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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When the server becomes the served

Last Sunday, our worship at The First Mennonite Church included a sending blessing for a young woman going abroad with a service program of our larger Mennonite church.

Sometimes the one who sets out to serve others become the recipient of someone else’s service.

In the early 1970s, I went to Zaire, Africa (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) with the Teachers Abroad Program of Mennonite Central Committee.  My assignment was to teach school in a remote bush village.  I wanted to serve others in a developing country.

Once during the Christmas holidays, the server became the served.

Two students invited me to walk with them across the forest to their village, a distance of about 30 miles.  Our overnight stop along the way, they said, would be at the home of the pastor of a small church deep in the Zairean bush.

For the trek I had purchased a pair of locally-made shoes.  Though  inexpensive, that purchase turned out to be costly.  About two hours into the walk, the shoes began to pinch.  The deeper we went into the forest, the more my feet hurt.  And we had barely begun our trek.

At dusk, we reached the pastor’s small, mud-and-thatch house.  My blistered feet were screaming.

Though I was too proud to admit it, the pastor seemed to know I was in pain.  With few words, he brought me a chair and a basin of water for my feet.  He also soon produced a huge pot of steaming, sweet, milky tea.  I drank one cup of this delicious necter, then another, then another.  As the hot tea slowly coursed through my body, and the water soothed my blistered feet, my spirits lifted.  I felt revived.

That night, I was given the only bed in the house with sheets.  As we prepared to leave the next morning, my words of thanks to the pastor felt awkward and inadequate for his gracious, simple, life-giving hospitality–and for his service.

I’ve thought often of that pastor, whose name I have forgotten.  I still remember with gratitude his deed of service to the server.  Not only did he help me in my physical distress.  I also believe that through him I gained a glimpse of Jesus, who came as one who serves.

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We are ‘charismatic’

Some people have a special ability to influence and inspire a large number of people.   Their exceptional attractiveness and charm enables them to generate enthusiasm and loyalty.  They light up a room just by walking into it.  We could say that such people have charisma.  

While some people seem to be born with charisma, the “wikiHow” website assures us that we can  learn charisma by practicing these 5 skills:  exuding confidence, standing tall, making people feel special, being witty, engaging others.

However they got it, the people we know who are popular usually have a certain amount of charisma.  So do celebrities, and, for better or worse, some political leaders.

Jesus, too, had charisma.  People were attracted  to  him not only because of his teaching and miracles, but also because of the strength of his personality.  In his presence, they experienced a special confidence and hope in God.

Charisma comes from the Greek word charis, which means “gift, favor, grace.”  The Apostle Paul uses charis many times to talk about how the Spirit of Jesus gives gifts to those who have faith in Jesus—gifts of wisdom, knowledge, service abilities, and healing, among others.   All of these gifts come together in the church, making the church “charismatic.”

Our main scripture text for Sunday, Aug. 17, is from Acts 9.  There we see Peter doing the same kinds of powerful works that Jesus did.  He is able to do them because he has a special kind of charisma, the charisma of Jesus.

The amazing news is that the same charisma that Peter had can be ours, too.   Jesus comes to live in ordinary people like us, and gives us gifts to bring his healing and hope to others.   In the church, Jesus’s charisma makes us—yes—“charismatic.”

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Home

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wakes up in her house in Kansas.  After her whirlwind trip to magic land of Oz, she realizes that “there is no place like home.”  She now sees more clearly that her home is a safe haven, a place of acceptance and welcome.

Many of us yearn for such a home,  and thoughts of “home” can stir deep emotions.  When we ask someone to describe the home where they grew up, they’ll likely recall such details as the house they lived in, where they slept, and what mealtime was like.  They might also talk about their relationships with their parents and siblings.  For better or worse, home, and the memories of home, become part of us and travel with us throughout our lives.

In Psalm 91, our main scripture text for Sunday, Aug. 10, the Psalmist talks about “home.”  His home, though, is not a physical place in a location laden with nostalgic memories.  Nor is his home based on kin, culture and nation.  The Psalmist’s home is in God.  And though evil has come his way, God has been a trustworthy, secure home.

What does “home” mean for us?  What part does God play in our experience of “home”?

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Remembering

Our main scripture for Sunday, Aug. 3 is the climax of the story of Noah and the flood (Genesis 8-9), where God “remembers” that ark-enclosed colony of humans and animals that has been marooned on the rising waters.

I am not always good at remembering things.  Names, for instance.  And occasionally cheque books.

One afternoon my wife Julie and I were late for an appointment.  As we were rushing out the door I called over my shoulder,  “Did you bring the cheque book?”

“No,” she replied.  “Don’t you have it?”  “No,” I said, with some frustration.  “I thought you did. We need it!”

Back into the house I went.  In the desk drawer where it usually lay, I found lots of paper clips and bic pens, but no cheque book.  A search of the computer desk turned up a lost book hidden amidst the clutter, but no cheque book.

Maybe the catch-all corner on the kitchen counter?  Here were recipes, telephone messages, and an unpaid electric bill.  But still no cheque book.

My anxiety escalated toward desperation.  “Julie, come help me look for the cheque book!”  Ransacking my brain, I simply could not recall when I had last written a cheque.  Already I was thinking about phoning the bank to cancel our account.

Five more minutes of looking high and low yielded a few more lost treasures, but, alas, no cheque book.  And now we were late for our appointment.  “We’ll have to stop and the bank and withdraw some cash,” I muttered, as we again headed for the car.

Then it happened.  “Oh, look at this!” exclaimed Julie, who was three steps behind me.  And she proceeded to pull something from my back pocket.  Surprise!  The precious lost cheque book was found.

The message of the flood story is that God, unlike those of us whose memory lapses, “remembers.”  God remembers the world.  God remembers suffering people who are forgotten.  God also remembers people who can no longer remember, which happens with a disease such as Alzheimer’s.

God’s “remembering” leads to life.  And that is good news.

 

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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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