of Edd Yoder’s life and ministry as just “history.” But the influence of Zion’s early generations lives on, and not only because some of us are descended from, or related to, them. Traits that endure among us (whether we are related or not) include a hands-on practicality, generosity, mutual aid and interdependence, care and connection to place, soil and nature, the importance of family, talents for music and singing, and the costly care for peacemaking that opens our hearts to neighbors near and far. The struggles and conflicts in Zion’s history (as in any church of Zion’s age) result at least as much from clashes of such strengths, as from clashes due to weakness.
Still today, most of the pastors of our newer, ethnic churches are bi-vocational. Like Edd, they deal constantly with role conflicts and combined workloads. Where the church is growing fastest, in the Two-Thirds World, the Global South, farmers, merchants, teachers and other full-time workers still carry the bulk of church leadership. In our emerging post-Constantinian, postmodern and even post-Christian Western world, as churches lose the numbers, resources, respect and roles they once had in society (sometimes for reasons of our own making), the church could be whittled down to those who most want God for God’s sake alone, and who are willing to pay the price for such reward. If so, we will have the example and the experience of ancestors like Edd and Alice Yoder from which to draw, for guidance, example, warning and inspiration.
The copy I received will be in the church library for checkout.