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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He came down

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14).

That is John’s Christmas story, which we will consider in our worship on Sunday, Dec. 21.  No shepherds, angels, wise men, Joseph, Mary, or manger, just the meaning of it all.  God came down to our level, in Jesus, to share our life.

Rather like Henry came down to Tommy’s level.  Here’s a true story.

Henry was an adult working in a special home for children, many of whose parents had died or had abandoned them.  One of those children was 8-year-old Tommy.

Tommy was not very happy living in this home.  He had trouble sleeping, and would often be woken up in the night by bad dreams.  He also was very shy, and had trouble making friends.  When the other children were playing, Tommy often went to his room.

As Christmas approached, Henry and his colleagues planned a big party, with lots of food, games, music, lights, and a Christmas tree.   Henry told all the children to come down to the dining room at 6:00 for the party.

6:00 came, and everyone was there except Tommy.  A worker said that Tommy had crawled under his bed and refused to come out.

So Henry went to Tommy’s room and called him.  “Tommy, Tommy.”  No answer.   Then he began speaking to the bed, as if Tommy were lying there.  He talked about the party that was starting downstairs, how everybody was having fun playing games, how everybody was waiting on him.  But still there was no answer.

So Henry dropped to his hands and knees, and lifted the cover of the bed.  He got down on his arms and legs, and began to name all the wonderful foods that they were going to eat.  He told Tommy that everybody had a card at their plate with their name on it.  “Tommy, there’s a card with your name too.  Don’t you want to come out and join us and have fun?”, Henry asked.

Still no answer.   At last, because he could think of no other way to make contact with Tommy, Henry got down on his stomach and wriggled in under the bed, right alongside Tommy.  He lay there with his cheek pressed against the floor.  Again he told Tommy about the party, the lights, the games, the music, the food.  He talked about how the other kids were really having fun, and how sad they were that Tommy was not with them.

Then, when he finally ran out of things to say, Henry simply waited on the floor beside Tommy, under the bed.  After a little while, Tommy’s hand began to move toward Henry’s hand.  Then Tommy’s small hand slipped into his.  Henry said, “Tommy, it’s not very comfortable under here.  It’s kind of cramped.  Let’s you and me go out where we can stand up.”  So holding Tommy’s hand, Henry and Tommy crawled out from under the bed, and went downstairs to join the party.

Christmas is about God coming down to us, in Jesus, rather like Henry did to Tommy.  And in Jesus, God offers us his hand, and leads us out of our fear, toward life.

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While we wait

Waiting.  We do lots of it.  Waiting in traffic jams and check-out lines. Waiting for pay day and summer holidays.  Waiting for our first driver’s license and first job.  Waiting for a child to be born and then to leave home.    Waiting for doctor’s appointments and test results.

Sometimes waiting can be painful and exhausting.  Think of the millions of refuges displaced from their homes.  Waiting can also be sad and lonely.  Think of residents of care homes, body life ebbing away, waiting to die.

It can help us in our waiting if we have a tangible, hopeful sign that our situation of suffering will change and that the future promises better things.  In our Advent scriptures for Sunday, Dec. 14, the prophet Isaiah (61:1-4) sees the future and it is good—captives freed, brokenhearted healed, God’s new world coming.  His vision would have given courage and hope to captive Israel.  Many years later, John the Baptist appears (John 1:6-8), a sign that the awaited Messiah is coming.  The crowds waiting for the Messiah were filled with excitement and hope.

This Advent season we await the birth of Jesus, God’s clearest and most concrete sign that a good future will one day come to earth.

Recently I visited a greenhouse full of Christmas poinsettas.  The scene was bright and colorful, but also tinged with the sadness of knowing that those flowers will all be gone before Christmas.  But there is hope, said the greenhouse owner.  In a back room, out of sight, cyclamen flowers were already sprouting, and after Christmas will fill the empty greenhouse.  Even though winter will just be starting, the cyclamen will be tangible,hopeful signs that spring will come.

Now we wait, with expectancy, for the coming of Jesus.  And after Christmas, we will still be waiting, for the arrival of God’s new heaven and earth.  But like those cyclamen, the coming of Jesus can give us hope, while we wait.

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Eccentric Advent

“Eccentric” means off-centre, unconventional, deviating from normal conduct in peculiar ways.  During holiday gatherings, such as Christmas, we sometimes meet some of our more colorful and eccentric relatives.

In one of our Advent texts for Sunday, Dec. 7 (Mark 1:1-8), Jesus’s coming is announced through an eccentric messenger named John the Baptist.  John’s dress, hair, and diet are eccentric.  So is his favorite abode—the wilderness.  And also eccentric is his message about the present world ending, and a new world from God ready to break in, which everyone can be a part of provided they do one eccentric thing—“repent.”

Literally, our word “eccentric” comes from two Greek words, ek-kentros,  meaning “out of earth,” or, “not having the earth as the center.”  And “repentance” literally means “turn,” like a satellite dish turns to receive signals from deep space.   That’s what repentance does.  It turns us away from preoccupation with the values of earth, and toward the values of God.  Repentance de-centers us from conventional and accepted patterns and values, and re-centers us on the one coming from God, whose narrow way of suffering love is an alternative to the wide self-seeking ways of the world.

To rapt crowds, John the eccentric says:  the messenger from God is almost here.  Do you want to receive him?  If you do, then wake up, sit up, repent, turn around, leave the beaten path, become eccentric, de-center yourselves from earthly things.

What would it mean for you and me to become a little ek-centric this Advent season?   To “repent” by de-centering ourselves from the busyness and consumerism all around us, and by doing something unconventional and against the norm this Advent?  We need to be a little eccentric, John says, so that when the God-sent one finally comes he can walk right through our door.

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Advent surprises

Many of us  seem to have mixed feelings about surprises.  On the one hand, we like them.  A surprise birthday party can be fun, and can make the birthday celebrity feel good.  Sports are popular, partly because we never know for sure which team is going to win.  At Christmas, we give gifts hoping to surprise our family and friends.

On the other hand, we are uncomfortable with surprises.  We like chain restaurants and motels because “no surprises” is comforting.   We arm our houses, offices and cars with security systems, whose sirens and flashing lights take away the element of surprise from an unwelcome intruder.  We tend to call ahead or make appointments to visit our friends, because we don’t want our surprise visit to be an inconvenient interruption.

This coming Sunday, Nov. 30, is the first Sunday of Advent.  Whether we like them or not, Advent is a season of surprise.    Our worship scriptures from Isaiah 61 and Mark 13 suggest that God comes to us in intrusive and surprising ways.  They show that God does not call ahead.  Rather, they present a God who likes to come into our lives in ways we can neither expect nor predict.

A problem with the season of Advent is that we have stripped it of surprise.  Our decorating, gift buying, feasting and caroling have become predictable and routine.   These Advent traditions are nostalgic and enchanting and get us ready for Christmas.   But their familiarity might also insulate us from the God who comes as a surprise.

Jesus, after all, was a surprise.  No one expected God’s Messiah to come as a baby in a manger.  Which leaves us with an important question:  how can we prepare to celebrate again the coming of Jesus while keeping ourselves open to the unfamiliar and surprising ways God might want to come to us this season?

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Heroes and saints

What is a hero?

A hero typically is someone of outstanding courage, strength and daring.  Heroes often risk their life, and perhaps die, in a battle against evil.  We honor such heroes with statues, memorials, and solemn services.

These days our culture, it seems, has a hunger for heroes.  Witness the outpouring of emotion following the fatal shootings of two Canadian soldiers last month, one of whom was standing ceremonial  guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa.  Many of the tributes to these men described them as “heroes.”   This past Remembrance Day ceremonies saw record crowds, increased poppy sales, and saturating media coverage.  Perhaps because of relentless bad news, the attack on Parliament in Ottawa, and the sense that Canada is not immune to the wars raging elsewhere, many people are looking for heroes who will fight for them and assure their security.

The New Testament, though, does not talk about “heroes.”   Its word for those who are to be celebrated is “saints.”   The word “saint” means “set apart” for God.  A saint is an ordinary, usually  unheroic,  follower  of Jesus who dedicates his or her life to Jesus’s way.

In our main scripture for Memorial Sunday, Nov. 23, from Revelation 7:9-17, it is the saints who are the “heroes.”  But they are a very different kind of hero.  The saints have given their lives not in a violent battle against evil, but in faithfulness to the Lamb (Christ).   From the world’s point of view, saints often seem to be weak, ineffective, and defeated by evil.   But from the point of view of heaven, the saints are strong and triumphant, because they share in the victory of Christ.  Saints are honored not with memorials on earth, but with white robes and crowns of life in heaven.

In our Memorial Sunday worship, when we remember those close to us who have died in the past year, we will reflect on heroes, and more importantly, on saints.

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Going down

At the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous is its Twelve-Step program.   The 12 steps are guiding principles outlining a course of action from addiction, compulsion, and other behavioral problems.

The first step is the critical one:  “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Going down, losing control, and admitting that loss, is the prerequisite for healing.

In our main scripture text for Sunday, Nov. 16 from 2 Kings 5, Namaan, the powerful and victorious commander of the Syrian army, finds himself in a perilous situation he cannot control.  He must embark on a painful journey downward—down to the prophet Elisha in Israel, down from his prideful attitude to humility.  Only when he admits his powerlessness is he able to take steps toward healing.

Namaan can be a parable for the spiritual life.  Classical and modern spiritual writers talk about how, at some point in our lives, we too need to “go down” if we are to grow.  There almost always has to be a crisis, a stumbling, a loss of control, a “necessary suffering” (as Fr. Richard Rohr puts it) to shake us to out of our complacency, comfort zone, and pride, if we are to move upward on the difficult but ultimately rewarding journey toward spiritual growth.   As in AA, having the humility to admit that something in our lives has become unmanageable is the essential first step toward finding greater wholeness, and to discovering the God of grace.

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Hero without a gun

In April 1942, 23-year-old Desmond Doss was drafted into the U.S. army.  Unlike the other soldiers, Desmond refused to carry a gun.  Because of his Christian faith, he was a conscientious objector.

Desmond Doss’s story, which has been made into a film (The Conscientious Objector), is an amazing chronicle of perseverance, compassion, and bravery.  He was harassed and reviled by his army comrades for his unconventional beliefs, yet he stood his ground.  He performed his duties as a medic with great courage, on many occasions risking his life on the battlefield to rescue his wounded comrades.  But during his four years in the army, he never fired a gun and he killed no one.

Growing up, Desmond was fascinated by a poster picturing the 10 Commandments hanging in the family kitchen.  He was particularly transfixed by the 6th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” which was printed above a sketch of Cain killing Abel.  “How in the world could a brother do such a thing?” the young Desmond wondered.

Desmond found that on the battlefield, he could draw strength by imagining Jesus beside him in the rain of bullets, “with an aid kit like me.”

When the war ended, Desmond had earned the respect of his army comrades.  He was also the first conscientious objector to receive his country’s Medal of Honor.   Later a comic book told his story.  It’s title:  Hero without a gun.

This Sunday, November 9, is Peace Sunday.  It’s a Sunday when we remember another hero without a gun, named Jesus.  Instead of taking the lives of his enemies, he died for them, and instructed his followers to follow his example.  That’s not easy, when one’s country faces an external enemy and taking up arms in its defense is considered the proper, responsible, and the most “loving” thing to do.   We need stories of saints like Desmond Doss, who faced and surmounted great trial and suffering because the 10 Commandments and the example of Jesus were the only way to live.

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