Ester Neufeldt has been around Mennonite Church Eastern Canada longer than MCEC has existed. The area church came into being on Feb. 1, 1988, but Neufeldt began her job on Jan. 25. Besides learning the ropes from the outgoing accountant for Mennonite Church of Ontario and Quebec, one of her first jobs was to close the books of MCOQ, the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference, the United Mennonite Conference of Ontario, and the Inter-Mennonite Conference of Ontario, and then open one new set for MCEC.
A further job was to move the accounting system from paper to computer. She remembers that the denomination bought two computers—one for her and one for the two admin assistants to share. Neufeldt had experience on computers at her previous job at Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, where she had worked from 1984 to 1988. Previously she had been mentored by Ruby Weber when she worked part-time at Conrad Grebel College 1976-1980. She spent four years at home as she and her husband Cecil (Cec) began their family.
Neufeldt’s whole employment life was for church institutions but really it had begun at home where she had helped her father, Henry Koop (husband to Margaret), count the Sunday offerings for the Vineland United Mennonite Church.
Although Neufeldt began as an accountant, her job moved to being the operations minister for MCEC, and she took charge of a number of office moves, including the most recent one to 50 Kent Ave. in Kitchener. When the role change happened a number of years ago, she was moved by the many people who personally affirmed her as a minister.
Neufeldt saw MCEC also change through the years. A major one was the move from commissions managing the staff to councils that set policy and direction and let the staff carry out the work. She sees boards/councils having learned a more hands-off approach to the day-to-day work of the staff.
Another major change she has seen is that congregations are doing more on their own. This means more dollars are kept in the congregation while giving to area and national churches is not increasing or is actually decreasing. Rather than doing more on its own, MCEC is moving to support ministries to which congregations feel called.
After 27-and-a-half years, Neufeldt carries reams of knowledge. She has fielded countless calls from pastors and congregations about salaries, disability, health, dental and life insurance, interpreting salary guidelines even though MCEC has been part of Mennonite Church Canada’s plan for years. A congregation in the United States called asking how maternity leaves work. Another of her legacies is the annual church administrators’ resourcing day, helping these employees of congregations to see how their work is ministry and helping them do their work in ways that keep churches in line with current tax law.
When she first announced she was leaving she was loath to call it retirement, but as the day approached she has looked forward to reading on her deck, visiting her brothers on their Florida vacations, playing more bridge, and spending time with Cec and her sons and their families.
While Neufeldt was fêted at the MCEC annual church gathering in April, a further party was held on June 14 at 50 Kent. There she won a game of “Who Wants to be a Conference Geek? Jeopardy” hands down against two former conference ministers and a pastor.
David Martin, the last executive minster under whom she served; Oderay Peters, a congregational treasurer whom she mentored; Muriel Bechtel, former area church minister, whom she supported in developing programs like the Transitioning into Ministry program for new pastors; and Jim Steckle, who was on the original hiring committee in 1988, all shared memories of Neufeldt and blessed her as she left. Bechtel in particular noted Neufeldt shared her faith through her work as she did it with professionalism and integrity.
Upon her leaving in late June, MCEC decided to divide her work into a half-time financial manager position held by Sean East (also pastor at Westhills Mennonite Fellowship) and expand the work of Church Engagement Minister Brent Charette to include operations.
To see Ester tell her faith story, go to www.mcec.ca/sharing-our-faith-led-talks#Neufeldt.