Unlike most of us, author Melodie M. Davis can locate the exact day and place when the shape of her vocation came to her. She was gathering eggs in the chicken house on the family farm when she wrote these words:
“On this day, November 18, 1967, Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., I decided what I want to be: a Christian writer.”
Having announced her calling at the tender age of 16, Melodie Miller might have continued on a straight line to authorship. Instead, she accepted one invitation after graduating from college that turned into a winding journey through an evolving institution now called MennoMedia. Her memoir, detailing all the paths along the way to her final destination, is called Memoir of an Unimagined Career. Spoiler alert: she also achieved her goal.
This book will be of most interest to Mennonites because of its focus on what it was like to work within the changing environment for media in the church. Mennonite Broadcasts, Mennonite Board of Missions Media Ministries, Mennonite Media, Third Way Media, MennoMedia have all been located in Harrisonburg, VA. Melodie Davis was able to remain in her Virginia home and to adjust to all the variations above as the church offered books, documentaries, television programs, websites and even ads for two audiences: church members and others interested in the values of the church, or just curious about a small and little-known denomination. Davis was above all a flexible employee who eagerly jumped in to new opportunities and ended up staying for 43 years –her whole career. She became a columnist and an author of several books, fulfilling her dream. The story she tells here will serve as a history of the organization until a more official one may be written some day.
But history of an organization is not what interests readers most in memoir. We like to meet a real person, and Melodie Miller Davis fits that bill. She is wide-eyed all the way through the book, from the farm to her various brushes with big-city media people. She never loses her enthusiasm and sense of awe that she got to travel, learn new skills, represent her faith group, and navigate bumps and bruises that are part of the learning process.
As a Mennonite, I traveled down memory lane with the author, remembering the various ways the church sought both nurture and outreach over the years. The story of the controversial ad below shows how the church struggled to find language for its identity as most Mennonites moved from the farm to professions and businesses and yet tried to be true to values like service, generosity, and peace. The ad drew criticism from within the church for its “beefcake” imagery and for its cost. Author Davis accepts the criticism and moves on, a pattern throughout the book.
Photos like the one above throughout the book add much depth and interest, especially as we witness the author in various roles, using the latest technology of the time. Readers will want the author to succeed in her effort to become a writer while also becoming an administrative assistant, speaker, editor, blogger, and Jill-of-all trades. Melodie has been a frequent commenter on this blog, and I highly recommend this book to those who have been reading my posts and to readers who enjoyed my memoir, Blush.
I am sure Melodie would be happy to answer any questions that you might have about her memoir here.
I’m intrigued by rediscovering the ad above. Would you want to visit a Mennonite Church if you saw this ad in 2022? What would attract you? Repel you? Make you shrug your shoulders?