NEWTON — Originally, 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 from there once she started.
“I really didn’t begin with a book in mind. 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,” Friesen said.
Working 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 (i.e. tragic deaths, individuals leaving the church, etc.) 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, something she thought might be of interest to women interested in pastoral leadership and churchgoers alike.
“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 as it was named by the State Library of Kansas as one of the Kansas Notable Books of 2019 — an honor bestowed upon 14 other selections.
Friesen was not the only Newtonian to be included on the list of notable books for 2019, either, as Lana Wirt Myers was also recognized for editing another nonfictional work, “The Diaries of Reuben Smith, Kansas Settler and Civil War Soldier.”