“Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me . . . I will keep on singing.”
These words from a praise song led by Keith Ly of Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, seemed appropriate at the beginning of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s fall gathering on the morning of Nov. 14. Forced online by pandemic safety protocols, the gathering, entitled “Courageous imagination,” was a mix of live and pre-recorded elements, offering the 120 participants many opportunities to celebrate as well as share the challenges of being the church during a pandemic.
Brian Quan, assistant moderator of MC Eastern Canada and a pastor of Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, facilitated the Zoom meeting, which was translated into French.
Several stories from across the regional church were shared about adapting to the new reality of COVID-19.
Rebecca Penner, youth pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., shared how she has been accompanying youth through the compounding losses and fears of the pandemic. They have created a sense of community online by connecting through social media. Penner has encouraged hands-on activities by dropping off craft kits at their homes and by getting them to bake together from their kitchens while on a Zoom call.
Kendall Jongejan Harder, a pastor of North Leamington Mennonite Church, shared how that congregation baptized three youth despite physical distancing. The youth and their faith partners shared their faith stories over Zoom, and then, since all three were related, they were baptized on the front porch of one of their homes. Their mothers and a grandfather poured the water, while Jongejan Harder led the service from several metres away. The rest of the church celebrated with a drive-by greeting. Jongejan Harder said there has to be a “creative edge” to pastoring since everything pastors do has been impacted by the pandemic.
Jonathan Abraham, pastor of Shalom Worship and Healing Centre, Kitchener, Ont., shared how the congregation’s transition from in-person to Zoom worship made it possible for others with Eritrean roots to join from a distance, resulting in two new groups forming in Kingston and St. Catharines, Ont. He said that, in the face of the pandemic, the church could stagnate and wait for normal to return, or face the new challenge by following the Holy Spirit. This is “not time for us to be in despair,” but rather “a time to be renewed,” he said.
Online participants were given two opportunities to join small-group discussions reflecting on the challenges they have faced as individuals and congregations, and where they have experienced “God moments” and invitations from the Holy Spirit.
Four new MC Eastern Canada congregations were introduced and welcomed:
- Grace New Life Mennonite Church, Hamilton, Ont., which worships in Lao and English, became a full member.
- Mennonite Disciple Mission, Joliette, Que., which worships in Swahili and French, became a provisional member.
- Soul House, Toronto, which meets in a home for worship, study and a meal, became a provisional member.
- Warden Underground, which ministers to youth and young adults in its Scarborough, Ont., neighbourhood, became a provisional member.
Jordan Thoms, pastor of Warden Underground, offered a prayer, calling on everyone to look to Jesus as a model for ministry.
Two people were installed into MC Eastern Canada leadership roles:
- Norm Dyck, mission minister, introduced and led the installation of Fanosie Legesse as intercultural mission minister, tasked with resourcing, equipping and encouraging the full integration of all the cultural groups in the regional church. Legesse described himself as one who “embraces diversity” and sees this “God-sized challenge” of integration as an opportunity to take advantage of all the gifts that are represented, with the assurance that “God will be with us.”
- Marilyn Rudy-Froese, church leadership minister, led the installation of Leah Reesor-Keller as executive minister. Reesor-Keller acknowledged “how deeply we long to be together,” and how much people need each other in these strange times. She offered words of encouragement, drawing from Roman 12:4-5 and Isaiah 41:10: “We are not alone. God is with us.”
- She described the church not as an institution, but as a spiritual movement rooted in deep joy that follows Jesus and seeks to share God’s love by welcoming strangers and caring for the vulnerable. “I feel hopeful and inspired” about building this movement together, she said. Both individuals and congregations need “courageous imagination” as they grow their capacity to “dream and imagine.”
A small singing group from Rouge Valley Mennonite Church, Markham, Ont., blessed Reesor-Keller with the hymn “My Life Flows On.”
Quan brought the meeting to a close with this prayer: “May we be surprised by how you lead us.”
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Eastern Canada? Send it to Janet Bauman at email@example.com.
‘We are going to need more of each other’
Leah Reesor-Keller, newly installed MC Eastern Canada executive minister, speaks from the sanctuary of First Hmong Mennonite Church, Kitchener, Ont., which hosted the physically distanced installation service that was recorded and shared at the regional church’s fall gathering held online. (Screenshot by Janet Bauman)