Newton's Dorothy Nickel Friesen didn't enter retirement with the goal of writing a book. Friesen simply had some stories she wanted to get down about her 30-plus years of pastoral work in the Mennonite church to share with her family — but the idea expanded once she started.
"I really didn't begin with a book in mind," Friesen said. "I began just because I like to write. It was part of a retirement dream to have time to reflect. I was intending to share this with my children just as a Christmas gift."
She worked with a writing coach over several months to document those stories for her family. Eventually that coach encouraged Friesen to write what become a memoir of her years of pastoral service — "The Pastor Wears a Skirt: Stories of Gender and Ministry."
The 51 vignettes included in the memoir detail the lessons, encounters, surprises and disappointments of Friesen's time as a Mennonite pastor in a pioneering role and seeks to answer two questions: “What do pastors really do?” and “What’s it like to be a woman pastor?” The book documents her journey into pastoral ministry but worries less about how she got there, as she saw herself early on as a leader. She exults that she “found herself” in this groundbreaking role and does not shy away from sharing the disappointments she experienced. She learned early that a leader experiences “moments of outstanding opportunity and extreme loneliness at the same time.”
Admittedly, Friesen said, those disappointments — such as tragic deaths and individuals leaving the church — were harder topics to broach, but she set out to paint a fuller picture of what pastoral life is like from a personal point of view — not just being observed from a distance. It was something she thought might be of interest to women interested in pastoral leadership and to churchgoers.
During the process, the memoir was also cut down from an initial count of 75 stories to the final 51, among other tweaks requested by the publisher. When she set out to pen her memoir, Friesen said, she set aside a year for "disciplined writing" to complete her work before submitting it to Wipf and Stock Publishers, of Eugene, Ore., at the end of 2017. The book was released in 2018 — and at that point, Friesen came to realize one of the standard struggles of writing.
"Writing is a never-ending thing. It's like writing a sermon — they're never quite ready to preach, but Sunday comes and you just have to do it," Friesen said. "It was sort of the same thing with writing."
Nearly a year after the release of her book, Friesen is now earning accolades for her memoir. It was named by the State Library of Kansas among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019 — an honor bestowed upon 14 other selections.
Selections deemed notable books feature wide public appeal and are either written by a Kansan or about a Kansas related topic. Throughout the award year, the State Library promotes and encourages the promotion of all titles on that year's list at literary events and among librarians and booksellers. A public awards ceremony will be held Sept. 14 at the Kansas Book Festival at the Statehouse in Topeka.
Friesen was not the only Newtonian to be recognized on the list of notable books for 2019. Lana Wirt Myers also was recognized for editing another nonfictional work, "The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier."
The recognition was both a great honor and a bit of surprise, Friesen admitted, as she had forgotten about submitting her book for consideration. But being included among a list of authors contributing to a variety of important conversations is not something she takes for granted.
In fact, Friesen said, not only should readers pay attention to this year's notable books, but they should take inspiration from the stories they have to tell.
"There are 15 new books that have a Kansas connection that are worth paying attention to," Friesen said. "Everybody has a story to tell about their life, about their work, about their family, about their history or about their dreams, (so) write, put it down. Everybody has a story to tell and we should listen to each other's stories."
For more information about the 2019 Kansas Notable Books, visit kslib.info/notablebooks.