A fascinating look at the personal and public life of PJB Reimer, Teacher, Minister, and Mennonite Historian. As the son of one of the original 18 Steinbach pioneering families, PJB Reimer became a pioneer, helping the Mennonites of southern Manitoba adapt their lives to a rapidly changing world, while always honouring the past.
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A Book Review by Lloyd Kornelsen
Upholding the Old, Embracing the New: The Life of P.J.B. Reimer – Teacher, Minister, and Mennonite Historian. by Diane Hildebrand
Mr. Peter J. B. Reimer (PJB) was a schoolteacher, church minister, Mennonite historian, and Kliene Gemeinde stalwart. He played a leading role in founding Steinbach Bible College, creating the Steinbach Mennonite Heritage Village Museum, and establishing Eden Mental Health Centre – all the while, for 41 years, serving as a fulltime schoolteacher in six different Mennonite communities in southern Manitoba.
In Upholding the Old, Embracing the New: The Life of P.J.B. Reimer – Teacher, Minister, and Mennonite Historian Diane Hildebrand chronicles Mr. Reimer’s life through his own writings – journals, articles, reports, and letters. At one level, Hildebrand’s work is a record of Mr. Reimer’s thoughts, impressions, and feelings on momentous events (and not so momentous) in his life and in the life of his family, church, community and the Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC). On another level, it is an intimate portrayal of a man and his inner most thoughts and motivations. At times you want to cheer him on, swept up with empathy and eenijchtjeit (‘of one mind’), at other times you feel his weakness and hurt and want to look away, and still other times you are moved by his thoughtfulness and insight. It is as though PJB is sharing his personal life and thinking with you, the reader, alone. Hildebrand makes this possible by using lengthy quotes, mostly from Mr. Reimer’s journals, and interweaving them smoothly and seamlessly. Her editorial comment and framing is minimal, seemingly only in the service of coherence and context. What is left is Mr. Reimer’s voice – unvarnished, independent, and true.
In the end, the reader gets a sense of a man, who struggled mightily, and vulnerably, with reconciling his progressive impulses with the conservative leanings of the Kleine Gemeinde (EMC) – a church conference to which he was deeply committed; and of someone who wanted to be understood for his views and recognized for his contributions, but admitting to needing to ‘leave it in God’s hands,’ after all it was ‘all God’s work.’ At the same time, in the background, the reader perceives a church community that is also struggling – a historically conservative conference seeking to reconcile its theology and adapt its practices to a new country, in a rapidly changing world.
In his writings – articles, letters, reports, and personal journals – Mr. Reimer gave us a gift: insight into who he was, and the times and places in which he lived. The book, Upholding the Old, Embracing the New . . . is a unique and invaluable resource for understanding the man, his times, his faith – and Kleine Gemeinde history. Thank you Mr. Reimer, for your words and your life. Thank you Diane Hildebrand for gifting us with PJB’s voice.