It is nothing new to say that Winnipeg and southern Manitoba boasts an abnormally high concentration of Mennonites, although I suppose the Mennonites don’t boast. And given our historical and ongoing tension with how to respond to issues of peace and violence, it was also no surprise that more than a few eyebrows were raised at the unveiling of the Winnipeg Jets’ new logo.
Canadian hockey fans have a reason to celebrate. Fifteen years after the last NHL game was played in Winnipeg, Man., the league is coming back to the city. With other teams having financial difficulties and unstable ownership, fans across the country are seeing realistic chances that in the coming years even more teams will be coming north.
1. Ralph Lebold says that “the congregation is the central reality for gathered Christians.” Do you agree? What are some ways that people from your congregation engage meaningfully with each other? Why do we often resist being open about our questions, finances, mental and emotional struggles?
After 50 years in ministry I have discovered that there is a significant interplay between the divine and human when it comes to physical and emotional healing. All healing is a work of God’s grace, including medical, psychological and social interventions, whether the caregivers acknowledge it or not.
1. How are the songs and music chosen in your congregation? How much thought is given to the words when songs are chosen? Do you agree that we focus on the style of music more than the words we sing? What might help us focus on the words?
"Let me write the songs of a nation. I don’t care who writes its laws.”
This statement attributed to 17th-century Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher about countries also applies to the church. Christians have long recognized the power of music to shape what we believe about God and the life of faith.
At the last worship service of Mennonite Church Canada Assembly on July 8, Nelson Kraybill reminded the congregation that some of the aboriginal people in southern Ontario moved here from the United States as politics became intolerable there. He then quipped that if Sarah Palin were to get elected another flood of people might be going north!
A fibre art depiction of the interaction between early Mennonite settlers and Aboriginal people in the Grand River valley was on display at the Mennonite Church Canada assembly July 4-8. “My vision was to create a pictorial slice of history,” said Judy Gascho-Jutzi, the artist.
“We are the church!” cheered Willard Metzger, general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, inviting progressively younger age groups to join with him in an ever-louder cheer.
1. Does your church have ways to connect personally with the individuals it helps? How important is this personal contact? Have you ever experienced awkward moments while providing help to someone? What aspect of the exchange was most awkward?
My parents packed me, my sister and a Christmas hamper into the car. We were headed to an address provided by the local Cheer Board. The plan was for us to all go in for a short visit. I imagine the Cheer Board encouraged this to humanize the helping. Predictably, our venture took us to the run-down side of our Mennonite prairie town.
1. Have you ever attended a worship service where you didn’t understand the language? What was your emotional response? For how many months or years would you be willing to worship in a setting that included a mixture of languages or simultaneous translation?
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, the Conference of Mennonites in Canada saw the inauguration of English-only churches across the country. These were often difficult transitions, as those left behind in the “mother” congregations felt that the new congregations were leaving behind something of the faith as they left behind language and culture.
Faith Mennonite Church, Leamington, Ont., grew out of a painful split from Leamington United Mennonite Church in the late 1950s over whether to continue holding services in German or switch to English.
Faith Mennonite Church, Leamington, Ont., is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but its memories are tinged with sorrow as the new congregation grew out of a painful church split.
1. What has been your congregation’s experience with divorce? Does the church respond differently to divorce than it did in the 1970s? Has divorce lost its stigma? Are those who are divorced still discouraged from taking positions of leadership in the church?
- Becoming a National Church by Adolf Ens. CMU Press, Winnipeg, Man., 2004.
- Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce by Elizabeth Marquardt. Three Rivers Press, New York, N.Y., 2005.
- The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being by Andrew Root. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Mich., 2010.
When a couple divorces, lawyers help decide how jointly held possessions are divided. There are many things, however, such as church attendance, that the couple are left to negotiate on their own.
1. What percentage of the adults in your congregation attended a church school at some level? Do you agree that fewer young people are choosing Mennonite schools today? What is the major deterrent? Should congregations provide tuition assistance to encourage students to attend Mennonite schools? Does yours?
Thirty years ago, Anna (a pseudonym) took her first tentative steps through the doors of Rockway Mennonite Collegiate in Kitchener, Ont., and entered a very different world than she was used to.
“It was hard explaining to my friends why I was going to a Mennonite high school,” she recalls. “They didn’t know what to make of it.”
1. What emotional responses have you experienced in the presence of creative art? Is something creative always good? When should art be evaluated? Does censorship abuse creativity?
Like many pastors, Donita Wiebe-Neufeld, who co-pastors First Mennonite Church in Edmonton with her husband Tim, enjoys creating space for creative gifts to flourish. “It’s totally selfish. I love working with people like that,” she says in a telephone interview. Her enthusiasm is evident in her voice.
The success of In the Spirit of Humanity, a series of art workshops encouraging acceptance of others across cultures and faith groups, prompted Mennonite Church Canada’s Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery curator Ray Dirks and fellow artists Manju Lodha and Isam Aboud to share the experience.
Sashira Gafic: Day 1. Acrylic on Canvas. This is the first of a series of seven pieces inspired by Genesis 1:1-5.
Painting by adult EAL student depicting the murder of her husband. The artist broke into song as she painted and was joined by others. Soon, singing became weeping as they mourned together.
While some creative arts like prose and hymnody have been accepted as natural forms of expression and worship in Mennonite churches, visual arts are often viewed with less certainty. For painters, sculptors and other artists who craft for the eye, this can be disheartening.