Bechtel Lectures

About the Bechtel Lectures

The Bechtel Lectures in Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies were established in 2000 through the generosity of Lester Bechtel. As a devoted churchman with an active interest in Mennonite history, Lester’s dream was to make the academic world of research and study accessible to a broader constituency and to build bridges of understanding between the academy and the church. This lecture series provides a forum through which the core meaning and values of the Anabaptist-Mennonite faith and heritage might be communicated to a diverse audience and be kept relevant and connected to the rapidly changing world of our day.

The Bechtel Lectures provide the opportunity for representatives of a variety of disciplines and professions to explore topics that reflect the breadth and depth of Mennonite history, identity, faith and culture. Conrad Grebel University College is pleased to host this annual event.

Lester Bechtel passed away peacefully on January 24, 2021. Read Lester Bechtel's obituary.

Past Lectures

John P. Eicher

A Plot-Driven People: Mennonite Narratives in the Age of Nationalism (1870-1945)

The 2024 Bechtel Lecturer in Anabaptist Studies was Dr. John P. Eicher, Associate Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University-Altoona.

Eicher's presentation focused on two groups of German-speaking Mennonites from Russia—one composed of voluntary migrants and the other composed of refugees—who settled in Paraguay’s Gran Chaco during the interwar years of the twentieth century. It examined how members of Russia’s Mennonite diaspora created vastly different narratives about the past, present and future based on their interpretation of scripture and their contrasting experiences as migrants and refugees. At the broadest level, the presentation showed that Mennonites’ national and religious identifications are embedded in highly malleable collective stories.

There is no recording available for this presentation. 

Dr. John P. Eicher, Associate Professor, History Pennsylvania State University-Altoona

Photograph of John Eicher, smiling, wearing a grey and blue suit.

John Eicher is an associate professor of modern European history. His research and teaching focus on the movements of people and diseases around the world.

In 2020, his prize-winning dissertation was published as a book titled Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age, with Cambridge University Press. This work was supported by the German Historical Institute-Washington DC, the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), the Religious Research Association, the Mennonite Historical Society, and the University of Iowa. It received five book awards and was reviewed in eight publications.

His current project, The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: A Cultural History of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe, compares the cultural impact of the 1918 flu pandemic across ten European countries using 1,000 first-hand accounts of those who survived it. This work is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (Fellowship and Summer Stipend), Project House Europe at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Penn State Altoona

Dr. Mark Louden (2022)

2022 Bechtel Lecturer: Dr. Mark L. Louden

Mark Louden

Mark L. Louden received his undergraduate and graduate training in Germanic linguistics at Cornell University. A fluent speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch, he has written extensively on the history and contemporary situation of the language and its speakers. He is the author of Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language, which received the 2017 Dale W. Brown Book Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. After twelve years at the University of Texas at Austin, in 2000 he joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he is the Alfred L. Shoemaker, J. William Frey, and Don Yoder Professor of Germanic Linguistics and director of the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies. He is also an affiliate faculty member in the UW Religious Studies Program and the Mosse-Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies. In addition to his academic research on Pennsylvania Dutch, he is active in public outreach related to the language, faith, and culture of its speakers, the Amish and Old Order Mennonites. He also serves as an interpreter and cultural mediator for Pennsylvania Dutch speakers in the legal and health care systems. Married, with one daughter, he is a member of Milwaukee Mennonite Church.

Lecture: Reconstructing Linguistic History: What did Ontario's Earliest Amish Speak?
Thursday October 20th, 7:30 pm
What language did Amish Mennonites speak when they began migrating to Southern Ontario from dialectally-diverse regions in German-speaking Central Europe? This lecture will analyze the speech of their descendants from East Zorra-Tavistock and Wilmot townships, compare it with what Amish and Old Order Mennonites speak elsewhere, and explore important implications for our understanding of the linguistic history of Anabaptists in North America more generally.

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Dr. Sofia Samatar (2022)

2022 Bechtel Lecturer: Dr. Sofia Samatar 


Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, the short story collection, Tender, and Monster Portraits, a collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar. Her works have received several honors, including the Astounding Award for Best New Writer and the World Fantasy Award. A graduate of Goshen College and former Mennonite Central Committee volunteer in Egypt and South Sudan, she now lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she teaches African literature, Arabic literature, and speculative fiction at James Madison University. Her memoir The White Mosque, forthcoming in October 2022, shares what she learned about identity and border-crossing from the history of a Mennonite village in Central Asia.

Lecture: On Dwelling: Shelters in Place and Time
Thursday, March 10, 7:00 PM (Virtual)
In the last two years, instructions to "shelter in place" became familiar around the globe as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This lecture considers what it means to shelter in place, not just in terms of emergency management, but as a deliberate practice with ethical and ecological effects. What do poets, walkers, and weather observers teach us about the value of dwelling in place? What does shelter look like for those who are forced to leave their homes? And when prevented from staying in place, how can a person dwell? Is it possible to shelter in time?

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Dr. Timothy D. Epp, with Diana Braithwaite (2021)

The 2021 Bechtel Lecture was held virtually, on Thursday, March 11, at 7:00 PM EST

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Blackness, Whiteness and the Anabaptist 'Imagined Community' in Print and Mission

How did Anabaptists enter into the discourse of race in North America during the 19th and early 20th centuries? How did they negotiate, challenge and reproduce ideas of race in the forms of print, social interaction and mission activity? This lecture will focus on the racialization of Anabaptists, as reflected in denominational periodicals and newspapers, and on the ways in which preconceptions of blackness and whiteness informed Mennonite mission activity in the United States and Canada. 

Dr. Timothy D. Epp from Redeemer University will give the virtual 2021 Bechtel Lecture in Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies. Featuring a special musical performance by accomplished vintage and classic blues & jazz performer Diana Braithwaite.

Dr. Timothy D. Epp is associate professor of Sociology at Redeemer University. He hails originally from Rosthern, SK, and lives in Dundas, ON with his wonderful wife, youngest daughter and their very barky (but loveable) Brussels Griffon. His publications on Mennonites and blackness may be found in Journal of Mennonite StudiesConrad Grebel Review, and Wellington County History. In addition to Anabaptists and racial identity, his research interests include the discourse of spirituality in popular music, and the concept of personhood in relation to dementia care.

Diana Braithwaite
When Diana Braithwaite sings, you hear passion, with sultry stories of life beautifully expressed through music. Born in Toronto, Braithwaite is a descendant of the Wellington County pioneers in Canada. With roots in the southern United States her ancestors escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad and lived for four generations in Wellington County, the first African-Canadian pioneer settlement in Ontario.  Growing up, Diana spent summers in Montreal, Quebec, in a place called “Little Burgundy”, the historic African-Canadian neighbourhood where her father and the great jazz musician Oscar Peterson were both born. Dubbed “a national treasure” by JAZZ FM’s Radio host Danny Marks, Diana Braithwaite combines elements from Dinah Washington, Esther Phillips and others to create her own unique appealing and expressive blues style.

Read the Grebel news article here: Blackness, Whiteness, and Anabaptist Racialization

Paul Plett and Farmers Panel (2019-2020)

“Food & Faith: Mennonites farming at home & around the world”

Mennonite sociologist Winfield Fretz called farming the ‘sacred vocation.’  Even though fewer and fewer Mennonites are involved in it, we are all dependent on, if not blessed by it.  We used to talk together about farming and faith a lot more when more of us were farmers.  Maybe it’s time to talk again. 

2020 Bechtel Lectures

2020 Bechtel Lectures Guest: Filmmaker, Paul Plett

Film Maker Paul Plett

Paul Plett studied at the Toronto Film School, and has spent the last 10 years developing a reputation as a maverick filmmaker in the festival circuit. His passion is to tell stories that explore the human condition, wherever that may lead him or his viewers. His independent films have won him acclaim internationally, having been officially selected by the Toronto Independent Film Festival, the Global Peace Film Festival, the Victoria Independent Film Festival, and the Canadian International Film Festival.

Lecture Series 

Seven Points on Earth: Film and discussion with Paul Plett
Film Screening | January 31 at 7:30 PM | Conrad Grebel University College

Filmmaker Paul Plett captured the lives of seven Mennonites farming in Manitoba, Iowa, Bolivia, Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Siberia and Indonesia. His film offers an unprecedented look at Mennonite farming and faith around the world.

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Farmers Breakfast Panel: Breakfast and discussion with Ontario Mennonites in Agriculture
Breakfast and Discussion | February 1 at 9:00 AM | Conrad Grebel University College

This breakfast roundtable is a panel discussion of the way farming, food, family and faith come together in our various lives. 

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  • Sarah Martin-Mills: Growing Hope Farm, farming for 3 years, mostly livestock, a non-profit operation for learning and giving to others.
  • Lloyd & Shirley Frey: Goldenview Holsteins/Frey Farms, 3rd generation farmers, 90 cow dairy with feed and some cash crop.
  • Angie Koch: Fertile Ground Farm, farming for 13 years, vegetables, organic market garden selling through CSA (Community Shared Agriculture).
  • Chris Mullet Koop: Elmwood Farms, 5th generation and 21 years, commercial egg and grape grower.
  • Mark Reusser: farm near New Dundee, not sure how many years, broilers and cash crop, VP of Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Irma Fast Dueck (2018-19)

About Irma Fast Dueck

Photo of Erma Fast Duek

The 2019 Bechtel Lectures in Anabaptist-Mennonite Studies will host Professor Irma Fast Dueck from Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg. Fast Dueck is a practical theologian who will explore the topic of young people in the Mennonite church today.

Fast Dueck was born and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was a university chaplain and a pastor before beginning her teaching career at CMBC (a predecessor college of CMU) in 1991. She received her Doctorate of Theology from Victoria University at the University of Toronto, a Master of Divinity from the University of Winnipeg, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Waterloo.

Fast Dueck's teaching and research interests frequently lead her to themes connected to the practices of the church and the theology purveyed/conveyed by those practices. In the past few years she has given more sustained focus on the rituals of the church such as worship and baptism and on themes related to power. More recently, Irma's commitment to peacemaking has led her to participate in a number of reconciliation endeavours, including Muslim-Christian dialogue (sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee); she also continues to be involved with Mennonite-Catholic dialogue groups around Winnipeg.

Lecture Series 

2019 Bechtel Lecture Program (PDF)
Like a Fish in Water: Reclaiming Baptism in an Anabaptist Church
Thursday, February 7, 2019, at 7:30 PM
Great Hall
Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Rd N
Waterloo, ON  N2L 3G6

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Youth Panel
Taking the Plunge: Young Adults and the Church
Friday, February 8, 2019, at 7:30 PM
Great Hall
Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Rd N
Waterloo, ON  N2L 3G6

Panel members include Yeabsra Agonfer, Colin Friesen, Emily Hunsberger, and Maria Klassen.

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David Weaver-Zercher (2017-18)

About David Weaver-Zercher

Photo of David Weaver-Zercher

David is currently a professor of American religious history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. His writing is focused on portrayals of the Amish from an outsider's perspective. His publications include, The Amish in the American Imagination (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Writing the Amish: The Worlds of John A. Hostetler (Penn State University Press, 2005); and a coedited volume with Diane Zimmerman Umble, The Amish and the Media (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

Lecture series

Public Lecture: "One Generation Away: Martyrs Mirror and the Survival of Anabaptist Christianity"

Date: March 1, 2018

Overview: Anabaptists have long worried that they won’t succeed in passing their faith to the next generation. Why then regale their teenagers with stories that correlate Anabaptist faith with social shame and physical torture? Thieleman van Braght’s seventeenth-century martyrology, Martyrs Mirror (originally called The Bloody Theatre) has been put to many uses over the years, but few have been as common as the spiritual formation and education of young adults. This lecture will explore the longstanding nexus between Martyrs Mirror and Anabaptist youth culture in both traditional and more assimilated Anabaptist communities.

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Panel Discussion

Date: March 2, 2018

Overview: What is it like to be a creator of Mennonite media content today? What are the challenges of telling Mennonite stories? Who gets to tell Mennonite stories? How do we respond when the “non-Mennonite media” gets it “wrong”?

Panel members include Sam Steiner, Sherri Klassen, Johnny Wideman, and Katie Steckly.

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Kenneth Nafziger (2016-17)

About Kenneth Nafziger

Dr. Kenneth Nafziger

Dr. Kenneth Nafziger is a graduate of Goshen College (B.A. in Music) and of the University of Oregon (D.M.A. in Music History and Literature). He was also a post-doctoral conducting student with Helmuth Rilling in Stuttgart, Germany.

Dr. Nafziger was music editor of Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992) and its accompaniment handbook. He was assistant to the editor of Sing the Journey (2005) and Sing the Story (2007) and was also responsible for the four acclaimed CDs of hymns found in the hymnal supplements. With Marlene Kropf he co-authored Singing, a Mennonite Voice, released in 2001. Dr. Nafziger also originated and co-led the Music and Worship Leaders Weekend at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center.

Since June 1993, Dr. Nafziger has been the artistic director and conductor of the annual Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival in Harrisonburg, VA. He is also the artistic director and conductor of Winchester Musica Viva, a chamber choir of 20 singers.

Lecture series

Public Lecture: "Melting the Boundaries of Our Being: Explorations in Singing Together"

Date: Friday, February 3, 2017

Overview: If the only thing that a musician was responsible for would be to insure correct notes and rhythms, there would be scant justification to have any of us around. Music has no particularly visible traces, but it certainly has significant effects on those who make music. It can mirror the soul, or it can urge the soul to a different place. It can comfort, or it can discomfort. Music can be here, and elsewhere. Answers to questions about the nature and meaning of music are complex: answers can be yes, or no, or both, and all at the same time. There is no better laboratory for exploring this phenomena that by using a hymnal.

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Workshop: Song Leaders' Workshop

Date: Saturday, February 4, 2017

Overview: How can we use lectionary scriptures as a basis for choosing worship music? How can we expand our conducting toolbox? How can we lead music that both worships God and speaks into the world? In this half-day workshop we will sing together, learn together, and explore God's gift of music.

This workshop brought to you by Anabaptist Learning Workshop – a program offered by Mennonite Church Eastern Canada in cooperation with Conrad Grebel University College.

Hymn Sing: Hymn Singing in Fair Weather and in Ill… and for pleasure.”

Date: Sunday, February 5, 2017

Overview: On that beloved song book, the Book of Psalms, Martin Luther wrote, “No books of moral tales and no legends of saints which have been written, or ever will be, are to my mind as noble as the Book of Psalms… The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by winds blowing from all four corners of heaven. The Book of Psalms is full of heartfelt utterances made during storms of this kind.”

Our hymnals do the same: they traverse the seas and withstand the winds that encompass the present moment and the age that has passed, memory and prophecy, your history and culture and mine. 

Janneken Smucker (2015-16)

About Janneken Smucker

Janneken Smucker

Janneken Smucker, a 5th generation Mennonite quiltmaker, is author of Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).  As Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University, she specializes in digital history and American material culture. She has served as a board member for the national non-profit, Quilt Alliance since 2005 and is its current president. She has contributed to Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar, 1950-2000 (by Roderick Kiracofe, Abrams, 2014), “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts (Brooklyn Museum, 2013), Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2009) and Midwestern Amish Crib Quilts: The Sara Miller Collection (Good Books, 2003). Janneken earned her MA in Textile History from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her PhD in the History of American Civilization from the University of Delaware.
Learn more about Janneken.

Lecture series

Public Lecture: “Abstract Art or Country Craft: The Quilts of the Amish”

Date: Thursday, February 4, 2016

Overview: In this informal presentation Smucker explores the diverse output of Amish quilt makers, challenging cultural assumptions while placing this beloved tradition in historical context, demonstrating just how hard it is to answer the question, “What makes an Amish quilt Amish?”

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Public Lecture: “Unexpected Intersections: Amish, Mennonite, and Hmong Textiles and the Question of Authenticity”

Date: Friday, February 5, 2016

Overview: Smucker discusses how the distinct needlework traditions of Amish/Mennonite and Hmong needleworkers entered the consumer marketplace and how they unexpectedly intersected, resulting in both cultural tensions and expressive adaptations. 

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Jeff Gundy (2014-15)

About Jeff Gundy

Dr. Jeff Gundy

Jeff Gundy, longtime professor of English at Bluffton University, has published six books of poems, including Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga, 2014) and Spoken among the Trees (Akron, 2007), winner of the Society of Midland Authors Poetry Award. His four prose books, all on Mennonite themes, include the new Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace (Cascadia, 2013), and Walker in the Fog: On Mennonite Writing, winner of the 2006 Dale E. Brown Award for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Other new work appears in The Sun, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Christian Century, and Nimrod. He has twice presented C. Henry Smith Peace Lectures, and been awarded multiple grants from the Ohio Arts Council. A 2008 Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Salzburg, he will spend the spring 2015 semester teaching and writing at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

Lecture series

Public Lecture: “Poetry, the Sleeping King, and Creative Doubt.”

Date: Thursday, November 13

Overview: This lecture will make a case for doubt (of the right sort) as a useful and positive force, with plentiful illustrations, considerable hedging and making of distinctions, and a few claims that may be considered wild and unsettling. In some ways a supplement and continuation of the work on theopoetics I undertook in my recent book of essays Songs from an Empty Cage, this lecture will carry those explorations into new territory, including legends of sleeping kings, canonical poets like T.S Eliot, fabulist fiction, and Mary Szybist.

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Public Lecture: “Circling Defiance.”

Overview: I have lived near Defiance for thirty years, though only rarely do I visit that place where two rivers meet. Once the land held a native village, then a white man’s fort, and today a small city remarkable for little other than its name. This presentation will weave poems from my new book Somewhere Near Defiance into a meditation on Defiance, on the strange, awful, lovely world we inhabit and out place in it. Might find our way toward some measure of integrity, wonder, and use to the others who share this place with us? Even from Defiance, I realized not so long ago, nothing is more than half a world away.

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Steven Nolt and Royden Loewen (2014)

Public Lecture: "Writing the Amish into North American History" by Dr. Steven Nolt.

Date: Thursday, March 6, 2014

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Public Lecture: "Writing Low German Mennonites into a History of Canada" by Dr. Royden Loewen.

Date: Friday, March 7, 2014

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Chris Marshall (2013)

Public Lecture: "The Four Loves and the Pursuit of Justice"

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Public Lecture: "Compassion, Justice and the Work of Restoration"

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John Roth (2012)

Public Lecture: " The Challenge of Church Unity in the Anabaptist Tradition"

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Public Lecture: "What Hath Zurich to do with Addis Ababa? Ecclesial Identity in the Global Anabaptist Church"

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Roger Epp (2011)

Public Lecture: "The Settler Problem​"

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Public Lecture: "The Stories We Tell Ourselves"

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