Features | Media & Culture

Welcoming a Young Writer

A space to explore faith with honesty and vulnerability

I first met Bert Witvoet at a collaborative art luncheon at church. He made me feel immediately welcome, not in the too-familiar style of an obligatory attempt to recruit a new member to church, but with sincere interest in who I was. We had a lot in common: he was a former Christian high school English teacher, and I was just beginning my career in the same field. As we coloured in photocopies of children’s scrawled drawings of stars, we spoke about novels and integrating faith in the classroom. He told me how he had received a lot of heat for teaching Catcher in the Rye. But he had stood his ground, rejecting a sanitized approach to Christian education, and instead insisted on engaging with complex and challenging literary texts from a Christian perspective. Now he was Editor of Christian Courier

“You know,” I said to him, “I’ve been praying for an opportunity to write.” 

“Send me something,” he said. I went home and scraped together an article, emailed it to him, and tried to rein in my sense of hope. 

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At that point I had no publishing credentials, but Bert generously took me on as a monthly columnist. As I read the humble and thoughtful voices of other contributors and received responses from readers, I slowly began to see myself as part of a welcoming, if wide-spread, community. This was the first time I was able to call myself as a writer.

Now I can see that Bert took his teaching methods to his editorial work. Bert didn’t want to lead within an isolated, insider religious subculture: he wanted to challenge Christians to engage deeply and thoughtfully with the world around them, and to be willing to apply their faith to difficult issues. When Angela Reitsma Bick took over, she continued this legacy with integrity, graciousness and courage. 

Bert and Angela gave me freedom to write about a topic I felt was important but under-discussed in Protestant circles: singleness. At a time in my life when I and a few friends were struggling with what it meant to be single in a subculture so focused on marriage and family, CC gave me a platform to voice the frustrations of feeling forgotten, to explore the theological implications for the single life, and to express the unique spiritual and community needs of unmarried people. Later I left my teaching position to pursue a degree in Creative Writing. I practised my hand in fiction. I look back at my years as a columnist for Christian Courier as a formative time in my writing career, where I was provided a space in a great cloud of witnesses to explore faith with honesty and vulnerability. I am grateful for that gift from the CC community.

  • Melissa, author of the short story collection The Whole Beautiful World, lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with her husband and two children.

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