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C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest — Rebecca Penner

Rebecca Penner, a Biblical and Theological Studies and International Development Studies double major at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Man., won the 2016 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest administered by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.

Penner’s speech, “Economics and Shalom in the Book of Amos,” drew on the words of the prophet to call attention to wealth accumulated through oppression. Although this text was written centuries ago, Penner saw parallels in the present day.

“I have felt the guilt of living in a culture of consumerism and know that it is crushing. But guilt alone is not enough – we must also be motivated to change our lifestyles,” Penner said, citing the 2013 Bangladesh garment factory collapse as one of the tragic consequences of this consumerism.

“This is the cost of cheap fashion, the cost of our lifestyles,” she added. “Do we care that our consumer habits work against God’s vision of shalom, or do we actually believe that we bear no guilt in these consequences?”

Penner, who is from Kingsville, Ont., and Harrow (Ont.) Mennonite Church, was in her third year at CMU at the time of the contest. As the winner, she received a cash prize of $500 and a $300 scholarship to a peace-related conference or seminar of her choice.

Charity Nonkes, a Conrad Grebel University College student from Listowel, Ont., took home second place for her speech, “The three E’s for Peace.” Nonkes received $225 in cash and a $200 scholarship. Bluffton (Ohio) University student Rebecca Starn from Findlay, Ohio, came in third place with a speech entitled, “Peace through Female Education,” and received $150 in cash and a $200 scholarship.

The C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest is open to all students of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in Canada and the U.S. To be considered, speeches were to be written on any theme that applied a peace theme to contemporary concerns.

This year, three judges – Malinda Elizabeth Berry, an assistant professor of Theology and Ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind.; Bob Zimmerman-Herr, a former MCC staff person, Lancaster, Pa.; and Kate Good, the executive director of Parish Resource Center, Lancaster, Pa. – reviewed the speeches.

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen (Ind.) College and Bluffton College (now Bluffton University). Participating colleges host a contest with student speeches, and these individual campus contests usually take place during the spring semester of the academic year.

Download a printed version of the speech.