The raw material for this story of Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus was 8000 pages of journal notes, letters, poetry, photos, and sermon notes which Ruth turned over to Eve MacMaster. These materials and Eve's personal and enduring friendship with Ruth are skillfully woven into a coherent story of Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus' life and ministry.
Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus was born in 1915, one of nine children born to George R. ( I ) and Katie Wenger Brunk. Nurtured in love and the importance of service to the church, she and two brothers were active as evangelists, educators, leaders, and pastors in the church.
In a climate of conservative thought, Ruth overcame many obstacles as she began to use her Spirit-given gifts in the church as a woman with a speaking, teaching, prophetic ministry that touched the lives of many people.
The story that emerges of Ruth's remarkable life and ministry is detailed in the nine parts of the book beginning with her childhood and youth where she was coached by her father to speak in public. The story continues with her courtship and marriage to Grant Stoltzfus and the arrival of their five children. Ruth envisioned a ministry to women by way of radio. The concerns of child rearing, family life, sharing the work of running a home and parenting between husband and wife were the themes of this ministry. The program named "Heart to Heart" became a source of inspiration and teaching as it expanded over a period of years. In 1997 when Ruth left "Heart to Heart" because of the growing needs of her own family, she and Grant began a traveling and speaking ministry entitled Christian Family Service.
Family crises from Grant's bout with depression, their daughter Ruth's cancer, the agnosticism of one of their sons, and financial struggles are shared in this story. A particularly difficult time was the sudden death of Grant in 1974, thrusting Ruth into widowhood.
Opportunities to speak at her own congregation and elsewhere created opposition by many concerning women in leadership. But Ruth's sure sense of God's call upon her life and her determination and focus helped her to weather many controversies.
Ruth's gifts became more and more public, but even so she was surprised when asked to be interim pastor at Bancroft Mennonite Church, Toledo, Ohio. Following this she crossed denominational lines to the General Conference Mennonite Church to become interim pastor at Grace Mennonite Church, Pandora, Ohio. Here she was thrust into controversies about the flag in the church, conscientious objection to war, and war tax resistance. With skill and understanding, but with her own unwavering convictions on the issues, Ruth worked with the congregation in book studies and asking for help from Mennonite Central Committee Conciliation Services. Her preaching was practical, passionate, and prophetic and was received well by the congregations she served.
Ruth had a battle for her life when she developed colon cancer. The prognosis for this variety of cancer was grim, but Ruth became one of the small percentage of persons who survive. Through it all she had a deep sense that God was watching over her pilgrimage.
Opening doors for ministry continued as Ruth was asked to become associate pastor of the First Mennonite Church of Richmond, VA. The last part of the book details the process and the controversies concerning Ruth's ordination by the Virginia Conference. It was painful for Ruth that some of her own siblings could not bless this development in her life. Ruth was ordained on September 10, 1989 by the Virginia Mennonite Conference at the Shalom Mennonite Congregation at Eastern Mennonite College at the age of 74.
The section on the controversies concerning her ordination got a bit tedious to read in an otherwise riveting story, but may be important to include for historical reasons.
Obstacles and experiences in Ruth's pilgrimage toward a preaching ministry were so similar to others of us who were trailblazers as women in ministry. I found myself identifying with her experiences at so many points in the story. As Nancy Heisey points out in the foreword to this book, this story matters because of the modeling and encouragement it provides for those who came to ministry after the way was opened by people like Ruth.
Women preachers often weave the stuff of everyday life into their ministry. This was also true of Ruth. Ruth was a wife, a mother, a sister, a matron at a CPS Camp, an entrepreneur and a business woman. She was a prophet and a preacher, a woman of prayer and submission to the Lord, a forthright focused woman who did not shun controversy, and a radical Anabaptist who could be found publicly demonstrating against war and racism. All of these experiences with their attendant joys, pains, disappointments, struggles, and victories were incorporated into her sermons and approaches to ministry.
This book is important for historical purposes as it contributes to the body of stories that help to understand the gradual acceptance of women into a preaching ministry in the Mennonite Church. But even more, it is simply a tremendously interesting story that calls others to be what God wants them to be.
North Newton, Kansas