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!

Special Note – We are Hiring! We are searching for a lead Pastor with a strong grounding in Anabaptist values and social justice issues. Please send your CV to Henry Paetkau at hpaetkau@mcec.ca for consideration.

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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Unsung heroes

History contains many unsung heroes.  Along with the great military, political, cinematic, sports, and sometimes religious figures whom we celebrate with statues, multimillion dollar salaries and magazine covers, there are numerous persons who have made valuable, courageous and self-sacrificing contributions to humanity while garnering little or no acclaim.

Take Henry Woodward and Thomas Evans.   Who has heard of them?  They were Canadians who in 1874 filed a patent for an electric light bulb.  It actually worked.  But they did not have the money to perfect their invention, so they sold their patent to Thomas Alva Edison.  Edison modified their design, and gained renown as the “inventor” of the electric light bulb.  But without the prototype developed by the obscure Woodward and Evans, Edison might never have become famous.

The Bible, too, has a canon of unsung heroes.  In our worship on Sunday, July 6, we will reflect on one of them.  She is a little maid in 2 Kings 5, an Israelite captured by the Syrians and carried off to serve in the household of the great general Namaan.  This maid doesn’t even have a name.  But her action has a profound and saving effect.

Jesus said, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  Among other things, that might apply to who we consider “great.”  Our spiritual life, and our discipleship walk, would be enriched and strengthened by reflection on these unsung biblical heroes, who one day, at the end of history, will receive a golden crown and be accorded the acclaim that they deserve.

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Transitions

While transitions come at any stage in life, they are especially prevalent during the young  adult years.  From age 18 through the 20s and even early 30s, many life decisions need to be made about school, career, friends, marriage, and perhaps faith commitment.

In the late young adult stage of his life, Jesus too faced a major life transition.  At about age 30, the gospels record Jesus stepping out of what until then has apparently been a settled home and career in a small, rural Galilean village.  He chooses to be baptized by a wandering preacher, hears a call from God, and sets out to announce the Kingdom of God.

But a crucial part of Jesus’s transition involves establishing his adult identity.  He is forced to confront the question, “Who am I?”  In the wilderness, the tempter seductively proposes three possible identities for Jesus to adopt.  Ultimately Jesus refuses the tempter’s offers and chooses another identity for himself.  It’s the identity that God gave him at his baptism, when God declared Jesus to be “my beloved Son.”

In our worship on Sunday, June 21, we will remember the young adults of The First Mennonite Church who are facing transition.  We will ask how Jesus’s experience in facing a key transition period in his own life might speak to us today, when we also face transitions.  We will explore how Jesus  answered the question “Who am I?” in a way that sustained him through the challenges, joys and sufferings of announcing God’s Kingdom.

How Jesus answered his own “Who am I?” question  is critical for us, when we think of who we are, of what is most important to us, and of how the same tempter  seductively whispers to us to create an identity for ourselves that is less than God might wish.

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Overcoming Babel

Most of us likely have had the experience of trying to communicate and not feeling heard.  It can happen among friends, marriage partners, parents and children, and church members, and regularly happens among nations.  Who has never said (or at least thought), “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you are aware that what you heard is not what I meant”?

One might think that with all the modern communication technology, communication would get easier.  Not necessarily so.  After the attacks of September 11, 2001, some Muslims in Indonesia nearly went to war against Christians and Jews. “We have to do something, otherwise the Christians or Jews will kill us,” some were saying.  How did they know that?  “The internet.”  While email, Facebook, Twitter and the rest can be marvelous tools in facilitating communication, they also can accelerate our human tendency to miscommunicate, misunderstand, and babble.

“Babble:  a confused mixture of sounds or voices, a scene of noise and confusion” (Dictionary.com).  A story in Genesis 11, which we will consider in our worship on Sunday, June 14, gives an account of serious–and fatal–babbling.  In a city called Babel, God, in an act of judgment against human arrogance and pride, confuses humanity’s tongues.  The people, who heretofore were one community with one language, are now scattered, and their communication becomes impaired and difficult.  The curse of Babel has become “babble.”

Until the Spirit comes at Pentecost (Acts 2), and a miracle happens.  Suddenly the diverse peoples of the earth, divided by language and culture, now all hear the good news of Jesus, in their own tongues.    Humanity’s ears have been opened and its speech has been healed.  The confusing babble of Babel has been overcome.  And our human tendency to miscommunicate and misunderstand continues to be pushed back, in the church, when we let the Spirit  open our ears to hear and  grace our lips to speak to each other.

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Ordinary Pentecost

Communication can be difficult.

Perhaps you’ve played the telephone game, where persons in a circle whisper a sentence to the person beside them.  The sentence is passed around the circle, and by the time it reaches the last person the sentence has become quite different from how it started out.  The saying, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you are aware that what you heard is not what I meant” resonates in our experience.  And in spite of the explosion of social media—email, Facebook, Twitter—the difficulties in communication only seem to be compounded.

But on the day of Pentecost, as reported in Acts 2, a miracle happens.  Not only do people acquire the gift of speaking clearly.  They also receive the gift of hearing.  Everyone on whom the Spirit at the first Pentecost descends hears clearly, in their own language, the word of God spoken by others.

Pentecost will be the focus of our worship on Pentecost Sunday, May 24.  We note that at the original Pentecost, it was not just the preachers or religious functionaries but ordinary people who were empowered by the Spirit of God to speak the word of God—in other words, to prophesy.  Everyone—old and young, male and female, people of all classes, including slaves—received the ability to speak of what God is doing in their midst.

Ordinary people, using ordinary words, to speak the extraordinary words of God.  That was God’s gift on the first Pentecost.  It is what Pentecost continues to be about today.

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He has gone up!

In the wider church, Sunday, May 17 is Ascension Sunday.  It remembers Jesus’s ascension to heaven after 40 days on earth following his resurrection (Acts 1:6-26).   This story, and the first thing the disciples do in its wake, will be the focus of our worship this Sunday.

We give a lot of attention to Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurrection on the third day.  But the ascension is the neglected child in this trinity of momentous events.  Does it mean anything for us in 2015?

Churches in Europe give more attention to the ascension than we do.  In some cathedrals there is a hole in the ceiling, right above the altar, and on Ascension Sunday a porcelain Christ figure that has been placed on the table is pulled up through the hole, leaving everyone in the church, like those first disciples, “gazing up toward heaven.”  Then, after a moment, a dove is lowered through the same opening.  In some churches there also follows a shower of almonds, nuts, raisins and other treats from above…rather like the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost.

But the ascension is about much more than Jesus floating up into the sky.  It really is a political statement about the crucified and resurrected Jesus ascending to power as the world’s true Lord.  As in the Old Testament, where God “goes up” to reign in power over the nations (Psalm 47), so also has Jesus “gone up,” to reign at the right hand of God over the world.

Watching the news can make one conclude that the world’s lords are the ones who control the most money, armies and political power.  And the daily reminders that the world is in the grip of powers that are often evil can be depressing.

That’s why we need to complete Jesus’s death and resurrection with his ascension.  The ascension affirms that it is the risen Jesus who ultimately reigns over the peoples and nations of the earth, that one day his invisible rule will be disclosed for all to see, and that his will—God’s will—shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Thank God that Jesus has “gone up!”  That is very, very good news.

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The importance of ‘nurture’

With spring having arrived, I’m trying to grow grass in bare spots in our lawn that were dug up by raccoons.  It’s a challenge.

The bag of grass seed gives me four instructions.  1.  Prepare your soil.  Break up clods of dirt and level it out.  2.  Fertilize the soil.  3.  Plant the seeds.  Spread them evenly.  3.  Cover seeds lightly with  ¼ inch of dirt.  4.  Water often.  Keep seed bed moist until germination.    I would add a fifth, which is:  5.  Wait, be patient.  It can take 2 weeks for seeds to sprout.  And if I want to really be conscientious I will follow further instructions.  6.  Protect the new grass from being trampled.  7.  Keep it watered.  8. Mow the lawn.  9.  Fertilize.   We could say that this whole process, apart from the actual seeding, is one of “nurturing” the new grass.

Gardeners and farmers know the importance of nurturing their crops.  So do parents, when it comes to child-rearing.  So do churches, when it comes to forming disciples of Jesus.

“Nurturing” will be the theme of our worship on Sunday, May 10.  Nurturing was valued in both ancient Israel and the New Testament.  The Apostle Paul, for instance, stresses the importance of growing up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

What does it mean for us to nurture persons in faith, and to be nurtured by our church?  What are the forces in our culture that work against Christian nurture?   How have we been nurtured by others, by the church, and by God?  What are the steps and methods we can take to nurture the seeds of faith not only among our children and youth but among adults as well?

Like trying to get grass to grow, nurturing persons in faith does not just happen.  It requires careful attention.   After all, our culture is always nurturing us in its ways, whether we know it or not.  And those ways may be quite at odds with our faith.

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What’s that smell?

A few weeks ago, when it was still cold in Ontario, we visited a place in the USA where we could tell that the seasons had changed.  In case we hadn’t noticed the green grass and spring flowers, it was the smells—like the aroma of freshly-cut grass—that announced that spring had come.

The Apostle Paul knew about smells—especially pleasant ones.  Smells not deriving from fragrant grass clippings or flowers, but from the trail of one’s life and witness.  To the church in Corinth he writes,   “But thanks be to God, who in Christ…through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God…” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

In our worship on Sunday, May 3, our guests, Nathan and Taryn Dirks, will speak to us about smells.  From their experience as Mennonite Church Canada workers in Botswana, they will help us think about how we can our opportunities to offer ourselves lovingly and creatively to God, so that we can become that pleasing aroma that Paul talks about.

The aroma of Christian presence can be powerful.  In the 2008 earthquake in China that killed nearly 70,000 people, a church group was among the first to bring aid to a small remote mountain village that had been devastated.  That act of compassion made a strong impression on those villagers, most of whom had little or no acquaintance with the church, so much so that the tiny church in that village grew greatly in the weeks and months following.

Christians who do not live as if Jesus were Lord and Savior also give off an odor, one that is not pleasant and which people can notice and turn up their nose to.

How much more pleasant is the aroma that comes from a life that embodies that same care and love—both tender and tough—that Jesus showed to those whose lives he touched.  It’s an aroma that prompts people to ask, “What’s that smell?  I like it.”

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