CC First Mennonite Breeze

The Rev. Cindy Breeze, former associate pastor at First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, plays her cello Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, at home in Champaign.

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Following a career as a public school music teacher, CINDY BREEZE was called to the ministry and became associate pastor at the same church that her parents founded years ago — First Mennonite of Champaign-Urbana.

Staff writer Tim Mitchell sat down with the 70-year-old Champaign native and Central High grad to talk about her life and ministry and the devotional book she wrote.

You were associate pastor at First Mennonite from 1992 to 2009. Tell us about your family’s connection.

My parents were Joe and Frances Massanari. They were both from Fisher, and we were all members of the Mennonite Church in Fisher. But we always lived here in Champaign.

There were so (many) transportation issues back and forth. In those days, you went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and Friday. So my parents, along with some real active graduate students, decided to start a small fellowship here.

In 1964, when I was 16, we had the first service at the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Because they met on Saturday, we could use it on Sunday. Our first church was about a block west of where it is now.

You and your husband, Clark, just celebrated your 50th wedding anniversary. How’d you meet?

We met in high school, in the choir at Central. I was a soprano, and Clark was a bass. We actually sang a duet in “Porgy and Bess” at the senior concert. Clark graduated from Central in 1966, and I graduated from Central in 1967.

One year, Clark got the National School Choral Award and the following year, I got that award. We were married in 1969. We have two children and six grandchildren.

Were you in any plays at Champaign Central?

I had the lead in “Oklahoma.” I played Laurey, and Clark played Fred. I still remember all the notes and songs from that show. I went to see “Oklahoma” at the Sullivan Little Theatre, and I could have said the lines right with the woman who played Laurey.

I had supporting roles in lots of other things. I was also involved in the madrigals and music choir in high school. I was even one of the squad leaders for the pepettes, which was hilarious. I did have pretty good rhythm, so that was why I was made squad leader.

How did you get involved teaching music?

From the time I was a child, I always wanted to teach music. My first teaching job was at Homer before the school district was consolidated. I taught general music and was choir director for K through 12.

I left in 1978 to have our first daughter. After taking an eight-year hiatus to raise our two kids, I began to do subbing and looked for another job. I ended up teaching music in the Unit 7 school district at Sadorus and Tolono. I taught in Unit 7 schools for 10 years.

Do you play any instruments?

Yes, but poorly. As a music education major, my degree was in choral music, but I still had to take an instrument, so I took piano. When I retired at age 60, I treated myself to purchasing a cello. I still have my cello.

How were you called to become a minister?

When I first became a teacher, I had no idea I would ever become a minister. One day, we were sitting at an all-church business meeting discussing the fact that we had 57 children in our midst, but nobody was coordinating an education program for them. I kept wondering who could do that.

My dad came and saw me and said he thought I should apply for that position. I thought about it for a while and decided to put my name in the ring. I got that position. And it grew from there.

My background is more in music than it is in education. But I had been doing church music my whole life. Our senior pastor decided to expand my role so that worship planning would be added to Christian education.

For seven years, I commuted to Elkhart, Indiana, to attend the Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I was ordained in 2002. I remained as associate pastor until my retirement at age 61.

How many people have you baptized?

Dozens. I don’t know how many. It is a really holy moment. Because the pastor has worked with the kid or the adult to prepare him or her for baptism, we see them many times before we do the ceremony.

Mennonites baptize by choice. So we have a chance to be with that person a lot. It is one of my highlights as a pastor.

What ministry are you proudest of?

Teaching the high school class for 17 years. And it is the thing I miss the most. I just really like working with that age. I hit it off with them and care about them. I was really close to all of them. In fact, they are the reason I wrote my book.

Tell us about your book.

I wrote “Dive: Devotions for Deeper Living.” It is still available on Amazon. I asked the kids toward the end of my last year: If their parents made them buy a devotional book with their own money, what topics would you want in it? Of course, they stopped me by saying they were not buying a devotional book.

Mennonites are pacifists, and so many of the books at that time said “God bless America” while Mennonites would say “God bless the world.” The kids came up with 54 topics, and I included all 54 topics in my book. The book was published in 2012. I still get a royalty check for it, but it isn’t very big.

Have any hobbies?

I like to draw. I have been taking online classes for a couple years. I also enjoy knitting. And I love to read.

How about a favorite book you read as a child?

“Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. I love that book. I like books where I can learn something.

What time do you get up in the morning?

At 4 a.m. I drink coffee and read.

What’s the one place you’d love to visit?

New Zealand. I heard it is absolutely beautiful.