Whenever she tells her faith story, Carrie Lehn always mentions her paternal grandmother, who, she says, is a key example of gentleness and love. She always has other people on her radar, Lehn says, writing them letters or cards, bringing them dessert or giving them thoughtful gifts.
“She thinks about those little things that other people forget or don’t notice,” says Lehn, 28. “I want to be someone who is loving and finds a way to walk gently in this world the way she does.”
It’s a way of being that Lehn tries to live out today in the nation’s capital, where she serves as the youth and young adult minister at Ottawa Mennonite Church. She began working there in 2013.
A big reason Lehn wanted to pursue a career in youth ministry is because being a part of the church was such an impor-tant part of her upbringing. “Church is just home for me in so many ways, and even when I have . . . challenged the church or struggled with God, I still felt a really strong calling to be part of the church,” she says.
Lehn was raised in Leamington, Ont., the youngest of three children born to Alfred, a General Motors employee, and Janet, who worked at the local credit union. Her family attended North Leamington United Mennonite Church, where her grandparents also went.
“I’ve always considered myself raised by a village that is the church, so North Leamington was my village,” she says. “My parents served the church in many quiet ways throughout my life, as did my grandparents. They were good examples of putting actions into your faith, and being the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Formative experiences that helped Lehn grow in her faith included becoming really good friends in high school with a girl she describes as completely different from herself. This friend went through a lot of difficult experiences, and walking alongside her challenged Lehn’s simplistic view of God, as well as of good and bad.
“Through bad experiences, the church community came together to support her and take care of her, and I really saw that as something I wanted to be a part of the rest of my life—a church community that comes together and takes care of each other,” she says.
While she was in high school, Lehn participated in !Explore, the summer youth leadership development program at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. “That was a huge time for me, testing a calling to ministry and being paired with other teenagers interested in the church,” she says.
After high school, she travelled to South Africa with the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) Outtatown discipleship school. She then enrolled at CMU, where she studied theology. Both experiences allowed her to learn more about God, the world and herself, as she forged friendships with other people of faith.
Upon graduating from CMU, Lehn found a job working with at-risk youth and then as the youth pastor at a Salvation Army church in downtown Winnipeg. She enjoyed the work but felt called to pastor in a Mennonite setting. When the job at Ottawa Mennonite became available, she quickly applied.
Lehn loves her church family. She was excited when, this past March, the church approved a statement affirming LGBTQ persons in church membership, baptism, marriage, congregational leadership and pastoral ministry.
For Lehn, who is gay and came out to her congregation last year, it was especially meaningful. “I think we all have these moments where we wrestle with God, and I think that’s a really good thing,” she says. “I think if faith were simple, it would be terrifying. Owning my own sexuality and coming out as gay as a pastor has been huge for me.”
Lehn draws strength from her favourite Bible verses, Isaiah 43:1-2: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
The water imagery in the verses especially resonates with Lehn, who enjoys a variety of watersports but ironically cannot swim. “There’s no promise of an easy, pain-free life, but God will be with you,” Lehn says. “Sometimes I have doubts . . . but I continue to believe and I continue to let my community carry me through those moments. I can’t swim, but I can strap on a lifejacket and I can carry on.”
She is thankful to be a part of Ottawa Mennonite. “I have this amazing youth group that is just the most sensitive, passionate, funky little group, and I really feel that they are bearing the image of God,” she says. “When the youth let you in, it’s such a gift to be there and walk with them.”
More stories about the journey to ministry:
Outside his comfort zone
Flipping on the pastor switch
Remade from the inside out
Letting Christ abide, from Saskatchewan to Gambia
From Mexican Quaker to Canadian Mennonite
‘When the youth let you in, it’s such a gift to be there and walk with them,’ says Carrie Lehn, second from left.
Carrie Lehn is the youth and young adult minister at Ottawa Mennonite Church. (Photo courtesy of Carrie Lehn)