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2009-05-19 issue:

MennoPrank Society formed

AMBS extends an invitation to pranksters on higher education campuses

by Mary E. Klassen

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The MennoPrank Society, launched on May 13 at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., extends an invitation to pranksters on all higher education campuses in the Mennonite Church to join in the fun.

At the launch of the society, J. Nelson Kraybill, president of AMBS, recounted his 1974 prank at Goshen College, which earned the distinction of being the college’s Prank of the Century. Then Kraybill inducted Don Steider, AMBS director of maintenance, into the MennoPrank Society because of a prank he perpetrated at a recent event in Kraybill’s honor.


Nelson Kraybill, AMBS president and founding member of the MennoPrank Society, congratulates the society’s second member, Don Steider, after presenting him with the first installment of his million dollar prize, to be doled out one dollar each year as long as he lives. Photo by Mary E. Klassen
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The Goshen (Ind.) College prank involved building a catapult that sent a pie flying up from the balcony of College Mennonite Church to hit the back of Paul Miller, an AMBS professor, who was speaking in the chapel service on the topic of demonology. Though Kraybill kept his responsibility for this act secret for ten years, he now recounts it when he speaks to church and college groups.

Knowing this inclination for horseplay, Steider and Nate Koets, AMBS assistant supervisor of maintenance, devised a plan to turn the tables on Kraybill at a banquet on May 1. The seminary board, employees and spouses had gathered that evening to celebrate Kraybill’s presidency before he leaves AMBS in summer. Toward the end of the program, Kraybill stepped to the lectern to speak. About ten seconds later, he jumped back to reveal that his pants were soaked with water halfway between his belt and his knees, and water was dripping down his pant legs. The two pranksters had rigged a small pressurized water tank to spray a fine mist from a tube mounted on a shelf in the lectern.

Kraybill's pants are sprayed with water from a tank in the lecturn during a banquet on May 1. Photo by Mary E. Klassen.

The experience prompted Kraybill to establish the MennoPrank Society and to honor Steider by welcoming him into it. “Given that Mennonites sometimes Take Ourselves Too Seriously and otherwise fail to celebrate the whimsical grace of God, MennoPrank Society was established to bring raucous laugher to the hallowed halls of Mennonite higher education institutions in North America,” the charter says. The purpose is to “raise the standard of high jinks in the Anabaptist tradition, explore missional implications of pranksterism in a postmodern society and affirm outstanding acts of buffoonery.”

The charter also outlines clear guidelines for future pranks, stating they must show ingenuity and innovation, not damage buildings or property, not create undue work for staff, be morally decent and ethical, and involve no risk of harm. A final criteria protects society members: New pranks must target no one who has already been a victim of an award-winning MennoPrank. (See full details of the charter at www.ambs.edu/MennoPrank.)

In addition to a certificate, Steider received a silver cup, purchased at a local resale shop, which will be passed on to the next new society member. The award also promises to include one million dollars, which Steider will receive in increments of one dollar a year as long as he lives.

In a 1994 Festival Quarterly article, Kraybill describes the pie-catapult prank in detail, including his eventual confession to and forgiveness from Miller. Kraybill concludes the article, saying, “If there is any justice in this world, a pie awaits me somewhere in the future. All I ask of devils who deliver it is, do it with imagination!”

Although Kraybill hopes he is now immune to further pranks because of the Society’s rules, he extends the invitation to others for imaginative mischief.

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