Pastor’s Blog

Located in the town of Vineland, Ontario, we are a small, friendly,  inter-generational church in the Anabaptist tradition that worships God and together seeks to follow Jesus’ example.   We have a long history—we were the first Mennonite church in Canada.  On this site you can learn about the people and the work of our church, find directions to our facility, and learn about our history.  You are welcome to join us!

Worship Service at 11:00 Sunday mornings (10:30 a.m. 1st Sunday in July through Labour Day)  Sunday School for all ages begins at 10:00, except in summer.  Hope to see you there!

Pot-luck lunch usually on the first Sunday of the month (except in July/Aug)

3557 Rittenhouse Rd, Vineland (see directions page for details)
 

We look forward to meeting you!

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What makes a church ‘magnetic’?

Pastors in Mennonite Church Eastern Canada periodically receive an interdenominational newsletter called The Parish Paper.   This newsletter analyzes current issues congregations face, while keeping an eye on popular North American culture.

Some months ago the newsletter was entitled, “Why Do People Connect with Christ and a Congregation?”  The article notes that first-time church attendees usually come because they have been invited by someone in the congregation.  It also argues that first-time visitors are more likely to return—and that members are more likely to invite non-attendees–if the church exhibits “seven magnetic factors.”  Those factors are:

  1. The style and tempo of worship hymns fit the newcomer’s ages and preferences. (Music needs to be upbeat, familiar or easy to sing, and appealing for worshippers from these four eras:  pre-1946, 1946-64, 1965-90, 1991-present.)
  2. The sermons inspire newcomer-adults with biblical insights about how to live a meaningful life. (Emphasis should be on Christ, the Bible, and love.)
  3. The pastors and staff exhibit strong spiritual traits—enthusiasm, joy, vision—and have personalities to which prospective adult attendees can relate.
  4. There are strong children and youth ministries for young adult parents.
  5. A wide variety of programs makes newcomers feel “there is something here for every member of the family.” (For example, musical groups, strong Sunday School classes, a young-adult fellowship.)
  6. The congregation is friendly and newcomers feel welcomed and wanted. (Trained greeters help give a positive first impression.)
  7. The church is a reasonable driving distance from most members’ residences.

Obviously, these “magnetic” churches tend to be larger than The First Mennonite Church.

Nevertheless, even though we are small, what are the “magnetic” aspects of our congregation?  Are we comfortable inviting persons from non-church backgrounds?

 

 

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Falling out of the church window

The text for our July 20 evening worship service is the story of Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12).   His claim to fame was falling out of a third-story window while listening late at night to a long, boring sermon from the Apostle Paul.

Eutychus survives his fall, but only because Paul brings him back to life.  “His life is in him,” Paul reassures the crowd, after cradling him in his arms.

Today there are lots of Eutychuses in the church.  Like him, many are on the edge, and they fall out of the church window for all kinds of reasons.  Life is busy.  Our culture no longer protects Sunday, which has become a day to work, for school activities, and for sports events.  People travel more on weekends.

Also, people fall out of the church window because they don’t like the worship style or the music, or because they’ve been offended, or because they’ve felt burned in some way by the church.  Church shopping—and stopping—is common.  And sometimes people fall out of the window because they are just simply bored.

Many churches today are trying different strategies to keep their Eutychuses at least still perched on the window sill if not in the pews—contemporary music, power point sermons, images on screens, coffee bars, tables in sanctuaries, alternate meeting places and times, pastors who roam around the platform while preaching.  And sometimes these strategies work, at least for a while.  But beneath these ploys to make the church more appealing and relevant, something more is needed.

The Eutychus of Acts comes back to life because his church offers him not a modern hipster worship experience, but life-giving, flesh and blood connections.  The crowd notes his fall, gathers around him, picks him up.  Likely some are praying.  Paul holds him, and life returns to his inert body and spirit.  And then the worship service, including Paul’s long sermon, continues.  Eutychus’s life returns to him when he finds healing amidst a worshipping community.

How can we make healing connections with people who fall out of our church window?  How can our church still “be there” for people when they slip away?  How can we help our Eutychuses to discover that “their life is still in them?”

 

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Leafy arms of praise

In my high school grade 12 literature class, we studied the poem “Trees,” by the American poet Joyce Kilmer.  I still remember four of the lines:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.

I love the imagery of a tree lifting its leafy branches in prayer to God.

Psalm 104 is a splendid hymn praising God the creator.  In this psalm, not only the trees, but also the wind and water and storks and mountains and wild asses and goats and lions and sun and moon and darkness praise God.  Even the Leviathan—that dangerous sea monster, representing the dark forces of chaos—knows its Creator.  It splashes around like a toddler in a wading pool under the serene, benevolent gaze of God.

But God is not detached from the creation, the Psalmist says.  God is engaged with it as its sustainer, continually breathing into it life.    And God acts to renew the creation, and one day will free it completely from its “bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21).

Our worship at Ball’s Falls this Sunday, June 22, will allow us to experience first-hand the glories of God’s creation.  It will invite us to remember the God who has created everything.

As we gaze at those trees with their uplifted arms, let us also consider raising our arms and hearts in praise and thanks to God, who created, sustains and renews the world, including us.

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No distinction

Think of a time when you were standing in a busy place with a crowd of people, like an airport, train station, or shopping centre.  In the sea of faces surging toward you, can you recall some of the expressions and emotions on the faces?  How about the body types, skin colors, clothing, hair styles, tattoos?

Now, can you recall the kinds of judgments about some of these people that your mind probably was making in an instant of time? “ Foreigner.”  “Worried.”  “Rich.”  “Poor.”  “Hard-working.”  “Friendly.”  “Careless.”  “Dangerous.”

Probably some of those quick, often subconscious, judgments were both positive and negative—“I like this person, I don’t like that person.”  Likely you have been conditioned to judge favorably certain kinds of people (clean, professional-looking), and perhaps you have been taught to be suspicious of other kinds (unkempt, different color).  Whatever your judgment, it was made before you even met the person.   On the basis of fragmentary information, you made distinctions between people.

Which is God does not do, according to our main text from Acts 11 for Sunday, June 15.  Peter learns that God  makes no distinction between people, on any basis—class, color, ethnicity, religion (or lack of it).  God makes no distinction between those who we might consider worthy and unworthy.  God’s love is impartial and inclusive.  And Peter also learns that he is to make no distinction either.

This is hard for Peter to grasp.  He has always been taught that certain people, especially Gentiles (non-Jews), are to be kept at arm’s length, since they are unclean.  It takes three visions and several explanations before he begins to undertand that people like unclean Gentiles are just as dear to God as Peter and the people of his own kind.

And it takes the prodding of the Holy Spirit for Peter to go to the home of the symbol of unclean Gentiles—the Roman soldier Cornelius—and to show him the same impartial acceptance that God does.

Overcoming unfavorable distinctions and entrenched prejudices can take a long time.  It will take Peter a long time to assimilate his learning that God’s non-discriminatory policy toward humanity means the same for him.  But in our text from Acts, Peter, thanks to the Holy Spirit’s prodding, makes a big start.  Peter, the believer who always saw himself as more favored by God than “those people,” is on the road to conversion.

Sometimes our conversion to a more open and charitable outlook toward others can take a while too.  The important thing, as for Peter, is to follow the Holy Spirit when it prods us to revise our attitude toward someone we instinctively don’t like, and to take a bold step to engage them.

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Catching the wind

On a recent trip to cross the Ambassador Bridge, Julie and I passed miles and miles of wind farms on highway 401 between Chatham and Windsor.  These huge towers with their 20+-metre blades catch the prevailing wind and transform it into electricity.  And in that wide-open southwestern Ontario landscape between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, the wind blows quite briskly and quite often.

Wind power is a promising form of renewable energy, but the wind can be hard to catch on a regular basis.  The best winds don’t blow at ground level.  The strongest and most consistent winds blow high up in the air, where they carry many times more energy than down below.

Because the tallest wind turbine is only about 200 metres high, harvesting this high-energy wind is a challenge.  But leave it to human ingenuity.  Sky WindPower, an Australian company, has developed a flying generator that looks like a cross between a kite and a helicopter.  The rotors lift the frame to a high altitude, and cables tether it to the ground.  The generator inside the frame catches the high-velocity wind, converts it into electricity, and sends it back down to earth through the cables.

Moral of the story:  to catch the wind, you have to be at the place where it is blowing.  Wind engineers know this.  And that was also the experience of Jesus disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2), which we shall celebrate on Sunday, June 8.  The disciples have followed the ascending Jesus’s instruction to return to Jerusalem and wait.  Suddenly the group is caught by a mighty wind—the wind of God’s Spirit—and amazing things begin to happen.  In fact, the rest of the book of Acts shows the energy produced by this Spirit/wind as the disciples radiate outward into the world with preaching, teaching, healing, confronting political authorities, and building up their own Christian community.

If we at The First Mennonite Church wish to experience the dynamic, renewing, transforming energy of the same Spirit/wind of God, how can we position ourselves to catch it?  Perhaps the attitude and activities of the disciples on the threshhold of Pentecost can be instructive for us.  Luke, the writer of Acts, tells us they were gathered together, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14).   And then, in God’s time, the Spirit/wind came upon them.

We cannot summon or control the Spirit/wind of God.  It blows when and where it pleases.  But perhaps by gathering regularly in worship, and engaging in prayer—constant, ongoing prayer, including prayer to be open to God’s Spirit—we, too, can be in a position to catch the wind of Pentecost.

 

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The Ontario election and the Ascension

I have just received a glossy brochure from Elections Ontario.   On the cover the word “VOTE” is enscribed in big, bold letters.  Along with the brochure came my voter registration card, entitling me to vote in the provincial election on June 12.  The same mail also contained a flyer urging me who not to vote for.  In our culture, an election is an important, often passionate, event.

On Sunday, June 1, we at The First Mennonite Church, along with the wider church, will celebrate the ascension of Jesus.  Jesus’s ascension to heaven, as reported in Acts 1:6-11, marks the end of his 40 days of appearances following his resurrection.  Though it comes as a bit of an afterthought in the fading glow of the Easter season, the ascension is also an important event.

What do the coming election and the ascension have in common?

Well, not much, if you think the ascension is only about physics.  Sometimes that is how it is portrayed–as a miracle of physics, in which Jesus contravenes the law of gravity and levitates upward into the sky.  (Once in a Vacation Bible School class I used helium balloons to illustrate the ascension.  They went, up, up, up, rising heavenward over the skies of Huron County, Ontario to land, who knows where, probably in the watery depths of Lake Huron 2 miles away.)

But the ascension is not about physics.  It is about politics.  It is about what government is running the cosmos, and who is in charge of our world.

The ascension declares an important truth that is not self-evident—that Jesus has become Lord of the world.  Elsewhere the New Testament speaks of Jesus being seated at the right hand of God (e.g. Hebrews 12:2).  The right hand is the hand of power and authority.  Your “right-hand man” or woman is the one on whom you rely to get the job done, the one to whom you delegate authority and vital tasks.  Jesus “going up” to God’s right hand means that a new government has been formed, with him as its head.

And that is the gospel.  Jesus’s ascension confirms that his death and resurrection have defeated the powers of evil.  Even though those powers are still active, their reign is over, and one day they will disappear.  Because of Jesus’s ascension, and his lordship over all things, we have the sure hope that God’s work to establish a society where people from every nation, sex, race and social class can live harmoniously together will be accomplished.

I expect to vote on June 12.  But regardless of which party wins and forms Ontario’s next government, we know who is really in charge.  Thanks to his resurrection and ascension, our premier is Jesus, who rules in ways quite different from worldly governments.  Thanks to Jesus’s enthronement as Lord over all, we have confidence that God’s will one day will “be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   And that is really good news, much, much better than my favorite political party winning on June 12.

 

 

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Nine rapid changes in worship services

Recently Vineland area pastors received an email from one of their number inviting them to click on a web site of a U.S. church consultant  to read about “Nine rapid changes in worship services.”  A major U.S. university had done a survey of worship patterns in a variety of church traditions since 2000, and was noting significant  changes within the past decade.  Here they are.

  1. Choirs are disappearing. From 1998 to 2007, the percentage of churches with choirs decreased from 54% to 44%. If that pace holds to this year, the percentage of churches with choirs is only 37%.
  2. Dress is more casual. In many churches, a man wearing a tie in a worship service is now among the few rather than the majority. While the degree of casual dress is contextual, the trend is crossing all geographic and demographic lines.
  3. Screens are pervasive. Most churches today have screens. And if they have hymnals, the hymnals are largely ignored and the congregants follow along on the screens.
  4. Preaching is longer.
  5.  “Multi” is normative. Most congregants twenty years ago attended a Sunday morning worship service where no other Sunday morning alternatives were available. Today, most congregants attend a service that is part of numerous alternatives: multi-services; multi-campuses; multi-sites; and multi-venues.
  6. Attendees are more diverse. There has been a decrease in the number of all-white congregations.
  7. Conflict is not increasing. In spite of “worship wars,” overall church conflict has not increased over a 20-year period.
  8. More worship attendees are attending larger churches. Churches with an attendance of 400 and up now account for 90% of all worship attendees. Inversely, those churches with an attendance of under 400 only account for 10% of worship attendees.
  9. Sunday evening services are disappearing.

(Source:  ThomRainer.com)

While the study focused on American churches, many of these trends are also visible across Canadian congregations.

How does worship at The First Mennonite Church compare with these trends?

 

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